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Kim Voynar

By Kim Voynar

On Contraception, Faith, and the First Amendment

Do religious institutions have a valid constitutional argument in challenging the contraceptive access law? Maybe.

I’ve been having lots of discussions on Twitter and Facebook about this week’s latest volley of attacks by the Republican party that seem squarely targeted at women. From “personhood” laws that seek to eradicate access to abortion to this week’s Male-Opinions-Only-Please Congressional hearing on the issue of the contraceptive access law, everywhere we look it seems we’re seeing the GOP attacking women. And we should be clear on what the agenda is here: A large segment of the GOP seeks to redefine gender roles on a broader societal level, to reframe what being “woman” means. And it seems the GOP would like the term “woman” to mean some throwback to the pre-feminist ideals of the 1950s, because everyone knows that feminism killed family values. (Wait, was it feminism or the Gay Agenda? I forget.)

It’s easy for liberal intellectuals to be snootily dismissive of the religious right, but we need to pay attention, folks. Posting snarky Twitter comments equating belief in God to belief in the Tooth Fairy may be hilarious atheist humor, but that kind of loud-mouthed ridicule — apart from being utterly arrogant and condescending — is a great way to ensure your perceived opponent will tune you out before you even start making your point. Really brilliant. What’s at stake here isn’t whether you believe in God or you think people of faith are idiots, but about who holds the power and what place women have within that power structure. It’s about societally defined gender roles, about the power relationship between men and women, and about who gets to impose their values on whom. Personhood laws, in particular, are about power and gender as much as they’re about abortion.

But the debate over the contraceptive access law has been lumped in with all that other nonsense, and it needs to be separated. This particular issue is one of constitutionality, religious freedom, and First Amendment rights, not about birth control, and both sides would do well to remember that. On Thursday, the House Committee on Oversight & Government Reform held hearings to allow religious leaders an opportunity to make their case that the Obama-driven law that requires religious based institutions to provide contraceptive coverage as part of their health-care package is a violation of the Church’s religious liberty. Unfortunately, the decision by the GOP to call only male witnesses to testify about an issue so pertinent to women has obscured the whole religious liberty argument almost completely, which is unfortunate because that is the issue we really need to be discussing here.

President Obama advocates for all women having access to birth control without co-pays, and so do I. But the question is whether religious institutions, like Catholic hospitals and universities, should be required – compelled by the federal government – to pay for contraception, which goes against the teachings of the Catholic Church. And really, it would behoove the religious right to keep the discussion out of the realm of sex and family planning and in the strict realm of the First Amendment and religious freedom, because that’s not only where they’re most likely to cross political lines to get support, but also, coincidentally, where they might actually have a legal leg to stand on.

This is a tough issue for me. I was raised Catholic in parochial schools, taught by nuns. My uncle is a priest. I am firmly pro-choice, and I’ve used birth control throughout my adult life, but I don’t believe that under most circumstances, I’d get an abortion myself. As an adult, I’m a liberal socialist who’s chosen the path of Unitarianism, and that’s how I’m raising my kids, but I can’t deny that there’s a part of my personal values that were informed inexorably by the faith within which I was raised. There are feminists, I’m sure, who would argue that the mere fact that I chose to have five children disqualifies me from any claim to being a feminist, although I’ve always believed that the whole point of pro-choice is that women have the right to make the choice for themselves whether or not to bear and raise children, and that my choice to have five kids doesn’t make me any less a feminist than someone who chose to have five abortions.

I believe that access to contraception, for both men and women, should be free and universal, but I personally am more in favor of the idea that our government should be paying for those things directly through some sort of universal access to health care, than of the idea that we can or should force values that deal in matters of faith on the religious institutions our Constitution is designed to protect. In other words, just because I think access to contraception is a Good Thing doesn’t mean I think that it’s necessarily right to make your church’s dollars pay for my Depo shot, or your faith-based hospital to provide me with an abortion, and I think you may have a constitutional argument there. On the other hand, I also don’t believe that your faith gives you the right to pass laws based on your faith that dictate that women cannot have an abortion or access to contraception. You don’t want to use contraceptives or have an abortion, I have no problem with that, but stay out of my uterus, please. In the case of this particular law, though, we may be looking at a case where the government is actually stepping across the boundary between Church and State in a way that sets a dangerous precedent.

The contraceptive coverage law as written does force churches that happen to also own and run private universities and hospitals to pay for something that’s directly in opposition to the teachings of their faith. I don’t think there’s any denying that, is there? And if the belief that contraception is murder is an inexorable part of their faith, if we force them to pay for contraception, have we not created a law that prohibits the free exercise of religion? And if so, how does that not violate the First Amendment?

If you have an argument based on the constitutionality of the issue, I’d be very interested in hearing it, because the grounds on which to advocate for this law are not around the issue of whether birth control is right or wrong, or on whether the Catholic Church is stupid for being opposed to birth control, but simply on the constitutionality of the law. Find the argument that proves the law is, in fact, constitutional. That’s what the focus of the discussion needs to be. Because if we can’t make a coherent argument that its not a violation of the First Amendment to force a religious institution to pay for something that’s in opposition to its faith, we’ve lost the argument already.

