US government contraception sci-fi

by Phyllis Zagano

View Author Profile

Join the Conversation

Send your thoughts to Letters to the Editor. Learn more

Do you think some folks left "Star Trek" to work for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services? The Affordable Care Act reads like a machine translation from Klingon.

Except this footnote: "The HRSA Guidelines exclude services relating to a man's reproductive capacity, such as vasectomies and condoms."

Now that's interesting. Forget the fact that it takes two to tango or, in this case, tangle. Pregnancy is a woman's problem.

The impenetrable language combined with the steam from the overall discussion hides the U.S. government opinion that only women are responsible for pregnancies. That translates to free contraceptive and abortifacient pills and devices and sterilization -- for women only.

Now, there are ways to avoid pregnancy that do not involve putting chemicals, hormones, metals or plastics into women's bodies. That would include male condoms. We can assume that's what New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan meant on "Face the Nation" when he said, "My Lord, all you have to do is walk into a 7-Eleven or any shop on any street in America and have access to them."

OK, so they're not the best. And the argument is also about who pays for what. But what about vasectomies? Why won't the government mandate coverage for that? We are talking about prevention, aren't we? How about considering both sides of the bed?

The U.S. government says three things: Birth control is a woman-only question; birth control means pills, devices and procedures performed on women; birth control includes abortifacients. 

No kidding. The U.S. government says pregnancy begins when the fertilized ovum attaches to the womb. It does not consider a pre-attached fertilized egg as worthy of note. It says folks with religious objections must help supply FDA-approved (and defined) contraceptives.

But -- and here's the big "Are you kidding?" moment -- it says abortifacient methods (Plan B, Ella, and copper or hormonal IUDs) are not abortifacient. The Plan B jury is still out, but the intent is still the same. Make the womb inhospitable to a fertilized egg, before or after implantation.

That's what the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision is about. The folks who own Hobby Lobby are not making judgments about whether or what kind of contraception their employees use or do not use. They are concerned about abortifacients.

The Supreme Court seems to agree that the Hobby Lobby folks can consider morning-after pills and IUDs as abortifacient. Except the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists disagrees. Except the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists agrees.

That's neither typo nor Klingon. The folks who defined Hobby Lobby's four abortifacient methods for the government as contraceptives also argue that the same methods are abortifacient when it comes to "personhood."

Got a headache yet?

It seems whenever the "personhood" amendments turn up before state legislatures, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists argues such laws would ban "some of the most effective and reliable forms of contraception -- oral contraceptives, intrauterine devices, and other forms of FDA-approved contraceptives." So when we're out of health care and into human rights, suddenly all these methods work after fertilization. I mean, it's one thing or the other, doctors. Either the fertilized egg is a human being or it is not. It's not destined to become a frog, is it?

There is a very scary, not to mention creepy, mode of thought at the bottom of all this. Some of it is rooted in faulty religious teaching: Years ago, religious teaching -- mostly Catholic teaching -- did not clearly distinguish between abortion and contraception. As years slid into decades, the brave new world of science brought along newer and better ways to kill human beings, including those newly created, and abortifacient pills and devices became one more form of contraception in the public mind.

There are lots of embryology textbooks that still give the scientific definition of the fertilized ovum as a human being. That's not necessarily a "person," but it is most certainly human, and a potential person.

In "Star Trek," the Romulans joined the Klingons to fight the Dominion. In this battle, I think the church should join the Hobby Lobby folks in clearly teaching the difference between birth control and abortion, and maybe throw in the explanation that men are equally involved in all this -- and equally responsible.

[Phyllis Zagano is senior research associate-in-residence at Hofstra University and winner of the 2014 Isaac Hecker Award for Social Justice. She will speak Sept. 18 at the University of St. Francis in Joliet, Ill. Her newest books are Mysticism and the Spiritual Quest: A Crosscultural Anthology and Ordination of Women to the Diaconate in the Eastern Churches.]

Editor's note: We can send you an email alert every time Phyllis Zagano's column, Just Catholic, is posted. Go to this page and follow directions: Email alert sign-up.

Latest News


1x per dayDaily Newsletters
1x per weekWeekly Newsletters
2x WeeklyBiweekly Newsletters