Despite their best efforts to frame it this way, the recent controversy over the requirement that employers provide coverage for contraceptives to their employees is not about religious freedom. The supposed oppression of rich, white Christian men in this country has become a common theme among the pundits of the Right for years now, and it’s always been a bizarrely ludicrous claim. Even Newt Gingrich took a break from fantasizing about moon bases and zero gravity blowjobs to declare piously that “President Obama has declared war on the Catholic Church,” something the Church would be uniquely qualified for given the number of wars they’ve launched throughout history.
This President has, of course, done nothing of the sort; these spurious attacks from the right are nothing but a cynical ploy to cast doubts on Obama’s commitment to their whitewashed version of the Judeo-Christian tradition. Organized religion in this country enjoys more loopholes, more exemptions, and more influence than any nation outside of Saudi Arabia. Churches are tax exempt, every politician must, as a matter of practicality, take the oath of office on the bible, and a full two-thirds of the funding for Catholic charities comes straight from the taxpayers’ wallet. As with any other organization receiving public money, that money cannot be used in ways inconsistent with the interests of this nation and its taxpayers. Since a full 98 percent of Catholic women admit to using birth control at one time or another, the taxpayers have clearly spoken.
The fact that contraception is at odds with the tenets of some religions in this country does not make funding requirements an assault on religious freedom. No law seeks to require churches to provide condoms and birth control pills in their lobbies. People who personally oppose the use of contraceptives have an extremely easy solution: don’t use them. Have bushels of kids. In fact, the tax code heavily incentives this. That’s how freedom is supposed to work, not in the perverse sense where “freedom” actually means the opposite. Despite what Republicans might have you believe about the ever-present Obamamonster, the Constitution guarantees this right will persist. Which is more important—the freedom of women to control their own bodies, or the freedom of fundamentalists to limit the money that the federal government generously awards them from ever going towards buying the pill?
Indeed, if they’re honestly concerned about reducing the abortion rate, about reducing unwanted pregnancies, and about poverty, Republicans should support family planning and other such preventative measures. More women taking the pill and more men using condoms means fewer unplanned pregnancies and fewer abortions. Instead, we’ve seen a shocking assault on women’s rights from male Republican Senators, old Republican billionaires, and even ‘Komen for the Cure.’ At a time when the Republican Party badly needs to win back the soccer moms who propelled Bush to a second term, Conservatives like the ever-frothing Senator Santorum have instead launched a war on the rights of women that Romney has had no choice but to timidly join. Romney’s advisors must be panicking, realizing that even if they do win the nomination they’ve set themselves up for a landslide defeat. Sex and freedom, it turns out, are among the most universally popular things in America.
Santorum, as the old joke goes, is one of the most forward-thinking minds of the 13th century. He regularly goes on the record to state that he does not believe in a right to privacy or the separation of church and state, and would not hesitated to impose his own values on the rest of the country, creating a nation familiar to readers of Margaret Atwood’s dystopian novel The Handmaid’s Tale where women must once again die in back alley abortions, cannot serve in the military or the workplace, and must welcome pregnancy by rape as “a blessing from God.” He believes in a world where gay men and women can once again be both persecuted and prosecuted for consummating their love, and where sexual desires are a shameful test by the devil. If you watch him in one of the 67 debates, his face is constantly straining with the mammoth effort of all that repression.
Incidentally, Romney and Santorum both use the rhythm method—with their wives, not with each other—which seems to work astonishingly well: they have, respectively, five and eight children, which they have the freedom to do because President Obama is not waging a war on religion, freedom, or religious freedom anywhere except in the minds of a bunch of terrified old men.