Employers, Your Business Isn't a "My Morality Theme Park," or, What's Wrong with Arizona's Proposed Birth Control Legislation

Legislation has been proposed in Arizona that would allow employers to force women to provide documentation of their “medical” reasons for needing birth control before their health insurance would have to cover it.

This Arizona legislation is precisely an example of something I described in an earlier column: We talk so pervasively, even euphemistically, about how birth control is important for "women's health" and cysts--which it is, don't get me wrongthat we end up with a legislator saying, "okay, if it's all about women’s health, then how about if you present medical records to prove your health problem, and we're only going to cover those women”--the ones with non-lustful motivations.

They’re the women that we’ve spotlighted, too—rather than those who want to enjoy non-procreative sex for purposes of pleasure, intimacy, and bonding—so no wonder the legislator uses this tactic. We handed it to him on a silver platter. (Incidentally, this legislation presumably would also allow employers to drop from coverage a huge swath of prescription birth control that has no "women's health” pretext whatsoever, including IUDs, diaphragms and injection methods.)

I’m going to try to take his argument earnestly. My first question: Where do we draw the line?  

The obvious example is Viagra. Why should I indirectly cover it, as an employer, if I’m not covering the means for women to enjoy non-procreative sex? To cover Viagra, I’d require medical affidavits that the couple really was trying to conceive a child, and needed to solve the ED problem for that reason. No fibbing.

I wouldn’t provide Viagra to unmarried men, at all. If they’re single and want Viagra, then they want to have recreational sex or to conceive an out of wedlock baby. 

Likewise with vasectomies, whose sole purpose is to allow men to have non-procreative sex.

There are subtler examples. Let’s say that I’m an employer who as a matter of conscience believes in Zero Population growth. Supporters of zero population zealously advocate for replacement fertility only in each nation, in the name of sustainability. Advocates find it immoral that as a species we reproduce beyond our capacities and resources. 

If I were that employer, why should I support an employee who refuses to use birth control, and who has 10 children?  To the zero population zealot employer, it’s morally abhorrent. He doesn’t understand why he should have to to "aid and abet" by allowing his insurance to cover her hospital delivery costs. Under the aegis of her religious belief, she’s producing too many children, is his conviction, and it makes him sick, to think that he’s being forced to pay for it.

Why shouldn't I have the freedom of conscience not to pay, the same freedom that this legislation proposes for employers who disapprove of women having sex? 

I'm a Christian Scientist.  I don’t believe in medicine as my first option for healing, so I shouldn’t have to cover medical remedies before my employee has exhausted holistic methods.

I'm a devout Muslim employer who avoids alcohol as a matter of faith. Why should I pay for rehab, alcohol-related illness, or Antabuse? 

Why should I support fertility treatments? If it’s God’s will that you can’t conceive, that’s what it is. And so on.

This legislation talks as if  an Employer’s business is like some private little kingdom, or “My Morality Theme Park”—some realm where they can do whatever the hell they want to their employees or their compensation packages, which is really what health insurance is. (By the way, none of this nonsense about employers is happening if only we’d gone for a Single Payer System, which would have removed employers from the equation).

Private accommodations such as stores and businesses aren’t exempt from constitutional principles and civil rights legislation. That was a major innovation of the 1964 Civil Rights Act. Employers can’t act in a discriminatory fashion-- lunch counters weren't allowed to remain segregated just because a business owner wanted it that way. Segregation was his impassioned conviction--but businesses aren’t given a free ride to act discriminatorily or to violate Constitutional principle because they’re business owners.

That's a 19th century view—a purist laissez faire view of markets-- and not a 20th century view. 

Speaking of the 20th century, those of who believe in it need to start defending the principles that it stood for.

It's not as if social conservatives have all the sexual "values" and we’re the negative space of No Values.  I’m tired of people acting that way, fearful of the Values Bogeyman of the Right, always rushing in to reassure, “Oh, no! We don’t want people to have sex, it’s just that, well, we need birth control for a cyst.”

