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The War on Women’s Health, Part 6: Religious Beliefs

The War on Women’s Health

Part 6: Religious Beliefs

Where the rubber hits the road

By Truthmonk
November 12, 2012

The Stoning Death of Du’a_Khalil_Aswad, a Kurdish teenager

Du’a Khalil Aswad, a 17-years-old teenager, was stoned to death on April 7, 2007 allegedly by members of her Yazidi family during an honor killing. Her crime? She hung out with a boy from the wrong ethic group. She was dragged half naked into the street in front of an excited crowd that had congregated to watch the stoning. A number of people filmed her death on their mobile phones.

Virtually all women have used contraceptives, even Catholic women

Among never-married young adult Catholic women 89% have had sex.1 Interestingly, among nonspecific never-married young adult women only 79% have had sex, 10% less than young adult Catholic women. Seems Catholic women are more promiscuous than most.

Sexual Experience

Among sexually experienced never-married Catholic women 98% have used a contraceptive method. This is similar to the 99% of sexually experienced never-married non-Catholic young adult women who have used a contraceptive method. A statistical dead-heat. Methods used includes: condom, IUD, female or male sterilization, and hormonal methods such as the pill.

Contraceptive Usage

Virtually all of the approximately 62 million reproductive age women in the United States will use a contraceptive method at some time during their lives. If the research tells us anything, it tells us the notion that strongly held religious beliefs and contraceptive use are incompatible is just plain wrong. Contraceptive use by Catholics and Evangelicals with strongly held religious beliefs is the widespread norm, not the exception.

Honestly how deep can a belief be when 98% of the Catholic women have used a contraception method?

How firm are Catholics beliefs

While a majority of Americans (55%) believe “employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception and birth control at no cost,” an even larger number of Catholics (58%) do.2

For employers that are “religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals” the number drop to slightly under half for Americans (49%) and 52 percent for Catholics.

It is interesting that for both regular employers and religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals employers, a larger percent of Catholics believe they should be required to provide contraception and birth control at no cost than generic Americans.

Catholic Belief

Who are the Catholics bishops representing battling against women’s contraception use? It can’t be the 98% who have used or will use contraception. It can’t be the majority of Catholics who believe that employers, even the “religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals” ones should provide contraception coverage in their health plans.

To a celibate man these may be “most deeply held religious convictions.” But they aren’t the ones who must live by them. So perhaps the bishops aren’t representing Catholics at all. Their flock has moved on. The bishops have been left standing guard over crumbling relics of a bygone time.

Carving out religious exceptions

If Catholics are granted an exception for not covering contraception, what about exceptions for other religions?

Religions Taboos

Jehovah Witnesses3 would want an exception for not covering blood transfusions, Islam4 would need one for pig derived insulin, Scientology5 wouldn’t want to cover psychiatric drugs, and Christian Scientists6 would want a big exception for not covering medical treatments and vaccinations. And the list goes on ad nauseam.

The Talmud has commanded Jewish women for over 1500 years to use a mokh for birth control.7 The mokh is a soft cotton pessary that presents a physical barrier to the sperm. Women would soak the mokh in lemon juice to give it anti-spermicidal properties before insertion into the vagina against the cervix.

Cotton and Lemons
Composite inage by Truthmonk
Component images: Cotton – redOrbit.com, Lemon tree – Allen Timothy Chang, Cut Lemons – André Karwath

The Judaism’s Talmud (500 CE) is the passage named “the Bariata of the Three Women.” In this textual argument, rabbis deliberate when women must or may use a birth control device to avoid unintended pregnancies.


“R. Bebai recited before R. Nahman: Three (categories of) women use a mokh in marital intercourse: a minor, a pregnant women, and a nursing mother. The minor, because she might become pregnant and die. A pregnant woman, because she might cause her fetus to become a sandal (flattened or crushed by a second pregnancy). A nursing woman because she might have to wean her child prematurely and the child would die.”


The text’s intent is concerned about the additional risks caused by coitus for a pregnant women.

“The reasons to prevent pregnancy are both to protect the woman and, importantly, to protect her child from danger. In the first, the rabbinic understanding that married minors (girls under the age of 12 years and a day) are at higher risk should they become pregnant is straightforward . In the second case, the rabbis, who at this point debate whether superfetation (second pregnancy) is biologically possible, are concerned primarily that the fetus might be compromised by a[n] intercourse.”

The third and final case is the nursing mother where a pregnancy might impair the quantity or nutritional quality of her milk. During the 2 – 3 year nursing period pregnancy was forbidden. This point is made crystal clear by several tractates of the Talmud.

Zoloth writes, “The idea of avoiding a second pregnancy until the child was fully weaned was so strongly held by some, including R. Y’hudah Ayyes in early 18th century Italy, that R. Ayyes writes a responsa allowing an abortion for a nursing mother, to protect her nursing child.”

Settled constitutional law

They also have the legal problem that it’s settled constitutional law.

United States Conference of Catholic Bishops assert it would violate their religious beliefs to provide women with full health coverage8. They want to be excused from complying with the law, but religious beliefs do not relieve them of the obligation to obey the law.

Panel of Five
Photograph from ThinkProgress.
From left, Roman Catholic Bishop Reverend William E. Lori, Lutheran Reverend Dr. Matthew C. Harrison, Baptist C. Ben Mitchell, Orthodox Rabbi Meir Soloveichik, and Baptist Craig Mitchell.

