Conservative cap on women must come to an end


It's the best of times and it's the worst of times to be a woman — while legislation such as the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act of 2009 is allowing women to edge closer to shattering a restricting glass ceiling, the Catholic Church is attempting to strike down a provision of healthcare in which all employers, regardless of religious orientation, are required to insure birth control for female employees.

Such events are only evidence of the dismal fact that America is mired in a theocratic cycle, one in which the religious claim that they're being oppressed by not being permitted to utilize religion as an oppressor. Unfortunately enough, women are caught in the crossfire.

If Catholic leaders are so vehemently opposed to contraceptives, why have they failed to excommunicate the over 70 percent of Catholic women who regularly use birth control? Why are members of the flock permitted to shirk the rules when employees of organizations affiliated with the Catholic Church are denied fundamental reproductive care? Why are Catholic leaders suspended in a cult of ignorance in which the cheek is turned and the door is shut on women's health? Perhaps most disturbingly, why are Catholic women who utilize contraceptives remaining so eerily silent?

FOX pundit Sean Hannity hosted a forum to discuss women's contraceptive care. In an effort to represent all sides of the contentious issue, he invited what he claimed was "absolutely everyone who might have something relevant to say about women's health." This included clergymen, Jewish men, white men, black men — but no women. Conservative men seem to be more interested in promoting the subjugation of women than they are in having an adult, egalitarian discussion about reproductive health.

When JFK ran for office, conservatives spread fear that the president would take orders from the Vatican. Now conservatives seem to be demanding that the government bow down to Church doctrine. Radical conservatism is allowing the country to careen terrifyingly backwards.

Additionally, Catholic leaders claim that abstinence is the best contraceptive. It seems as though the Church operates under a feudal perspective in which sex is purely reproductive and women are merely receptacles intended for childbearing. Contrary to their belief, sex isn't merely a means of procreating — it's a means of human connection.

Where exists the logic in denying women contraceptives and then religiously castigating them for getting pregnant? Catholic leaders have no right to command women to keep their legs closed, and they're irrational if they believe that abstinence is the clear solution.

Perhaps most interestingly, churches are permitted numerous tax exemptions excusing them from over a collective $100 billion in taxes. If the Catholic Church chooses to benefit from this hush-hush agreement with the government and to work in the public realm, then it needs to comply with public rules.

This isn't an issue of religious freedom — this is an issue of the conservative war on women, of the disintegrating boundary between church and state, of zealots playing the victim and, in doing so, disenfranchising the genuinely victimized.

No woman's health should be contingent upon where she works, what her boss believes, or how much money she makes. It's time for the Catholic Church to progress into the twenty-first century and understand that women aren't broodmares — they have the right to control their own bodies, and they have the right to reproductive healthcare.

Reproduction is not a political battleground — it's at once a hefty decision, an enormous responsibility and a human experience, one in which women have the right both to participate and not to participate.

Before the war against the imbecility of the alleged "War Against Religion" begins, conservatives need to keep the government out of the bedroom and remember that some things, reproduction included, aren't political statements.

— Westenfeld is a freshman from Fort Wayne, Ind., majoring in creative writing and English literature.