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7 Responses to “On Contraception, Faith, and the First Amendment”

  1. Erika says:

    So well said Kim. Brava.

  2. Ken says:

    Well said indeed.

  3. Ramelle says:

    The issue is about access. Access is not an issue. The line between democracy and dangerous socialist precedents has already been crossed. Why should access equal free? Nothing is free. Someone, somewhere, has to pay for it.

  4. I A N P M F says:

    The religion clauses of the first amendment were not established to protect institutions, they were established to protect individuals, and mainly to protect individuals from the tyranny of religious institutions. Ask yourself how an entity (e.g. a religious institution) incapable of having a conscience can have a right to exercise it? Only people have consciences and institutions are not people. If you have any doubts look no further than Thomas Jefferson’s writings on religious liberty. More on that here –

  5. Kim Voynar says:


    First, I’d have to take issue with your use of the word “dangerous,” if only because I think we haven’t dipped a toenail into how socialist we need to evolve to. You say “nothing is free,” and that’s so. Everything comes with a cost.

    You think you don’t already pay for unplanned children born to people ill-equipped for parenthood? And that’s WITH (more or less, depending on where you live) access to birth control through places like Planned Parenthood, and options for emergency contraception and abortion available. We don’t need more unplanned, unwanted babes that have to be supported and raised to adulthood.

    A year’s supply of birth control pills costs about $700. Compare that to the cost of feeding, clothing, educating and providing healthcare for one child. Now multiply. The math is pretty basic.

  6. stan chaz says:

    I’VE HAD ENOUGH! In this Holy War on Religion, of Religion, and by Religion. I SURRENDER! I’m a lover, not a fighter.  Instead… I’m gonna start my OWN religion, and get in on the good stuff: tax exemptions, and lots of taxpayer money to do what I want, in the name of religious liberty. Most definitely! Hey NEWT -wanna join? We’re gonna have open marriages and multiple wives and all SORTS of neat stuff that you’re just gonna love! But don’t you worry your little head Newt: we’ll have no -I repeat- NO nasty stoning of adulterers. None of that stuff. I Promise! As for SANTORUM, he just LOVES to tell other people how they should live. He’ll make us a REAL fine preacher-man. In fact, we’ll make him Saint Santorum. AND fix his Google search results! As for Mr. Obama,  obviously, we’ll need to (severely) demonize him, even further. And his dog Toto too. Last but not least: MITT and RON. Hmmm. Hey, I know. Just for you two guys: if you join we’ll insist on NO TAXES AT ALL for church members…AND human sacrifice of illegal aliens. Out with their hearts! Televised! Live! Whoooppee! WHAT A COUNTRY!  🙂
    By the way, please don’t mention the REASON that Mitt Romney’s dad was born in Mexico (i.e. The fact that Mitt’s Mormon grand-dad left the United States in the 1880’s. He went to Mexico BECAUSE laws against polygamy were passed in the U.S. ; Being a Mormon back then, Mitt’s grand-dad wanted to keep his multiple wives. Hey, who wouldn’t?) Bottom line: if we follow the “logic” of the people crying crocodile tears about a non-existent “war on religion”, then the U.S. should have allowed polygamy (and who knows what else) just because a particular religion claimed it as their cherished belief. GIVE ME A BREAK!
    Absolutely NO ONE is coming into our Churches or places of worship and trying to tell parishioners what to believe…..or forcing them to use contraception. BUT If the Bishops (and other denominations) want to continue running businesses that employ millions of people of varying faiths -or no “faith” at all- THEN they must play by the same rules and rights that other workers have and enjoy…especially if their businesses use our tax dollars (and skip paying taxes) in the process. This is not a “war on religion”. It’s a war on women and men who simply want to plan their families and control their future. Now that’s REAL religious liberty!
    p. s. I come from a religious background. I know that their are MANY good people out there, in various faiths (and outside of those faiths); many good people searching for answers, for community, for a way….in this all-too-harsh world. There’s only one thing I can say to you: think for yourself, be yourself, trust yourself. Don’t just accept something because it comes from a “voice of authority”. That’s why you have a conscience: to choose, not just to follow….

  7. Kim Voynar says:


    So breaking down your actual argument, it would be that when a religious institution runs a business, the First Amendment protections separating church and state that are afforded the religious institution do not carry over to the business, is that right?

    Because the other side could also argue that if you don’t want to work for a church-run business, there are other places to seek employment, right? I mean, I wouldn’t go apply for a job with Focus on the Family, or at Bob Jones University, regardless of pay and benefits, because my personal values do not align with those institutions. If someone doesn’t hold to Catholic values, why would they want to work for a church-run business to begin with? There are certainly other hospitals and universities out there.

Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon