17 February 2012

Whose Rights?

We've been here before.

To this day, ideological remnants of the Civil War cling to conservatives when they talk about states' rights. The notion is that the state is sovereign and able to do what it wants with regards to welfare programs, schooling, business regulation and - even - slavery. It is not for DC to dictate, these conservatives say. And now, of course, Rick Santorum joins the chorus to add to this mix the right to ban contraceptives.

This is - at best - disingenuous, at worst just absurd.

When "DC" claims that no state has the right to enslave people, the point is not to ignore states' rights. It is to ensure individual rights. And so it is in the domain of voting, equal access to public schools, or contraceptives.

Institutions do not have rights. Instead, they ensure those rights for individuals. And in my mind, it doesn't matter if the institution is something generally considered sacred - like family, church, or state - or more often labeled inept and bumbling - like the federal government.

Individuals have rights. They have these rights whether they are in an abusive or loving family, a conservative or liberal church.

Individuals have the right to attend church or not and avail themselves of all or none of that church's teachings. Churches do not have the right to limit the rights of its members or employees, even the right to finance medical care that includes control over when a woman might choose to start a family. This right to contraceptives is anything but trivial, because to say that a woman cannot control her own body is about as fundamental a denial of rights as one can think of. And to further say that most women should be able to afford contraceptives on their own is to admit that it is the poorest women who will most be hurt by this policy, the women who can least afford contraceptives the ones who are most likely to become mothers of children they can least afford to raise.

This contraceptive issue is an issue of rights, but not in the way it has been framed in GOP debates. It is a question of whose rights are more important: the church's or the individuals it employs.

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