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“Pillars Of Moral Values”: Hey, Hobby Lobby Boss; Thou Shalt Not Steal

In their brief to the Supreme Court defending their “right” to deny their employees access to contraception, Hobby Lobby owner David Green and his family asserted (PDF) their principles of “[h]onoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles.”

Apparently, that doesn’t include “Thou shall not steal.”

According to an exclusive by The Daily Beast’s Candida Moss and Joel Baden, the Green family has been under investigation by the federal government for smuggling antiquities. Moss and Baden report:

A senior law enforcement source with extensive knowledge of antiquities smuggling confirmed that these ancient artifacts had been purchased and were being imported by the deeply-religious owners of the crafting giant, the Green family of Oklahoma City. For the last four years, law enforcement sources tell The Daily Beast, the Greens have been under federal investigation for the illicit importation of cultural heritage from Iraq.

In 2011, a shipment of several hundred clay tablets was seized by U.S. customs agents in Memphis. The tablets, which had been shipped from Israel, were inscribed in cuneiform, the ancient script of Assyria and Babylonia in what is now present-day Iraq. And the tablets were confirmed to be several thousand years old. Yet on the customs filings, the Greens had listed the contents of the shipment as “hand-crafted clay tiles”—which was true, technically, but pretty damn misleading. Moss and Baden draw an analogy to another recent customs scandal in which a Picasso worth $15 million was shipped into the United States with a custom declaration form saying it was a “handicraft.” Again, technically true. But a deception meant to evade the scrutiny of customs officials.

So much for “Thou shalt not bear false witness.”

The tablets were supposedly intended to join some 40,000 or so ancient artifacts the Green family owns and will include in the Museum of the Bible, which the family is funding and will open in Washington, D.C., in 2017.

Of course the perverse irony in all of this comes from the fact that the Green family won its historic Hobby Lobby lawsuit in the Supreme Court, establishing that corporations, which are people, too, can have religion and thus claim religious exemptions under the law. And now we have the same family allegedly breaking the law in order to build a religious museum that reflects their values. Hot damn, that’s some audacity.

Recall that in the Hobby Lobby case, the Green family didn’t want its employees to be able to access certain types of contraception under the company’s insurance plan. Prior to filing their suit, Hobby Lobby’s insurance had in fact covered such contraception and the medical and scientific community agrees that those forms of contraception are not equivalent to abortion. But the Greens asserted their personal opinion as fact, attached them to their business and used their supposed “fundamental values” to fundamentally upend the course of corporate jurisprudence and civil rights in America. Perhaps all while they were stealing religious antiquities from Iraq.

What remains unclear is how the Greens came by the antiquities in the first place. Were they outright stolen? Or purchased in the black market, from some shady group? At best, the Greens are taking the cultural heritage of Iraq. At worst, the Greens are wittingly or unwittingly supporting some really bad actors over there.

Personally, I would usually think myself above this sort of finger pointing and eyebrow raising. But the Greens brought this on themselves, not simply by illegally importing antiquities from Iraq but by doing so while promoting themselves as pillars of moral values—and altering the entire legal precedent of the United States to impose their values on others. You know how they say people in glass houses shouldn’t throw stones? Well, people who want to use their narrowly construed extremist religious views to deny basic reproductive rights to women shouldn’t flout the most universal of religious principles by stealing and lying.

 

By: Sally Kohn, The Daily Beast, October 27, 2015

October 29, 2015 Posted by | Contraception, Hobby Lobby, Religious Beliefs | , , , , , | Leave a comment

“The Facts Are Staring Us In The Face”: GOP Lawmakers Vote To Increase Unplanned Pregnancy Rate

In early July, Colorado’s success with free long-acting contraceptives was trumpeted by news media. The New York Times called the results “startling” and “stunning.” “Colorado’s free birth control experiment could change the world,” ravedSFGate, a news website.

But the news was not so surprising.

After health authorities provided free contraceptives such as intrauterine devices to low-income girls and women over six years, from 2009 to 2013, the out-of-wedlock birth rate among teenagers dropped by 40 percent. The abortion rate among that group declined by 42 percent, said the Times, using figures from Colorado officials. And they reported similar declines among unmarried women younger than 25 and without high-school diplomas — a group likely to be mired in poverty if they started motherhood too soon.

Aren’t those results exactly what you’d expect when young women are given easy access to a reliable and simple-to-use method of birth control? Isn’t that what advocates of women’s reproductive health have been preaching for decades?

Here’s the surprise: The Colorado state legislature has refused to provide $5 million to renew the program, despite its dramatic results. Apparently, its members were cowed by opposition from the usual coalition of right-wing religious groups, such as Colorado Family Action. (The initial funding was provided by an anonymous donor.)

