God and Woman in the Nanny State

If there is one thing to be hoped will come out of the current controversy over the proposed mandate for religious organizations to pay for free pregnancy prevention and termination coverage for their employees, it is that women and American religious leaders and believers come to realize that the state is not a benevolent, Godly force, and is, rather, a threat to both of their sovereignties, to be constantly and consistently guarded against.

As a baby boomer, I was in the early days of heavy rhetoric for women’s lib. The arguments for universal access to safe and legal abortions were compelling, and couched strictly in terms of its benefit to women and children: no more would women be put at risk of death or have their future reproductivity destroyed by illegal, back-alley abortions; no more would they be forced into shotgun weddings or otherwise have to bear the lifelong consequences of incest, rape, or youthful indiscretions; no longer would unwanted children be subjected to lives of violence and crushing poverty. At the same time, value-free sex education and access to contraceptives in middle and upper schools was promised to make abortion rare. “No more unplanned pregnancies;” no more innocent girls impregnated by unscrupulous boys taking advantage of their ignorance of the “facts of life.”

And yet, a funny thing happened on the way to women’s liberation: I see around me today hordes of 13 year-old girls dressed up and serving as sex objects for the boys whose raging hormones no longer need be stilled by cold showers or hours of hard, sweaty sports. A friend recently lamented the difficulty she has in finding non-“sexy” clothes for her 5 year-old daughter.

This wasn’t exactly what we had in mind when we talked about securing equal rights.

Unfortunately, the promises of universal sex-education and access to contraception leading to abortion’s becoming increasingly rare have also failed to materialize. According to the Guttmacher Institute, since being legalized nationally in 1973, an estimated 50 million abortions have been performed in the United States, with approximately 1,210,000 performed in 2008—a rate that remains essentially flat.

According to studies by the Brookings Institute and Heritage Foundation, and based on government statistics, in 1965, 24% of black babies and 3.1% of white babies were born to single mothers. By 2008, the out-of-wedlock birth rate for the entire population was 40.6%, with 28.6% among white non-Hispanic women, 52.5% among Hispanics, and 72.3% among blacks. With the poverty rate for single parents with children at 36.5%, and only 6.4% for married couples with children, this is the single greatest factor for the explosive increase in children living in poverty.

It is entirely appropriate therefore to ask if these sad numbers are the result of working women lacking access to no-cost pregnancy prevention and termination under their employers’ insurance plans, the solution for which is the mandate now being proposed.

Or is there another hypothesis at work here? Is the Washington elite thinking behind the mandate something like: “Look, we tried educating them. We tried providing them ready access to birth control and abortion. And yet these people keep having children they shouldn’t have and that they can’t afford!”

Is it really just “right-wing” scare tactics to see a long shadow of eugenics at play? Whose babies, after all, are they hoping to prevent? And if “free” pregnancy prevention and termination don’t solve “the problem,” what then? When Washington mandates family planning, whose family plans will be sanctioned, and whose denied?

Maybe all women should be horrified by this mandate, stop dead in our tracks and scream: “No!” No, we don’t want our boss or federal bureaucrats in our doctor’s office: we aren’t dependent little girls who have to be guided by our “elders and betters” in how we take care of our bodies. We can be fully-conscious decision-makers over our own healthcare and reproduction. And for those of our sisters who need help in meeting life’s challenges and dealing with risks and consequences, we can provide appropriate assistance that doesn’t require the take-over of every woman’s health choices by Washington.

Meanwhile, it is highly unlikely that “ObamaCare” would have garnered the support needed for its passage without the endorsement by church leaders across the spectrum. Preaching “social justice,” American church leaders actively supported universal healthcare mandates. To help build even greater support, at the height of public debate the Department of Health and Human Services Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships hosted the President in conference calls with religious leaders, urging them to preach for its passage from their pulpits, and offering supporting propaganda to distribute to their congregants.

Imagine then the surprise to these same church leaders: they thought they were enlisting to further a “faith-based initiative,” and find instead they have furthered a secular theocracy; with the new law they helped pass now being exercised in ways they find objectionable! (And the compromise “tweak” the President has proposed—for “insurance companies” to bear the cost of providing free pregnancy prevention and termination—is disingenuous at best: most larger denominations self-insure.)

Perhaps now church leaders will awaken to the folly of having overlaid “God and country” in their ministries, from sending off soldiers to fight for “Godly” causes, to American flags gracing sanctuaries, prayer breakfasts built around showcasing politicians, and religious leaders signing on to policy positions whose consequences hurt the very suffering Christ came to serve.

As the sociologist Rodney Stark has shown in an exceptional body of work, history bears the scars of the continual tension between what he has dubbed the “church of piety” vs. the “church of power.” From Mayan temples’ massive public human sacrifices holding threats to the empire in check, to the state-monopoly German church’s “patriotic” support of Hitler, when the church allies with the ruler, both the church and the people it serves come out the losers.

Let American church leaders take a lesson from history and from their current experience and renounce this unholy alliance for now and the future.

And let both women and the church speak truth to power in leading a renaissance for a civil society consistent with natural law, in which rights are bestowed not from Washington, but, inalienably and equally, from God.

Mary L. G. Theroux is Chairman and Chief Executive of the Independent Institute.
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