Other people disagree with our values. I understand that. And how. But they are values, and we’d better start describing and fighting for them. Personally, this is how I define them:

  • I believe in the right to privacy as a foundational concept of freedom in a modern state. Some of a citizen’s most protected freedoms attach to freedoms of expression, and freedom in marriage, intimate relations, sexuality, and reproduction.
  • The expansion of individual equality and opportunity in the 1900s through the civil rights and the women’s movements have been, on the whole, disruptive but positive things.
  • I believe in self-determination in personal, intimate relations. This means that often, other people will make decisions that I don’t agree with (“freedom is messy,” to recall Rumsfeld). I don’t think it’s my place to dictate to them through legislation and employer penalties. If I disagree with their choices, I might try to persuade, but not outlaw.
  • Control over our bodies, for men and women, is the most basic liberty in a democracy. So is not getting beaten on, abused, molested, violated, or raped.
  • Sex is a not-gross part of humanity, even if it happens outside of marriage. Sex and chastity are not things to bargain with to get something else.
  • Along with self-determination comes personal responsibility. Our decisions are ours to make—and to take responsibility for. Our “honor” isn’t a matter for male relatives, for example. You might retort, “well, if you take responsibility, then an employer doesn’t need to cover your birth control.” See my next comment, about decision-making in a non-theocratic society.
  • In situations that require collective decision-making--such as what health insurance compensation should cover--the appropriate course should be guided by the compass of civil rights, equal treatment under the law, and non-discriminatory standards that don’t privilege one group or creed over another.
  • As for "sluts?" I don’t treat them like the crazy relative at Thanksgiving dinner, or shove them in the closet.  It’s tempting to paraphrase that axiom, “I didn’t stick up for the sluts, I didn’t stick up for the promiscuous… And, then, when they came for me, there was no one left to defend me.”

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    Political division is nothing new. Throughout American history there have been numerous flare ups in which the political arena was more than just tense but incideniary. In a letter addressed to William Hamilton in 1800, Thomas Jefferson once lamented about how an emotional fervor had swept over the populace in regards to a certain political issue at the time. It disturbed him greatly to see how these political issues seemed to seep into every area of life and even affect people's interpersonal relationships. At one point in the letter he states:

    "I never considered a difference of opinion in politics, in religion, in philosophy, as cause for withdrawing from a friend."

    Today, we Americans find ourselves in a similar situation, with our political environment even more splintered due to a number of factors. The advent of mass digital media, siloed identity-driven political groups, and a societal lack of understanding of basic discursive fundamentals all contribute to the problem.

    Civil discourse has fallen to an all time low.

    The question that the American populace needs to ask itself now is: how do we fix it?

    Discursive fundamentals need to be taught to preserve free expression

    In a 2017 Free Speech and Tolerance Survey by Cato, it was found that 71% of Americans believe that political correctness had silenced important discussions necessary to our society. Many have pointed to draconian university policies regarding political correctness as a contributing factor to this phenomenon.

    It's a great irony that, colleges, once true bastions of free-speech, counterculture and progressiveness, have now devolved into reactionary tribal politics.

    Many years ago, one could count on the fact that universities would be the first places where you could espouse and debate any controversial idea without consequence. The decline of staple subjects that deal with the wisdom of the ancients, historical reference points, and civic discourse could be to blame for this exaggerated partisanship boiling on campuses.

    Young people seeking an education are given a disservice when fed biased ideology, even if such ideology is presented with the best of intentions. Politics are but one small sliver for society and the human condition at large. Universities would do well to instead teach the principles of healthy discourse and engagement across the ideological spectrum.

    The fundamentals of logic, debate and the rich artistic heritage of western civilization need to be the central focus of an education. They help to create a well-rounded citizen that can deal with controversial political issues.

    It has been found that in the abstract, college students generally support and endorse the first amendment, but there's a catch when it comes to actually practicing it. This was explored in a Gallup survey titled: Free Expression on Campus: What college students think about First amendment issues.

    In their findings the authors state:

    "The vast majority say free speech is important to democracy and favor an open learning environment that promotes the airing of a wide variety of ideas. However, the actions of some students in recent years — from milder actions such as claiming to be threatened by messages written in chalk promoting Trump's candidacy to the most extreme acts of engaging in violence to stop attempted speeches — raise issues of just how committed college students are to
    upholding First Amendment ideals.

    Most college students do not condone more aggressive actions to squelch speech, like violence and shouting down speakers, although there are some who do. However, students do support many policies or actions that place limits on speech, including free speech zones, speech codes and campus prohibitions on hate speech, suggesting that their commitment to free speech has limits. As one example, barely a majority think handing out literature on controversial issues is "always acceptable."

