Is the GOP creating another “Terri Schiavo Moment?”

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Credit: Vibe

With its contraception battle in full bloom, the GOP appears to be searching for another Terri Schiavo moment in which big government actions replace conservative, small government thinking.

Terri Schiavo was the comatose woman whose husband wanted to take her off life support. In 2005, President George W. Bush and the Republican-led Congress attempted to legislate away her husband’s right to make that decision on the basis that Schiavo might still have brain function.  Her physicians had long held that she was in a permanent vegetative state.

The courts eventually intervened and allowed Schiavo’s husband to “pull the plug” on his wife. An autopsy revealed that her brain was, indeed, non viable.

During the political melee over Schiavo, I wondered how it would feel to have the federal government questioning a personal decision between husband and wife.  The same thoughts crossed my mind as contraception became the issue du jour for most Republicans and some Democrats.  What right does the government have stepping into this personal health issue for women and families?

Physician Ami Bera, M.D. sees the same problem, but from a medical perspective.  He authored an article in the Huffington Post in which he argued that the government was overreaching by forcing itself into his exam room.

“Members of Congress take their own oath when they are sworn in as elected leaders,” Bera, who is also a Democratic candidate for the House of Representatives, wrote in his post.  “They swear to uphold the Constitution, and to defend it against all enemies. But nowhere in their oath of office are they required to protect the medical health and well-being of their constituents.  That fact was driven home to me over the last few weeks as I watched members of Congress play politics with the health and well being of the women in this country.”

Bera went on to argue that this was not a matter of religious freedom since he allows individual patients to make moral choices for themselves.

“[T]he oath I swore explicitly requires that I respect patient autonomy,” he wrote.  “My job as a physician is to make sure I have provided my patients with the best options to make the decisions that affect their lives.”

Journalist Leslie Bennetts, writing in the Daily Beast, says the entire contraception brouhaha is a case of what she calls Christian hysteria:

“Every election year generates a new round of sanctimonious baloney from conservative Christians who purport to speak for every American in defining what the United States is all about…. Lost in all the overheated rhetoric is a crucial principle: the freedom from a dominant or state-sanctioned religion and its dictates is far more fundamental to American history and everything this country is actually supposed to stand for than any individual church or faith has ever been.”

Bennetts cites statistics that show decreasing connections between American citizens and specific faiths, including an increase in mixed marriages, then frames the issue in partisan terms:

“Democrats see such efforts as a Republican drive to restrict women’s access to health care, which seems self-evident. And yet Republicans continue to insist that what’s at stake is religious freedom, and that the Obama administration is infringing upon their religious rights by attempting to guarantee vital components of women’s health care.”

The Schiavo case was similarly framed by Republicans as a right-to-life issue with religious overtones.  That turned out to be a sham way of imposing the federal government on a private matter.  I suspect that months from now we’ll view the contraception controversy in much the same light.

Importantly, how the public – and especially women – see this issue may well determine the outcome of the 2012 elections.

The Independent Voter Network is dedicated to providing political analysis, unfiltered news, and rational commentary in an effort to elevate the level of our public discourse.


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  1. ConservativeLifer The GOP, the Florida government, was right on the Terry Schaivo case.
  2. Wes Messamore Am I seriously stepping on Sandra Fluke's rights unless I pay for her birth control pills?
  3. Alan Markow Wes...my understanding is that insurance (not taxpayers) pays for the meds.  Some organizations are self-insured, but even those have a health insurance company administer the plans and write the checks.  No taxpayers were harmed in the writing of this blog.
  4. Wes Messamore Let's say I'm a private insurer-- why should my customers be able to unilaterally set the terms of our private agreement and back those terms up with the force of government, strong-arming me into an arrangement that I would not voluntarily choose to enter into? Who's rights are being violated here? This isn't about mandates for women, it's about mandates for private employers and insurers. Theirs are the rights in question here. As a 25-year-old male, I would never dream of using the force of law to require a private employer or insurer to pay for me to use condoms if they wouldn't voluntarily enter into that arrangement with me. Instead I would make *a choice* about my finances and my sex life. See that word gets thrown around a lot, but Sandra Fluke doesn't want to have to make choices, and she doesn't want private organizations to be able to make choices. Congress is not stepping on women's rights by not requiring others to pay for the choices those women are free to make and that Congress will not interfere with. Reading so much coverage of this issue and its vague sanctimony about women's rights sans substantive discussion of the actual policy issue here, I wouldn't blame the casual media viewer for thinking that House Republicans were trying to ban birth control in this country. Instead, they're just not trying to force other people to pay for it. As a parting shot, I think what this is really all about is smuggling European-style, cradle-to-grave social welfare into this country via insurance. If that's what supporters of these mandates want, then let's talk about that and stop trying to make this a women's rights issue. It's really a question of the proper role of government. Should government guarantee us all some basic standard of living, including a living wage, food stamps, housing, health care, and even birth control pills, or does the government properly serve a different, more limited role in a civil society? That's an honest debate. I'd be willing to have that debate.
  5. Alan Markow At the base of the current Republican Party beats the heart of an evangelical believer.  Evangelical orthodoxy puts women in a subservient position with a focus on child rearing and homemaking.  Any woman advocating for women's rights is what Rush calls a "feminazi" in this world.  When Darrell Issa held his hearings on contraception, he brought in a line of male orthodox religious leaders -- all of whom take the evangelical view of a woman's role in society.  I don't believe for a minute that these hearings were about anything other than putting women in their place.  The rest of the Constitutional and funding arguments are -- in my view -- meaningless prattle.
  6. anonymoustom You missed the point on this one.  Totally different.  My issue is who pays, not whether they can do it or not.  Religious institutions are not arguing that you cannot use contraception, only that they should not be required to pay for it.  Nor should I. 
  7. Will McKenzie I still don't see how anyone is being denied anything. No one is saying women can't have birth control. They are saying no one should have to violate their belief to provide for it. I don't really see the problem. I think women should have birth control and religious organizations should have their conscience. Am I missing something here?
  8. d.eris  Yes.  Many religious organizations have no conscience and many women lack access to reproductive health care. 
  9. Claudia Harrison Beautifully written.  I have realized recently that the argument is over who is more important.  Is it individuals who have the Constitutional right to make decisions about their own lives, or a faceless, amorphous church that disapproves of those choices? The Constitutionality of individual choice seems like a no-brainer, but it's hard to fight a faceless enemy.
  10. Wes Messamore Which Constitutional right is being violated if Congress decides not to force private insurers to cover birth control in their policies?
10 comments
ConservativeLifer
ConservativeLifer

