Quote of the Day: Anchoress Edition

This week’s fiasco over whether or not religious institutions should be required to subsidize activity that violates their core beliefs has been papered over for the time being (because after all, the President and his henchmen would never renege when it’s politically convenient to do so, right?). The issue has been portrayed in much of the media as yet another battle in the long, nightmarish struggle over abortion. But in fact, there’s a much broader question in play. I pointed it out back in the first clause of this post. The Anchoress sums it up quite nicely, I think, and that brings us to the QotD:

[T]he point everyone seems content to miss is this: it is not the President’s job to dole our rights out to us!

This is absolutely correct. How out of whack are things when a religious institution (You know, those things that are mentioned in the first one of those Amendment thingies) can even be asked to fund something that is anathema —  in the truest sense of the word? (While one can make a case that things have been out of whack since health insurance became a job benefit, rather than an a la carte purchase — itself a result of Federal interference with the market of employers and employees — we’ll let that water lie whar History done flung it.) To describe what has happened today as an “accommodation”, “exception”, or other similar term is an inversion of the relation between the State and the individual.

The Catholic institutions in this week’s activity have not been granted anything. Our rights are not granted us by the government (because what has been granted can be revoked), but are in fact inalienable. That on too many occasions the populace has acquiesced to the State’s interference with those rights is not terribly surprising, as that interference has been gradual and under the anesthesia of a distracting mass culture and a power-worshipping mass media. But it does not, at base, change the nature of the relationship.

What the Catholic institutions have done does not involve receiving an accommodation — it is an assertion of that which is already theirs. The government’s efforts to express it otherwise is merely indicative of its disdain for the difference between citizen and subject.



About profmondo

Dad, husband, mostly free individual, medievalist, writer, and drummer. "Gladly wolde he lerne and gladly teche."
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10 Responses to Quote of the Day: Anchoress Edition

  1. Well said! By both you and her.

  2. Amanda says:

    I’m afraid I see the situation a little differently. For me, it’s about gender. As someone who worked (quite happily) within a conservative religious institution for years, I understand the knee-jerk reaction about “mandated” birth control coverage. Healthy skepticism of government involvement can be a great thing.

    I don’t, however, understand any employer’s right to second-guess a woman with medical needs. What has been lost in this rhetoric is the simple fact that many women are on birth control for medical reasons rather than for reasons of personal lifestyle. Hormonal imbalances can cause serious health issues, and the standard, least invasive course of treatment is a prescription for birth control.

    Nobody will convince me that any of this would be an issue if it involved issues relating to male health. For one thing, who would so casually overlook the actual medical benefits involved if men were affected? This isn’t about the State “mandating” anything–no one would have to take this, or any other, medication against their will. This reflects a longstanding, underlying belief within some religious traditions that it is women who must be disciplined and controlled; it would seem that religious organizations are saying that if coverage for birth control were allowed, women of faith would abandon their beliefs, get on the pill, and embrace promiscuity. Such a stance is both absurd and insulting.

    If religious organizations have such doubts about their own members, whose rights and dignities are really being attacked?

    • profmondo says:

      Amanda, I disagree, and I say that as someone who supports legalized abortion. The issue isn’t whether women can have abortions – the question is one of whether their employers should be required to pay for that as part of a benefits package. Again, part of what makes this problematic is that so many people receive their health insurance through their jobs, which hasn’t always been the case.

      And we’re back to that business about negative rights (the right not to be interfered with) versus positive rights (which in turn imply an obligation to have someone provide something to the rightsholder.) The right to an abortion may be a negative right, insofar as the State can’t forbid it. But that doesn’t confer an obligation for someone else to foot the bill, any more than the right to free speech imposes an obligation on anyone else to listen to you.

      Thanks for your contribution, and don’t be a stranger!

  3. It brings up an interesting issue: Medical aids and family-planning methods in the male reproductive functions are non-controversial, ostensibly because we take mens’ rights & privacy much more seriously than womens’. That reckoning actives a pipeline of hate that feels good, I imagine, in some people. The simpler answer is closer to the truth, that there’s a plain difference in the situations because women have the ability to grow new life in their bodies, which carries a clear potential to ethically complicate matters.

    So suppose men could get pregnant. Would the churches & the state feel so inclined to interfere with individual choice, as we see them doing in the case of womens’ contraceptive methods. Or would everyone back off out of their clear respect to the wisdom and the discretion of the empowered male individual. Hmmm…wow, I look at what’s going on in the family court settings, I see the mandated sexual harassment training, I see how the daddy-knows-best patriarch is belittled and ridiculed in our feel-good-summer-family movies. Dads are regularly made into the villain, for nothing more than expecting good behavior & performance up to potential from their kids. The answer to the question is pretty clear to me. But I suppose we have people out there who are convinced of the reverse, that our culture is inclined to pick on girls.

    I guess one’s personal experience counts for a lot in shaping how one observes what’s going on in the world, and decides what to make of it.

  4. Amanda says:

    Oh, dear…I’m not referring to abortion but to a medication that can be used to treat symptoms that can prove highly problematic for thousands of women. The suggestion by institutions (religious or otherwise) that such medications are exclusively used to prevent pregnancy ignores underlying medical–rather than sexual or personal–realities. Are we willing to allow institutions to impose their agendas regardless of the toll on individual wellness? As is often the case, it would be the working poor who would continue to pay the price for such a “moral” stance on the part of employers who claim a religious affiliation, and that raises ethical issues.

