-- editor and columnist at the Richmond Times-Dispatch, and contributor to Reason magazine.
Also: Recipient of the 1987 Nobel Prize for Medicine, reigning UFC lightweight champion, and two-time winner of the Pillsbury Bake-Off.
Among his many other awards, Hinkle has received the 1942 Academy Award (the Oscar) for costume design in "How Green Was My Valley"; the Wooten-Murray Fellowship in Gas Dynamics from the University of Edinburgh; designation as "Sexiest Man Alive" from People Magazine (in 2004 and 2009, and he has a good shot at it again next year since he started working out again); the Robert H. Gibbs Jr. Memorial Award for Excellence in Systematic Ichthyology from the American Society of Ichthyologists and Herpetologists; and a variety of military service decorations, including a Silver Star for nighttime air combat missions over the Solomon Islands in WWII and a Congressional Medal of Honor for conspicuous gallantry at Montbrehain, France, in 1918.
In a rational world, women in the U.S. would be able to buy birth control over the counter — something that is perfectly safe to do, and that women in other countries do as a matter of routine.
But because American women cannot, the country is now embroiled in an unnecessary debate — one that, exacerbated by tendentious red-team/blue-team cheerleading, has produced an almost poisonous level of mendacity. If the prevaricators prevail, they will roll back the country’s progress toward broader individual freedom of conscience.
The debate concerns Obamacare’s contraception mandate. That bureaucratic (not legislative) edict now exempts certain religious institutions thanks to a compromise earlier this year. But that leaves some businesses, such as current litigants Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, on the hook despite their own faith-based objections. The Supreme Court recently agreed to resolve the disagreement among lower courts about whether the mandate violates religious liberty.
An unfortunate prior ruling by Justice Antonin Scalia makes the constitutional argument harder to sustain. In Employment Division v. Smith, Scalia wrote that individuals enjoy no religious exemption from neutral laws of general applicability. So opponents of the mandate may hang their hat on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA.
Supporters of the mandate say corporations shouldn’t have religious rights, period. Some go so far as to say corporations should enjoy no rights at all — a proposition that would allow the CIA to forbid publication of embarrassing news stories and let the police seize computers belonging to Planned Parenthood at will. But as law professor Eugene Volokh points out, “Corporate rights are often useful legal fictions precisely because they help protect actual humans.”
Honest proponents of the mandate admit they think a woman’s access to free contraception should trump freedom of conscience. Others contend religious liberty is not at issue, and those persons of faith who think otherwise are mistaken. This is a new version of the old false-consciousness concept Marxists used to trot out, back when there were Marxists.
Some of the mandate’s supporters go even further than that, by insisting religious liberty is indeed at stake — and the ones putting it at risk are the mandate’s opponents. That is the view of The New York Times, which says “the real assault on religious freedom here” is “the assertion by private businesses and their owners of an unprecedented right to impose the owners’ religious views on workers who do not share them.” It is the view of CNN’s Sally Kohn, who says right-wingers and Hobby Lobby are “trying to contort government to impose the religious views of some onto many.”
It’s the view of the ACLU, which claims “RFRA cannot be used to force one’s religious practices upon others.” (The ACLU, once a stout friend of religious liberty, should remember to which circle of Hell Dante consigned those who committed acts of treachery and betrayal.) And it’s the view of Erin Matson, of the pro-choice RH Reality Check, who tweeted last week: “If you are depriving others of their liberty, you are not exercising personal religious liberty.”
Eh? By that logic, a Quaker who declines to buy you an assault rifle is not exercising his religious liberty; he is violating your rights under the Second Amendment. This is nonsense on stilts. There is only one mandate, it flows in only one direction, and it affects only one party: the employer. It is positively Orwellian to suggest that asking to be left alone — to not be forced to do something — is the same as imposing your values on others by force.
And force is precisely what is at issue. If Hobby Lobby prevails, then Hobby Lobby employees will be able to buy contraception, or not, depending on their own preferences, just as they can now. But if Hobby Lobby loses, then Hobby Lobby, its owners, and employers like them will not be able to choose. They will be forced to violate their religious beliefs.
What’s more, if Hobby Lobby prevails then its employees will be situated precisely like the employees of every company with 50 or fewer workers. Under Obamacare, those companies do not have to provide any insurance at all, let alone contraception coverage. Advocates of the mandate are thus arguing that those companies have every right not to offer contraception coverage, for any reason or no reason at all — but if Hobby Lobby asks for the same treatment, then it is somehow forcing its values on others. Absurd.