    With this in mind, the problems seen on college campuses are also being seen on a whole through other pockets of society and regular everyday civic discourse. Look no further than the dreaded and cliche prospect of political discussion at Thanksgiving dinner.

    Talking politics at Thanksgiving dinner

    As a result of this increased tribalization of views, it's becoming increasingly more difficult to engage in polite conversation with people possessing opposing viewpoints. The authors of a recent Hidden Tribes study broke down the political "tribes" in which many find themselves in:

    • Progressive Activists: younger, highly engaged, secular, cosmopolitan, angry.
    • Traditional Liberals: older, retired, open to compromise, rational, cautious.
    • Passive Liberals: unhappy, insecure, distrustful, disillusioned.
    • Politically Disengaged: young, low income, distrustful, detached, patriotic, conspiratorial
    • Moderates: engaged, civic-minded, middle-of-the-road, pessimistic, Protestant.
    • Traditional Conservatives: religious, middle class, patriotic, moralistic.
    • Devoted Conservatives: white, retired, highly engaged, uncompromising,

    Understanding these different viewpoints and the hidden tribes we may belong to will be essential in having conversations with those we disagree with. This might just come to a head when it's Thanksgiving and you have a mix of many different personalities, ages, and viewpoints.

    It's interesting to note the authors found that:

    "Tribe membership shows strong reliability in predicting views across different political topics."

    You'll find that depending on what group you identify with, that nearly 100 percent of the time you'll believe in the same way the rest of your group constituents do.

    Here are some statistics on differing viewpoints according to political party:

    • 51% of staunch liberals say it's "morally acceptable" to punch Nazis.
    • 53% of Republicans favor stripping U.S. citizenship from people who burn the American flag.
    • 51% of Democrats support a law that requires Americans use transgender people's preferred gender pronouns.
    • 65% of Republicans say NFL players should be fired if they refuse to stand for the anthem.
    • 58% of Democrats say employers should punish employees for offensive Facebook posts.
    • 47% of Republicans favor bans on building new mosques.

    Understanding the fact that tribal membership indicates what you believe, can help you return to the fundamentals for proper political engagement

    Here are some guidelines for civic discourse that might come in handy:

    • Avoid logical fallacies. Essentially at the core, a logical fallacy is anything that detracts from the debate and seeks to attack the person rather than the idea and stray from the topic at hand.
    • Practice inclusion and listen to who you're speaking to.
    • Have the idea that there is nothing out of bounds for inquiry or conversation once you get down to an even stronger or new perspective of whatever you were discussing.
    • Keep in mind the maxim of : Do not listen with the intent to reply. But with the intent to understand.
    • We're not trying to proselytize nor shout others down with our rhetoric, but come to understand one another again.
    • If we're tied too closely to some in-group we no longer become an individual but a clone of someone else's ideology.

    Civic discourse in the divisive age

    Debate and civic discourse is inherently messy. Add into the mix an ignorance of history, rabid politicization and debased political discourse, you can see that it will be very difficult in mending this discursive staple of a functional civilization.

    There is still hope that this great divide can be mended, because it has to be. The Hidden Tribes authors at one point state:

    "In the era of social media and partisan news outlets, America's differences have become
    dangerously tribal, fueled by a culture of outrage and taking offense. For the combatants,
    the other side can no longer be tolerated, and no price is too high to defeat them.
    These tensions are poisoning personal relationships, consuming our politics and
    putting our democracy in peril.

    Once a country has become tribalized, debates about contested issues from
    immigration and trade to economic management, climate change and national security,
    become shaped by larger tribal identities. Policy debate gives way to tribal conflicts.
    Polarization and tribalism are self-reinforcing and will likely continue to accelerate.
    The work of rebuilding our fragmented society needs to start now. It extends from
    re-connecting people across the lines of division in local communities all the way to
    building a renewed sense of national identity: a bigger story of us."

    We need to start teaching people how to approach subjects from less of an emotional or baseless educational bias or identity, especially in the event that the subject matter could be construed to be controversial or uncomfortable.

    This will be the beginning of a new era of understanding, inclusion and the defeat of regressive philosophies that threaten the core of our nation and civilization.