The GOP, the Florida government, was right on the Terry Schaivo case.

Wes Messamore
Wes Messamore

Am I seriously stepping on Sandra Fluke's rights unless I pay for her birth control pills?

anonymoustom
anonymoustom

You missed the point on this one.  Totally different.  My issue is who pays, not whether they can do it or not.  Religious institutions are not arguing that you cannot use contraception, only that they should not be required to pay for it.  Nor should I. 

Will McKenzie
Will McKenzie

I still don't see how anyone is being denied anything. No one is saying women can't have birth control. They are saying no one should have to violate their belief to provide for it. I don't really see the problem. I think women should have birth control and religious organizations should have their conscience. Am I missing something here?

Claudia Harrison
Claudia Harrison

Beautifully written.  I have realized recently that the argument is over who is more important.  Is it individuals who have the Constitutional right to make decisions about their own lives, or a faceless, amorphous church that disapproves of those choices?

The Constitutionality of individual choice seems like a no-brainer, but it's hard to fight a faceless enemy.

Alan Markow
Alan Markow

Wes...my understanding is that insurance (not taxpayers) pays for the meds.  Some organizations are self-insured, but even those have a health insurance company administer the plans and write the checks.  No taxpayers were harmed in the writing of this blog.

d.eris
d.eris

 Yes.  Many religious organizations have no conscience and many women lack access to reproductive health care. 

Wes Messamore
Wes Messamore

Which Constitutional right is being violated if Congress decides not to force private insurers to cover birth control in their policies?

Wes Messamore
Wes Messamore

Let's say I'm a private insurer-- why should my customers be able to unilaterally set the terms of our private agreement and back those terms up with the force of government, strong-arming me into an arrangement that I would not voluntarily choose to enter into? Who's rights are being violated here? This isn't about mandates for women, it's about mandates for private employers and insurers. Theirs are the rights in question here.

As a 25-year-old male, I would never dream of using the force of law to require a private employer or insurer to pay for me to use condoms if they wouldn't voluntarily enter into that arrangement with me. Instead I would make *a choice* about my finances and my sex life. See that word gets thrown around a lot, but Sandra Fluke doesn't want to have to make choices, and she doesn't want private organizations to be able to make choices. Congress is not stepping on women's rights by not requiring others to pay for the choices those women are free to make and that Congress will not interfere with.

Reading so much coverage of this issue and its vague sanctimony about women's rights sans substantive discussion of the actual policy issue here, I wouldn't blame the casual media viewer for thinking that House Republicans were trying to ban birth control in this country. Instead, they're just not trying to force other people to pay for it.

As a parting shot, I think what this is really all about is smuggling European-style, cradle-to-grave social welfare into this country via insurance. If that's what supporters of these mandates want, then let's talk about that and stop trying to make this a women's rights issue. It's really a question of the proper role of government. Should government guarantee us all some basic standard of living, including a living wage, food stamps, housing, health care, and even birth control pills, or does the government properly serve a different, more limited role in a civil society? That's an honest debate. I'd be willing to have that debate.

Alan Markow
Alan Markow

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-->At the base of the current Republican Party beats the heart of an evangelical believer.  Evangelical orthodoxy puts women in a subservient position with a focus on child rearing and homemaking.  Any woman advocating for women's rights is what Rush calls a "feminazi" in this world.  When Darrell Issa held his hearings on contraception, he brought in a line of male orthodox religious leaders -- all of whom take the evangelical view of a woman's role in society.  I don't believe for a minute that these hearings were about anything other than putting women in their place.  The rest of the Constitutional and funding arguments are -- in my view -- meaningless prattle.