This whole fight would go away in a heartbeat if the U.S. allowed over-the-counter sales of birth control. Doing so would make obtaining contraception vastly easier, without conscripting the unwilling. It would thereby increase individual liberty for all and let everyone follow the dictates of his or her own conscience. Now that would be truly pro-choice.
Yesterday I noted the weird schizophrenia in American public opinion regarding adolescents. Conservative states such as Mississippi will treat children as young as 13 as adults in certain criminal cases, but requires both parents’ assent before a female as old as 17 and 11 months can have an abortion.
Liberal opinion is just as schizophrenic in reverse: Progressives think kids who want abortion are mature enough to decide for themselves, but kids who commit homicides don’t fully realize what they’re doing.
Today, Heather Mac Donald points out in a New York paper that
The Obama administration OK’d the sale of “Plan B” post-coital emergency contraception over the counter without prescription (or parental consent) to girls as young as 15. At the same time, the City Council moved a step closer to banning anyone under the age of 21 from buying cigarettes (the legal age is now 18).
Apparently, a 15-year-old is a fully mature adult (a “woman,” in nauseating feminist parlance) when it comes to deciding to have sex. But a 20-year-old, in the City Council’s eyes (or a 17-year-old, under current law), can’t be trusted to make her own informed decisions on smoking and must be restrained by the government.
Whatever happened to the feminist slogan, “Keep your laws off my body”?
The debate over whether to sell Plan Be contraception to teen-age girls exposes, once again, Americans’ schizophrenic attitudes about teen-agers, sex, and crime.
As far as most conservatives are concerned, young people lack the maturing and judgment to make sensible decisions about contraception and abortion. Yet many of those same conservatives will turn around and insist that a 14-year-old who commits a homicide should be tried as an adult.
For example, Texas sets the age of consent for sexual activity at 17. But it tries children as young as 13 as adults for certain criminal offenses.
Texas also requires both parental notification and consent before a minor can have an abortion. So in the state’s eyes, some 14-year-olds who commit crimes have the maturity and judgment of fully grown adults, but no 17-year-old has the maturity and judgment to make a medical decision for herself. Those two positions cannot be reconciled.
Texas isn’t alone. Virginia law takes the same two positions. In Mississippi, children as young as 13 can be tried as adults not only for violent felonies, but for any criminal offenses whatsoever – and they must be tried as adults for some felonies, including capital crimes. But both parents must agree before a Mississippi girl just shy of her 18th birthday can have an abortion. In Kansas, the discrepancy is even more stark: 17-year-olds must obtain consent from both parents for an abortion, and the age of sexual consent is 16 – but children can be charged as adults for any sort of crime starting at age 10.
This is simply incoherent.
The orthodox liberal opinion is just as incoherent, but in reverse. Progressives maintain that teen-agers who are too young to drive are mature enough to buy contraception and obtain abortions without parental consent or even parental notification. Yet most also argue that young people who commit crimes should not be held fully responsible because their brains have not developed enough to think through the long-range consequences of their often impulsive behavior.
Public policy has to draw lines somewhere, and those lines often will be set arbitrarily. But they should not be set so arbitrarily that they end up being mutually contradictory.
Americans understand that the essence of religious freedom is that government can’t force people to do things that violate their religious beliefs. Some may argue that there’s a conflict here between religious freedom and women’s rights, but that’s a “false choice”—as President Obama himself like to call such things. If the HHS rule is repealed, women will still be perfectly free to obtain contraceptives, abortions, and whatever else isn’t against the law. They just won’t be able to force others to pay for them.
Furyhas been raining down upon Ken Cuccinelli the past few days, as it often does. His offense this time was to suggest that those opposed to the contraception mandate in Obamacare should go to jail for their beliefs.
In a talk-radio interview, the Virginia attorney general — and GOP candidate for governor — cited Lincoln’s dictum that the best way to get rid of a bad law is to enforce it strictly. His local bishop, he said, told him he was willing to go to jail over the matter. “And I said, ‘Bishop, don’t take this personally: You need to go to jail.’”