    Understand–my critique of this rhetoric isn’t a critique of religion or a comment on abortion. My larger point is that in the rhetoric of “liberty” and “mandates,” religious organizations and politicians alike are discarding nuanced realities in favor of simplistic arguments that keep the crowds riled up. While it’s clear that some religious organizations have problematic stances toward women, I’m disinclined to argue that our culture attacks any group with monolithic determination. If anything, it’s probably fair to say that much of the pop culture industry critiques and mocks authority more generally–no gender, race, religion, or creed receives kid glove treatment. While Homer Simpson epitomizes the clueless husband and father, sit-coms from Modern Family to Last Man Standing present loving dads worthy of respect; and the maternal figures in a show like Once Upon a Time are problematic at best. Perhaps father no longer knows best, but then, who does?

    The fact remains that if we don’t like a show, we can turn it off. Medical issues, or the presumed rights of (some) employers to determine whether or not they’re deemed worthy of treatment, aren’t so simple. Ideologies–from the left and right–have a tendency to eclipse the human beings they’re designed to protect.

    • Entirely valid point, Amanda.

      To which I say byofs.

      I’m reminded of my blue tee shirt with the apocryphal Thomas Jefferson quote emblazoned across the chest: “A government big enough to give you everything you want, is big enough to take away everything you have.”

  5. Amanda says:

    I wonder…should employers demand that diabetics pay the full price for their insulin? Should glaucoma patients cough up $300 bucks a month for their eye drops in addition to their premiums? Isn’t that the role prescription benefits with our insurance coverage? If we’re awarding certain employers the privilege of choosing which diseases to cover and exclude randomly, or worse, on the basis of gender, we’re playing a dangerous game. With a slew of health issues myself, I’ve been fortunate enough to pay the bills. Many of my students and their families, however, haven’t had the luxury of just buying their own meds and being done with it.

    • profmondo says:

      Well, fwiw, my insurance plan does nothing to cover a problem I have — to wit, obesity. Actually, that’s not quite true; I can apparently get a small discount on Jenny Craig. And although gluttony is a sin, to my knowledge it doesn’t put me beyond the pale of the church with which Mondoville is affiliated. Now in point of fact, it’s a pretty serious medical condition for me, and is linked to numerous other problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, and diabetes. Consequently, one could probably make a decent case that if I could successfully control my weight (through a program, medication, or surgery), this would save the insurer money over the long haul. But they don’t pay for it, and I can’t swing the $17K bariatric surgery would cost. However, I don’t think the government has the right to force the college to buy a policy that would cover it. The coverage I get through my job is what it is. If I don’t like it, I can try to go elsewhere, pay for it myself, or take my chances. Why should I assume you are obligated to subsidize that portion of my health care?

  6. Javahead says:

    The real problem is that the US system has been broken since the 1940s.

    My understanding is that during WW2 the gov’t froze wages for most jobs, but not benefits. And due to the huge percentage of men in uniform, even the most critical civilian jobs were hard to fill; So companies started offering health insurance as way to attract people. Post war, it just grew on itself – like it or not, companies needed to provide health care or pay a significantly higher wage than their competitors.

    So over the last 60-70 years, the system has been distorted in a number of ways .

    1) People expect their health insurance to come from their employer, they expect it to be affordable, and they don’t expect to pay taxes on the money their employer spends on their health care. Even though this is really part of their salary, and a direct cost to their employer most don’t see it – and they don’t realize that increased insurance costs are eating more and more of the money that might otherwise go into raises

    2) Because it’s “free”, they want all the tests, procedures, and office visits the insurance allows. This raises insurance costs, to their employers – but it’s not visible to the employee – and they have no incentive to cut their usage unless everyone else cuts theirs.

    3) Medical service providers go along with this, and mark the bills as high as they can get away with; they also have the perverse incentive of malpractice lawsuits, so they often practice “defensive medicine” and order every remotely-applicable test if a patient requests it.

    4) Because the majority of people are in group plans, individuals buying their own insurance rather than through a pool with a negotiated discount end up paying more than an employer would pay for the same level of coverage.

    I could go on. Personally, I think in the long run we’d be better off with a system where the employer was FORBIDDEN to pay insurance and other non-salary benefits but we had a healthy aftermarket of plans available to all (with money paid in insurance premiums a direct tax deduction, as mortgages are now). And the average person had high-limit catastrophic care plans and paid their normal doctor visits out-of-pocket.

    The problem is that most will scream about how much it will cost them – and don’t realize that its ALREADY costing them the same amount in lower pay (employers will never pay more than they need to – but they’re already paying several hundred a month more for full time employees than shows up on the W2 form). Moving the direct expense out to the individual would trade lower insurance premiums for a willingness to pay routine office visits out-of-pocket. And would give the individual much more incentive to contain costs (and argue with their doctors and hospitals for excessive charges). TANSTAAFL!

    Do I think we have the political will to make such a switch? Doubtful. But I’d love to be proved wrong.

  7. Robbo says:

    I think Teh Steyn’s summation of the broader politics of all this is spot on: “Government health care is not about health care, it’s about government. Once you look at it that way, what the Dems are doing makes perfect sense. For them.”

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