“We believe that offering contraceptives to teens, especially long-acting reversible contraceptives, while it may prevent pregnancy, does not help them understand the risks that come with sexual activities. We should not remove parents from the equation,” Colorado Family Action said in a statement.

Allow me to interpret the statement from CFA: If teenage girls have sex, we want them to get pregnant and suffer for it. This sort of political falderal makes me want to bang my head on my desk. If we want to reduce unintended pregnancies — which leads, of course, to a reduction in abortion rates — we know how to do it: Provide free contraception, preferably long-acting and reversible methods such as IUDs. Yet, the very right-wingers who denounce abortion rights refuse to support widespread contraceptive use.

While the figures from Colorado are dramatic, rates of teen pregnancy have been falling for decades. The teen pregnancy rate in the United States reached its peak in 1990 and has been dropping since then.

According to the Alan Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit that works to advance reproductive health, the decline, at least since 2003, has “little or nothing to do with teens’ delaying sex. … Instead, the decline in teen pregnancy in recent years can be linked to improvements in teens’ contraceptive use.”

In the late 1990s, reproductive experts started to notice that unintended pregnancies had dropped, especially among teenagers, as they began using long-acting birth control methods such as Norplant, which was implanted under the skin, and Depo-Provera, administered through injection. The advantage lies in ease of use: Women don’t have to remember to take a daily pill.

Still, even with the successes of recent decades, the United States has a higher rate of unintended pregnancies — more than half are unplanned — than virtually any other industrialized country. And 40 percent of those end in abortion, according to Guttmacher researchers.

Cultural and religious conservatives insist that teaching teens to abstain from sexual activity is the answer. But the states most likely to insist on that approach — my home state of Alabama is one — have the highest rates of teen pregnancy. Alabama has the 15th-highest rate of teen pregnancy, according to federal statistics. Mississippi, equally conservative and even poorer, has the second.

If you still don’t believe it, take a look at Bristol Palin, daughter of Tea Party darling Sarah Palin. Once a spokesperson for the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy, she pledged after her first child not to have sex again until she married. She is now pregnant with her second child as a single mother.

The facts are staring us in the face: We know how to prevent unplanned pregnancies and the poverty they so often drag in their wake. We know how to dramatically reduce the rate of abortions. It’s simply crazy that we refuse to do what works.

 

By: Cynthia Tucker, Pulitzer Prize Winner for Commentary, 2007; The National Memo, July 11, 2015

July 13, 2015 Posted by | Colorado Legislature, Contraception, Teen Pregnancy | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“In Case Anyone Is Confused”: Don’t Fall For The GOP’s Over-The-Counter Contraception Racket

It’s time to call bullshit on the GOP’s embrace of over-the-counter birth control. Several Republican candidates, under fire for radical positions on women’s health, have recently adopted the idea in a naked attempt to woo female voters. These politicians say they’re all in favor of access to contraception. But sudden calls for the pill to be available without a prescription do not signal a real shift in conservative attitudes toward reproductive rights. They simply mask tired opposition to the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that insurers cover birth control.

The list of Republicans that have endorsed the idea includes Senate nominees Cory Gardner (Colorado), Tom Tillis (North Carolina), Ed Gillespie (Virginia) and Mike McFadden (Minnesota). Republicans running for the House have also spoken up for over-the-counter access.

None of these people were championing the proposal before their campaigns. Instead, they were working to limit women’s access to abortion and other healthcare. Gardner, who started the over-the-counter trend in June with an op-ed in The Denver Post, has campaigned for “personhood” measures that would outlaw abortion and possibly some forms of birth control since at least 2006. Early in his campaign Gardner denounced the state-level personhood legislation he’d supported—yet he’s still a co-sponsor on a federal bill that would have the same impact. Gardner has resorted to claiming that bill doesn’t exist.

Then there’s Tom Tillis, who endorsed over-the-counter birth control during a debate with Democratic incumbent Kay Hagan in September. As the top Republican in the state House, Tillis shepherded extreme anti-choice legislation in a decisively dishonest manner, inserting restrictions into unrelated bills like one ostensibly about motorcycle safety. Tillis, like other Republicans trumpeting their support for over-the-counter contraception, opposes not only the ACA’s birth control mandate but the healthcare law in general, which has a range of other benefits for women.

