When pro-choicers accuse anti-choicers of being anti-contraception they’re often taken as crying wolf — even though no anti-choice organization explicitly endorses birth control and despite the prominent anti-choice role of the Catholic Church, which explicitly bans contraception. After all, goes the complacent point of view, most women, and most couples, use some form of birth control. Opposition to it seems like something out of Margaret Atwood’s The Handmaid’s Tale, a novel whose futuristic vision of women’s subjection to rightwing Christian patriarchs no less a shrewd social critic than Mary McCarthy found preposterous when she reviewed it in the New York Times Book Review in 1986.
The Bush Administration seems bent on giving Atwood material for a sequel. Last month, Health and Human Services issued a draft of new regulations which would require health-care providers who receive federal funds to accept as employees nurses and other workers who object to abortion and even to most kinds of birth control. This rule would cover some 500,000 hospitals, clinics, and other medical facilities– including family planning clinics, which would, absurdly, legally be bound to hire people who will obstruct their very mission. To refuse to hire them, or to fire them, would be to lose funds for discriminating against people who object to abortion for religious or –get this — moral beliefs.
This represents quite an expansion of health workers’ longstandingright not to be involved in abortion. And, incidentally, this respect for moral beliefs only goes one way. A Catholic hospital has no corresponding obigation to hire pro-choice workers or accomodate their moral beliefs by permitting them to offer emergency contraception to rape victims or hand out condoms to the HIV positive; a “crisis pregnancy center” would not have to hire pro-choice counsellors who would tell women that abortion would not really give them breast cancer or leave them sterile. Only anti-choicers, apparently, have moral beliefs that entitle them to jobs they refuse to actually perform.
There are several disturbing elements to this story. One is that even as it fades into history, the Bush Administration is catering to the anti-choice movement’s larger agenda of making contraception harder to obtain. What Bush can’t give them legislatively, he’ll provide administratively, in bits and pieces, under cover of granting workers rights of conscience (the only workers’ rights he seems to care about). Remember when it seemed just plain bizarre that a pharmacist could refuse to fill a woman’s prescription for emergency contraception or even the Pill? Now pharmacists have that explicit right in four states, and possibly in five more.