The usual suspects pounced. “Virginia women deserve better than an attorney general who wants employers in this commonwealth to ‘go to jail’ rather than comply with the law of the land,” said Democratic Party chairwoman Charniele Herring. Cuccinelli is trying to “set reproductive rights back 50 years,” said the campaign of Terry McAuliffe, Cuccinelli’s likely opponent, which urged followers to sign a petition telling Cuccinelli to “stop attacking women’s rights.” “Politicians should not be involved in a woman’s personal decisions about her birth control,” said Planned Parenthood Virginia PAC.
You get the drift.
But these rejoinders raise a host of questions. For example:
• If politicians “should not be involved in a woman’s personal decisions about her birth control,” then what business do politicians have dictating who pays for it?
• Last year more than two dozen women’s-rights supporters were arrested at the Capitol when they refused, during a protest against Virginia’s ridiculous ultrasound legislation, to vacate the steps of the South Portico. Those protesters were willing to go to jail for the sake of their beliefs. Were they wrong to do so? If not, then why is it outrageous to suggest others should be willing to do likewise?
• The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act, which was passed less than two years ago, does not require contraception coverage itself. Rather, it requires coverage for preventive services, and leaves the decision about which ones must be covered to the Department of Health and Human Services. HHS announced the rules requiring contraception coverage last Jan. 20. So if in fact Cuccinelli is trying to “set reproductive rights back,” isn’t it more accurate to say he is trying to set them back not “50 years” but (as of this moment) 362 days?
• The McAuliffe campaign says Cuccinelli is “leading the charge to prevent women from being able to make their own health care decisions along with their doctor.” Were women being prevented from making such decisions 363 days ago?
• For that matter, the insurance mandates in the Affordable Care Act apply only to those businesses with 50 employees or more. Those with a payroll of 49 or fewer are free to provide no coverage of any kind, including no contraception coverage. If Cuccinelli is “attacking women’s rights” by suggesting that a company with 50 employees should not have to provide contraception coverage, then isn’t President Obama equally attacking women’s rights by allowing even greater insurance freedom to a company with 49?
• If, to the contrary, Obama is not “attacking women’s rights” by allowing the 49-worker company to provide no contraception coverage, then how is Cuccinelli attacking women’s rights by seeking precisely the same rule for a 50-worker company?
• Cuccinelli’s critics deem it outrageous that he thinks people should be willing to go to jail over this dispute. But why is that any more outrageous or extreme than thinking we should be willing to send people to jail over it? …
The More Interesting Question About Hobby Lobby Is Not…
… why Hobby Lobby thinks it should not be made to provide coverage for contraception. The more interesting question is: Why do other people think they are entitled to make Hobby Lobby do so?
Inflammatory bonus point: Isn’t using the power of the state to make Hobby Lobby provide contraception coverage rather like using military intervention to impose a no-fly zone over Iraq? After all, in each case the relevant national or interntional body voted in favor of imposing the policy. Does that justify the armed intervention?
Bob Marshall, the most notorious legislator in Virginia, is like the broken clock in the adage: Egregiously wrong much of the time but right on the dot now and then.
It is hard to know which Marshall abhors more — gays and lesbians, or a woman’s right to control her body. He sponsored Virginia’s constitutional amendment banning gay marriage, and tried to get openly gay men banned from the Virginia National Guard (because “If I needed a blood transfusion and the guy next to me had committed sodomy 14 times in the last month, I’d be worried”). This past February, his GOP colleagues backed away from a bill requiring transvaginal ultrasounds of women seeking abortion. Marshall did not: “There’s no reason to,” he said. He once sponsored a bill to prevent unmarried women from conceiving children through medically assisted means.
Last year Marshall introduced a fiercely debated fetal-personhood bill. That bill was carried over, which means it will come up for debate again when the General Assembly convenes Jan. 9. Marshall also has filed legislation to forbid abortion for the purposes of sex selection. He might have more bills up his sleeve (he often does). Progressives will have plenty of reasons to shake their fists at him.
But they should cut him a break when it comes to contraception. On that issue, he has taken the truly pro-choice position and they have not… .
Certain people (you know who you are, ThinkProgress!) seem to consider the UN declaring access to contraception a univeral human right is some sort of thump on those who would rather not pay for other people’s birth control. Take that, you horrible conservatives!
The Supreme Court has declared that individuals have a right to keep and bear arms.* That doesn’t mean I’m entitled to a free Smith & Wesson. It means that, if I want to buy one, nobody should be able to stop me.