The latest candidate to pivot to contraception when confronted about her record is Joni Ernst, a Senate hopeful in Iowa who supports a personhood amendment as well as criminal prosecution of doctors who provide abortions. “When it does come to a woman’s access to contraception, I will always stand with our women on affordable access to contraception,” she said. Her campaign did not respond to a request to clarify which specific policies she supports that would increase affordability and accessibility.

In case anyone is confused: while affordable contraception does dramatically reduce rates of unintended pregnancy, it does not solve the problems created by cutting off women’s access to abortion services. In fact, attempts to block abortion access—for example, by cutting funds for clinics like Planned Parenthood that provide a range of services besides abortion—can have the perverse effect of making it more difficult for women to get other healthcare, birth control included.

Nor is making contraception available without a prescription an alternative to the birth control mandate (or, needless to say, the entire healthcare law). Over-the-counter birth control has support from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, a point that several Republican candidates have pointed out when their motives were questioned. Yet the same medical association is quite clear that women still need insurance coverage for contraception. Not all women can or want to take the pill, and other forms of birth control like the IUD are expensive and require a doctor’s appointment. In June, ACOG warned politicians against using calls for over-the-counter contraception “as a political tool.”

That Republicans need such a tool to alter their reputation among women is obvious. Young women are the key demographic in many midterm battlegrounds, and according to a Wall Street Journal/NBC News poll conducted in July and August, they prefer a Democrat-controlled Congress by a fourteen-point margin. (Men, on the other hand, favor Republicans by seventeen points.)

But why over-the-counter birth control, specifically? It’s a win-win-win for Republicans trying to appeal to female voters, while bashing Obamacare and boosting their free-market street cred. Candidates can say they support access to contraption while celebrating a “market-based approach to medicine,” as the editorial board of National Review described it recently. The editors commended Republicans for “running…to get government out of the birth-control business as much as possible, and to free up access to it for the women who want it.”

To understand why this sudden embrace of “access” is a racket, and a dangerous one, consider Kevin Williamson, National Review’s self-described “roving correspondent.” In a recent post titled “Five Reasons Why You’re Too Dumb to Vote,” Williamson characterizes women who care about preserving access to abortion or the birth control mandate as “women who cannot figure out how to walk into Walgreens, lay down the price of a latte, and walk out with her own birth-control pills, no federal intervention necessary.” He goes on to applaud the editorial board’s endorsement of the over-the-counter birth control fad.

A few days later, Williamson declared that women who have abortions should be hanged. “I’m torn on capital punishment generally; but treating abortion as homicide means what it means,” he said on Twitter. To be clear: what “pro-life” Williamson is arguing for is putting one in every three women in the United States to death.

“Democrats are not resisting the GOP’s suggestion because of any quibbles with its policy substance,” National Review said in response to suggestions that the GOP’s embrace of over-the-counter birth control smacks of opportunism. “They hem and haw because they want to continue to depict Republicans as intent on keeping contraceptives away from women.”

It doesn’t matter what Republicans are or aren’t intent on. The bottom line is that a variety of conservative positions, from opposition to the ACA to federal funding for women’s clinics, have had or would have the very real effect of making it more difficult for women to access healthcare in general and contraceptives specifically.

Furthermore, contraception is hardly the sum of women’s medical needs. When conservatives fight to empower women to make decisions about their own bodies in all cases, regardless of income, then maybe we’ll take them seriously. In the meantime, there’s little of substance in an ideology that promotes birth control without a prescription for some women and hanging for others.

 

By: Zoe Carpenter, The Nation, October 3, 2014

October 5, 2014 Posted by | Birth Control, Contraception, Women's Health | , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Pay Close Attention!”: Don’t Be Fooled By New GOP Enthusiasm For Over-The-Counter Birth Control

The hot new trend among Republican candidates is a surprising one, to say the least. As of now there are four GOP Senate contenders who have endorsed making birth control pills available over the counter.

All four — Cory Gardner in Colorado, Thom Tillis in North Carolina, Ed Gillespie in Virginia, and Mike McFadden in Minnesota — oppose abortion rights, and all four oppose the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that insurance policies pay for preventative care, including birth control, with no deductibles or co-pays. Yet these conservative Republicans are touting their deep commitment to easily available birth control. It’s likely that more Republicans will now be asked their position on OTC birth control, and some will embrace it to counter Dem criticism that they’re soldiers in a “war on women.”

The one who has advocated OTC birth control pills most aggressively is Gardner, in large part because he has been the target of relentless criticism from Democrats over his prior support of “personhood” measures granting full legal status to fertilized eggs, which would outlaw not only abortion but some forms of birth control as well. Here’s an ad in which Gardner practically pretends to be Gloria Steinem while a group of women nod and smile their approval.