The Panel of Five testified before Rep. Darrell Issa’s (R-CA) House Oversight and Government Reform Committee hearing Feb. 16, 2012.

The free-exercise clause of the First Amendment, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…,” pertains to the right to freely exercise one’s religion beliefs.9 However, the Supreme Court has placed limits on the expression of religious practices.

In the case of Employment Division, Department of Human Resources of Oregon v. Smith, 494 U.S. 872 (1990), the United States Supreme Court held that neutral laws of general applicability do not violate the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment.

In Smith, far-right conservative Justice Antonin Scalia writing the majority opinion said, “We have never held that an individual’s religious beliefs excuse him from compliance with an otherwise valid law prohibiting conduct that the State is free to regulate. On the contrary, the record of more than a century of our free exercise jurisprudence contradicts that proposition.”

Antonin Scalia

SCOTUS/Steve Petteway
Antonin Gregory Scalia (R – Senior Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the United States) was appointed by President Ronald Reagan in 1986. He is considered by conservative as the intellectual anchor of the Court.
Justice Scalia continued by quoting Justice Frankfurter from Gobitis10, “Conscientious scruples have not, in the course of the long struggle for religious toleration, relieved the individual from obedience to a general law not aimed at the promotion or restriction of religious beliefs. The mere possession of religious convictions which contradict the relevant concerns of a political society does not relieve the citizen from the discharge of political responsibilities.”

Later in the opinion Justice Scalia wrote, “Subsequent decisions have consistently held that the right of free exercise does not relieve an individual of the obligation to comply with a valid and neutral law of general applicability on the ground that the law proscribes (or prescribes) conduct that his religion prescribes (or proscribes).”

Justice Scalia argues the government’s ability to make and enforce public policy cannot depend on the spiritual development of a religious objector to a law. To do otherwise permits the objector, by virtue of his beliefs, “to become a law unto himself.”11 at 167

This “contradicts both constitutional tradition and common sense.”


Next: The War on Women’s Health, Part 7: American Individualism

Previous: The War on Women’s Health, Part 5: Women’s Economics

In many of the world’s religions there is a restrictive and pro-natalist view on family planning, and this is one legitimate reading of those religious traditions. Arguing for the existence of equally valid traditions that allow contraception and abortion, the authors, all scholar-practitioners of the religions about which they write, seek to escape the confines of oversimplified either/or, pro-choice/pro-life arguments. Instead, they point the way toward a more open discussion of family planning. Dispelling the notion that the world’s religions are uniformly conservative on issues of family planning, the authors show that the parameters of orthodoxy are wider and gentler than that, and that the great religious traditions are wiser and more variegated than a simple repetition of the most conservative views would suggest.


1 Jones, Rachel K.; Dreweke, Joerg | Countering Conventional Wisdom: New Evidence on Religion and Contraceptive Use | Guttmacher Institute, New York, NY, USA | April 2011.
2 Ø | Survey: Majority of Catholics Think Employers Should Be Required to Provide Health Care Plans that Cover Birth Control at No Cost (Webpage) | February PRRI Religion and Politics Tracking Poll | Public Religion Research Institute | February 7, 2012 | Accessed February 29, 2012 @ http://publicreligion.org/research/2012/02/january-tracking-poll-2012.
3 Ø | Our View of Medical Care: Blood Transfusions | Jehovah’s Witnesses Official Media Web Site | 2009 | Available @ http://www.jw-media.org/aboutjw/article01.htm.
4 Al-Munajjid, Muhammad Saleh | Fatwas, Can Muslims use animal organs/products for medicine, such as insulin made from pig tissue/medicine containing liver from cows or other organs from cows? () | ∞ halalmontreal.com | Available @ http://halalmontreal.tripod.com/id39.html.
5 Ø | Is it okay to take any sort of drugs when you are in scientology? « Scientology and Dianetics Auditing (Website) | Church of Scientology International | ∞ | Available @ http://www.scientology.org/faq/scientology-and-dianetics-auditing/is-it-okay-to-take-any-sort-of-drugs-when-you-are-in-scientology.html.
6 Ø | What is Christian Science? | The Christian Science Board of Directors | ∞ | Available @ http://christianscience.com/what-is-christian-science.
7 Zoloth, Laurie | “The bariata of the Three Women” (Pages 33 – 36) « Chapter 1: “Each One an Entire World”: A Jewish Perspective on Family Planning (Pages 21 – 54) « Sacred Rights: The Case for Contraception and Abortion in World Religions (Maguire, Daniel C. (Editor)) | Oxford University Press (New York, NY, USA) | 2003.
8 Lori, William E. | Testimony of Most Reverend William E. Lori Bishop of Bridgeport | Before the Judiciary Committee of the United States House of Representatives, Subcommittee on the Constitution | October 26, 2011.
9 Mullally, Claire | Free-exercise clause overview (Online) | First Amendment Center | 20110916 | Accessed 20120501 @ http://www.firstamendmentcenter.org/free-exercise-clause.
10 Minersville School Dist. Bd. of Educ. v. Gobitis, 310 U.S. 586, 594-595 (1940).
11 Reynolds v. United States, 98 U.S. 145 (1878), was a Supreme Court of the United States case that held that religious duty was not a suitable defense to a criminal indictment.


3 Responses

  1. […] The War on Women’s Health , Part 4: Contraceptive Coverage Economics The War on Women’s Health, Part 6: Religious Beliefs […]

  2. […] Previous: The War on Women’s Health, Part 6: Religious Beliefs […]

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