23 May 2012

Two Nations, One Pill, One Big Difference

Although I often worry that, with the advent of anti-abortion protests outside UK clinics and unprecedented attempts to undermine UK abortion law, the UK is headed in the same worrying anti-choice direction as its cousin across the Atlantic, I can usually comfort myself that British sanity will always prevail. That certainly seems true when you look at this article in the Telegraph, where we learn that the GMC have emphasised that it is unacceptable for doctors to refuse to prescribe contraception (regular or emergency) on 'moral grounds'. Contrast that with the latest slew of anti-contraception moves in the US, a country in which you can claim Viagra on your health insurance, but not the birth control pill.

To anyone with an iota of sense, allowing the erosion of women's bodily freedom in the name of 'religious freedom' is not just sanctioning misogyny, it's also downright illogical. It's confusing 'freedom from' with 'freedom to'. Yes, we all should be able to live free of censorship, oppression, hatred and abuse. That doesn't mean we are free to impose our beliefs on others. In arguing that they are the ones being oppressed by being asked to sanction something they disagree with, religious people are merely masking their own attempts to oppress women. They are also asking that their belief that contraception is wrong be privileged because it is 'supported' by the teachings of an old white man living in a palace in Italy and that beliefs that contraception is an eminently sensible choice be assigned second-class status. I've said it before on this blog and I'll say it again - why on earth should convictions based upon fairy tales be awarded any special status or exemption from the law of the land? You are not special, different or deserving of specific protection just because you believe in an old man in the sky. You certainly deserve as much protection from harm, harassment or oppression as any one else, but NO MORE THAN THAT.

If we were to substitute any other belief for the one that Catholic bishops and Missouri legislators wish to impose upon women, we'd soon see how ridiculous this demand for 'religious conscience clauses' really is. For example, consider Christian Science, whose followers believe that illness is an illusion, and can be overcome with prayer and meditation. Many Christian Scientists therefore do not use any medicines or accept medical treatments (and I can vouch for this as my great-grandmother was a Christian Scientist, and when still able to communicate during the end of her life, repeatedly refused any medical assistance). So, imagine a Christian Scientist doctor. Or even just a Christian Scientist pharmacist. Standing there, saying to patients, "I'm sorry, I cannot prescribe you this migraine medicine. I believe your migraine is an illusion and that prayer will overcome it. Therefore it would be against my conscience to give you this medicine." Sounds pretty ridiculous, right? But it's no different from what American citizens are being asked to accept - the imposition of religious dogma on people who are taking intelligent, preventive steps to look after their bodies. 

Funnily enough, you never hear any stories of Christian Scientists doctors or pharmacists - perhaps because the religion's followers simply do not choose to work in a field they know they have ethical issues with. Just as I don't work as a boxing referee, glamour photographer or cosmetic surgeon; but I respect that in a free society, those industries all have a right to exist without my intervention on 'moral grounds'. Thankfully, the British GMC has recognised that too - it is not a doctor's place to dictate or withold treatment due to personal beliefs. Their only guiding principles must be medical ones, otherwise we are all at risk of our bodies becoming pawns for proselytising. It's a terrible thought that there are so many legislators and Bishops in the US who are happy to sanction exactly that.

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