Democrats telegraphed way back in April that they would make these attacks central in multiple Senate races. The fact that Republicans have come up with this new push-back suggests the Dem attacks may have been working.

The new-found embrace of OTC birth control pills might seem odd, even bizarre. But it makes more sense if you think about it as a fundamentally elitist position. The truth is that conservatives have long been much more concerned with restricting the reproductive choices available to poor and middle class women, while leaving wealthy women free to do pretty much as they please. And allowing birth control pills to be sold over the counter is perfectly in line with that history.

Let’s be clear that making birth control pills available over the counter would be a good thing — but only if insurance continued to pay for it. The cost of the pill can be as much as $600 a year, which is out of reach for many women. And we know that insurance companies seldom reimburse customers for OTC medications. The price of the medication might come down over time if it were sold over the counter, but in the meantime millions of women are dependent on their insurance plans to be able to afford it. By opposing the ACA, all these GOP candidates are putting themselves on record in opposition to requiring insurance companies to pay for any birth control in policies women themselves have bought. And that’s not to mention other forms of contraception, like IUDs, that require a doctor’s care and come with a significant up-front cost.

If you’re well-off, you can afford whatever kind of contraception you like whether your insurance company reimburses for it or not. And abortion restrictions don’t impose much of a burden on you either. The federal government bans Medicaid from paying for abortions, but that only affects poor women. A law mandating a 48-hour waiting period before getting an abortion may be an inconvenience for a wealthy woman, but it can make it all but impossible for a woman without means. In some states, it means taking (unpaid) time off work to travel to one of the state’s few abortion clinics, driving hundreds of miles, and paying for a hotel room.

While they’re going to use a lot of buzzwords like “access” and “choice,” the net effect of the policies these candidates are advocating would be to make birth control less available to women. And I think that’s why we haven’t seen any public blowback from the Christian right on this issue. The articles written about the new Republican enthusiasm for OTC birth control sometimes include a disapproving quote from a representative of the Catholic Church. But none of the bevy of organizations with the word “Family” in their name, which are so vehemently opposed to any kind of reproductive freedom for women, are loudly condemning these candidates. Nor are any of their Republican colleagues. So what does that tell you?

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, September 8, 2014

September 9, 2014 Posted by | Birth Control, Contraception, GOP, Reproductive Rights | , , , , , , | 1 Comment

“They Have No Good Answer”: New Hobby Lobby Fix Puts Republicans In A Bind

In response to the Hobby Lobby case, the White House has implemented a fix to allow institutions and corporations who object even to a funding bypass on contraception coverage for employees. The fix is an overly complex workaround necessitated by the Supreme Court’s bizarre ruling that corporations have 1st Amendment religious rights, and can enforce those rights by refusing not only to provide contraception coverage, but even to enter into an agreement by which the government would provide contraception coverage for them.

The case puts conservative legislators in a bind: most people do not, in fact, believe that corporations should have religious rights. Most people don’t believe that contraception is a bad thing, or that employers should get to interfere in whether an employee’s insurance can cover contraception.

Republican lawmakers who claim to be moderates on reproductive rights are especially challenged. Many Republicans who claim to have a more tolerant philosophy on reproductive freedom nevertheless cast votes that align with their more extreme partisan counterparts, and paper it over by saying that they aren’t trying to ban abortion or contraception, but simply that they’re trying to make it “safer.”

The Hobby Lobby case removes that cover. Either you think it’s OK for corporation to decide not to cover birth control out of extremist religious objection, or you don’t. Take the case of Jeff Gorell, Republican Assemblymember in California and candidate for Congress against freshman Congresswoman Julia Brownley. Gorell calls himself “pro-choice” even though he has a 0% rating with Planned Parenthood, and a 90% rating from the California Pro-Life Council. He has been silent on the Hobby Lobby case despite repeated requests for comment. There’s even video of him stonewalling a questioner on the subject.

My tweets to both the NRCC and Mr. Gorell have also gone without response.

They’re silent, of course, because they have no good answer. If Mr. Gorell and Republicans like him all across America stand with Scalia and Alito on Hobby Lobby, they will betray themselves as far too extreme for the voters of their districts. If they disagree with the ruling, their rabid Tea Party base will stay home or actively nip at their heels from the right.

So they just hope the issue will go away and people will stop talking about it. It won’t, of course. Republicans across the board will eventually have to take a stand on whether they think corporations should have the religious right to prevent their employees from receiving birth control coverage.

 

By: David Atkins, Washington Monthly Political Animal, August 23, 2014

August 24, 2014 Posted by | Contraception, Hobby Lobby, Reproductive Rights | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

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