I support a woman’s right to choose. And her right to a gun. Neither of those rights imposes a duty on me to fork over my wallet.
* Maybe you disagree with the Supreme Court’s reading of the Constitution. Doesn’t matter for the purposes of this discussion; it’s the law of the land. (Unlike the UN declaration, which is not binding on anyone.)
Take ThinkProgress, the website of the liberal Center for American Progress and the id of the conventional left. During the contraception debate ThinkProgress cranked out scores of pieces explaining why the Catholic Church was wrong to “impose its values on fellow citizens,” as an April 13 post put it. Yet by August, ThinkProgress had discovered the virtues of religion’s participation in politics: “Catholic Nuns Send Letter to Romney Challenging His ‘Woeful lack of Knowledge’ About the Poor,” it bugled a few days ago.
This is all the more odd when you look at what each group of Catholics was trying to achieve. Catholic institutions that did not want to underwrite contraception for their employees were not forbidding those employees to use birth control. They clearly were not constricting the activity of non-employees. They were not trying to overturn the mandate for anyone else — and they certainly were not trying to outlaw the sale of contraception at the corner pharmacy.
By contrast, the Nuns on the Bus and the bishops who objected to Ryan’s budget proposals want the federal government’s coercive taxing power to achieve their social-justice ends. They want the government to make other people underwrite programs that reflect their particular interpretation of the Gospel. That seems a far greater imposition of religious values on non-believers than a request simply to be left alone.
William McGurn certainly saw it that way. A few months ago, the conservative columnist for The Wall Street Journal took the view that the Catholic Church “represents possibly the only institution in the world that still speaks the language of the American Declaration.” That was during the contraception fight. Last week, after Catholics began hammering Paul Ryan, McGurn sang a different tune: “Today,” he lamented, “the liberal impulse in American Catholic life has substituted political for religious orthodoxy.” Margaret Talbot sends her sympathies.
Such whipsawing is, literally, old news: During the 1980s Catholic bishops were everywhere denouncing Reaganomics, and calling for a nuclear-weapons freeze, and sticking up for the poor, misunderstood Communists in Nicaragua, and so on. In 1985, the bishops condemned the 7.1 percent unemployment rate as “morally unacceptable” and publicly urged Congress to reject funding for the MX nuclear missile — all of which left many on the right in a purple rage. It was widely felt in conservative circles that the church was a bunch of useful idiots being exploited by the Kremlin. Those on the left, meanwhile, saw in the church a proud, clear model of sanity and compassion in a world gone mad.
First, gotcha videos like these are inevitably snide, caustic vehicles for mockery. Both sides make them — here’s one laughing at Bush supporters, for example — and they pander to the worst instinct in politics: the tendency to prove to yourself that you were right all along by ridiculing the lowest common denominator of the other side, instead of trying to engage the best arguments from the other side, dissect them, and then demonstrate why your own arguments have more merit.
That brings me to the other reason I don’t blame Valenti for not liking the video. It asks a very good question:If the government should stay the heck out of our bedrooms, then why the heck should it pay for contraception, or force other people to do so?
None of the people in the video seems to have given any thought to that question, and — tellingly — Valenti refuses to engage it as well. Maybe that’s simply not what she was interested in at the moment; her piece is about family politics, after all: She’s upset not by “the video’s content—a ‘gotcha’ compilation about contraception taken at an Obama rally where Sandra Fluke spoke.” Rather, what upset her was “the heartbreaking realization that washes over you when you remember that the opposition to your deeply held values is not just a faceless, evil enemy—it’s family.”
But I sort of wish she had turned that around and given it a harder look. Presumably members of her family are not evil, smirking women-haters. Why, then, do some of them oppose her deeply held values? Could they possibly have a coherent — perhaps even thoughtful; perhaps even persuasive — reason for doing so?
“No, you can’t deny women their basic rights and pretend it’s about your ‘religious freedom.’ If you don’t like birth control, don’t use it. Religious freedom doesn’t mean you can force others to live by your own beliefs.”
(B) Catholic institutions are not forcing women to do anything. To the contrary, they are the ones being forced. Women also have a basic right to own a gun. The Supreme Court — not just HHS regulations — says so. That doesn’t give you the right to a free Smith & Wesson. Don’t like guns? Don’t buy one. But your Second Amendment freedom doesn’t mean you can force other people to subsidize your arsenal.