In case anyone is still unsure exactly what the many lawsuits against the contraceptive coverage requirement in the Affordable Care Act are about (hint: not religious freedom), a lawsuit filed in Missouri this week provides a refreshingly clear picture.
Republican State legislator Paul Wieland filed suit requesting that he and his wife be allowed to opt out of the requirement under his coverage in the state health plan because it “violates their religious beliefs as Catholics and parents of three daughters,” says the National Catholic Reporter. Wieland’s lawyer argues that if a closely held corporation like Hobby Lobby is allowed to opt out of the mandate, so too should individuals with objections to contraception. “If the corporations don’t have to do this for their employees, certainly Mom and Dad don’t have to do it for their daughters,” said Timothy Belz of the Thomas More Society.
Finally, an unvarnished pro-patriarchy argument in all its glory.
The Becket Fund (the other conservative public interest law firm named after a martyred Thomas who was dispatched by a King Henry after an epic church-state battle) picked its plaintiffs with canny eye for obscuring the true nature of the suits: a hard-working entrepreneurial Christian couple who merely objected to the provision of “abortifacient” emergency contraceptives in the case of the Green family in the Hobby Lobby suit and the humble, habited, self-sacrificing nuns of the Little Sisters of the Poor in their eponymously named case. No so with More and Wieland: He man. He pay bills. He say.
Not surprisingly, the plaintiffs in two of the most high-profile Catholic suits against the mandate—Little Sisters of the Poor and Priests for Life—announced this week that they had rejected the Obama administration’s latest accommodation and would proceed with their suits. (And which Priests for Life helpfully compared to a government “plan to arbitrarily imprison children between 2 and 4 years old, and imposes on businesses the obligation to inform them of such children among the families of their employees.”)
This, too, lays bare the true nature of the suits, since the plaintiffs are no longer being asked to send the form to their insurers that they argued would “trigger” the provision of contraception. It’s not about being too close for comfort to contraception in a way that violates the (widely ignored) Catholic ban on birth control and hence their religious freedom.
These groups simply don’t want any woman who works for them to get contraception through any kind of scheme linked to their insurance—even if they have nothing to do with it—because it undercuts their moral authority as men to regulate the reproductive behavior of women under their purview.
Maybe it’s most helpful here to take the long view when trying to understand the stubborn insistence of the Catholic Church that any woman in its sphere—Catholic or not—falls under its authority. According to social anthologist Jack Goody in his book The Development of Marriage and Family, the church’s insistence on policing the sexual morality of everyone in the society around it goes back to the earliest days of Christianity. From its founding as a sect within Judaism until well into the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church imposed it rules regarding sex and marriage on society in order to weaken pagan practices and t0 capture inheritances (that would have otherwise gone to family members) in order to strengthen the church. “By insinuating itself into the very fabric of domestic life, of heirship and marriage, the Church gained great control over the grass roots of society itself,” he argues.
Today we see the Church clinging to the faint remnants of that social control, with women’s access to birth control as its pawn.