By Angela Bonavoglia | February 13, 2012
The author of “Good Catholic Girls: How Women Are Leading the Fight to Change the Church” explains what’s behind the Catholic bishops’ hard-line reaction to President Obama’s compromise.
Last week, before the great contraception compromise, as the “old boys club” attacked President Barack Obama for daring to require religiously affiliated hospitals, universities, and social service agencies—but not churches—to provide birth control coverage free of charge to their employees, Rachel Maddow had a question.
Given that 28 states have birth control mandates with which Catholic institutions comply, that some major Catholic institutions provide contraceptive coverage, and that new polling shows that the majority of Catholics agree that female Catholic hospital and university employees should have the same right to contraceptive coverage as other women, Maddow asked: How does the Beltway media narrative get so entirely captured by the other side?
For one thing, even random drop-ins on the most popular TV news programs revealed a major contributing factor: few women participated in the conversation (reportedly twice as many men as women appeared on cable shows to talk about the birth control battle). Women like Jodi Jacobson of RH Reality Check and Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches and many others were lighting up the blogosphere on the subject, and if you watched Maddow you would have seen clips of three powerful senators—Barbara Boxer, Kristin Gillibrand, and Patty Murray—digging in their heels to defend women’s rights to contraception. But by and large, women equipped to talk about the issue from a feminist—and a Catholic—point of view on television were few and far between.
Day after day, there was Joe Scarborough, with four or five men (Willie Geist, Sam Stein, Mike Barnacle, Michael Steel, and so on) often talking over—or, in the case of Scarborough, utterly dismissing—the barely audible points made by Mika Brezenski. A pinnacle was reached last Friday, when Scarborough brought in Washington D.C.’s Cardinal Donald Wuerl.
As everyone was fawning all over the cardinal, Stein tried to ask an important question: What about the woman who needs birth control because she has ovarian cancer who won’t have her care paid for because of your position? Scarborough apparently found humor in that. “Have you been talking to your mother, Sam?” he chided. Sam’s mother is an ob-gyn, who’d warned her son that “if he didn’t ask a serious question today, she’d kill him.” Everyone laughed, including Wuerl, who promptly lapsed into his assigned talking points, declaring that “there is a difference between access and freedom….This is about freedom….The real issue is freedom…Our basic freedom,” thereby leaving the woman with ovarian cancer out in the cold. Would that Loretta Ross of Sister Song Reproductive Justice Collective had been there to drop a quick counter punch, to note that “freedom of religion also encompasses freedom from religion,” as she said last week on Democracy Now.