The Republic of T.

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Warning: Religious Right Hazardous to Health

Couple of things just came across my screen that made me do a double-take. For those haven't read or don't read Americablog. I'd seen the headlines about a woman who was reportedly raped and then taken to jail when police discovered, in the process of investigating, that she had some outstanding warrants. What I hadn't heard was that she was denied her emergency contraception because of a jail worker's religious objections.

First, police say, a 21-year-old woman was raped at Gasparilla. Then, she was handcuffed and jailed – for two nights and two days.

A jail worker with religious objections blocked her from ingesting a morning-after pill to prevent pregnancy, her attorney says, keeping her from taking the required second dose for more than 24 hours longer than recommended.

… A doctor had given her Plan B, the so-called "morning-after pill" approved by the FDA, to prevent pregnancy. But Moore said a medical supervisor at the jail refused to let her take the second of the two pills on Sunday.

For the emergency contraceptive to work, the first pill must be taken within three days of unprotected sex and the second 12 hours after the first. The woman had already taken the first pill soon after the assault Saturday, Moore said. She was unable to take the second pill until Monday afternoon. The jail allowed it, he said, after media inquiries.

I don't know what the physical consequences might be for not taking the full course of the medication, and I can only imagine what the emotional and psychological consequences for this young woman will be if she becomes pregnant as a result of (a) the rape, and (b) being denied emergency contraception by someone who believe he/she knew "God's will" for this young woman.

Closer to my own back yard, the religious right has successfully blocked potential health benefits for young girls in Maryland.

I'd read late last week that the Maryland legislature was considering mandating HPV vaccines for middle school girls. Now, I know there's some controversy about Merk encouraging states to mandate the vaccine, and I'm sure the company is motivated by profit. But what about the benefits of the vaccine?

We'll have to wait a while to find out, because the bill has been pulled, partly due to religious objections from right wing organizations.

A bill that would have required middle school girls in Maryland to be vaccinated against the virus that can cause cervical cancer is being shelved by its lead sponsor.

Sen. Delores G. Kelley (D-Baltimore County) said yesterday that she plans today to withdraw legislation that would have mandated that young girls be vaccinated against human papillomavirus, or HPV, a sexually transmitted virus.

"It's a timing problem," Kelley said, without providing more details about her decision to pull the bill.

Kelley said she probably will reintroduce the bill next session.

… Yesterday, some of the co-sponsors said they were surprised to learn that Kelley was pulling the measure, even though, they said, they could understand her decision.

"There has been growing controversy about the vaccine," said Sen. Gwendolyn T. Britt (D-Prince George's), one of 21 senators who signed on to the measures. "Not about what it will accomplish, but the timeliness of it and the understanding of it being a mandate."

Britt said she received a couple of calls from parents and organizations criticizing the legislation, raising concerns that the vaccine might encourage promiscuity.

The objections aren't about potentially dangerous health effects, from what I can tell. There probably are some potential side effects, but I haven't heard that they outweigh the potential benefits to the 10,000 women in the U.S. who get cervical cancer each year, or the third of them who die from it. Even the people who object to the HPV vaccine don't seem to make this claim.

Their objections sound strangely (frighteningly?) similar to religious objections to the smallpox vaccine more than 200 years ago.

The majority of the population feared and condemned inoculation. Even many of those who were in favor of it were torn by doubts and religious scruples. Was inoculation a “lawful” practice? Was smallpox not a “judgement of God,” sent to punish and humble the people for their sins? Was being inoculated not like “taking God’s Work out of His Hand”?

Imagine thinking that the elimination of smallpox would be a bad thing. Imagine thinking that the elimination of cervical cancer is a bad thing.

The opposition's main concern seems to be that getting the vaccine might free young girls to "sin without consequence." Their focus is less on prevention than on punishment for sin because, in the words of one faith-based "abstinence-only" educator "HPV and a hysterectomy at twenty is not the enemy."

At Reclaiming America for Christ, Stenzel told her audience about a conversation she’d had with a skeptical businessman on an airplane. The man had asked about abstinence education’s success rate—a question she regarded as risible. “What he’s asking,” she said, “is does it work. You know what? Doesn’t matter. Cause guess what. My job is not to keep teenagers from having sex. The public schools’ job should not be to keep teens from having sex.” Then her voice rose and turned angry as she shouted, “Our job should be to tell kids the truth!”

“People of God,” she cried, “can I beg you, to commit yourself to truth, not what works! To truth! I don’t care if it works, because at the end of the day I’m not answering to you, I’m answering to God!”

Later in the same talk, she explained further why what “works” isn’t what’s important—and gave some insight into what she means by “truth.” “Let me tell you something, people of God, that is radical, and I can only say it here,” she said. “AIDS is not the enemy. HPV and a hysterectomy at twenty is not the enemy. An unplanned pregnancy is not the enemy. My child believing that they can shake their fist in the face of a holy God and sin without consequence, and my child spending eternity separated from God, is the enemy. I will not teach my child that they can sin safely.” [emphasis added]

In other words, women who have sex outside of their rules should get cervical cancer. Young people who have sex should get AIDS or have unplanned pregnancies. And women who have the misfortune to get raped, or become victims of incest, and end up pregnant should have to bear their rapist's offspring. Unmarried women who miscarry or women who have potential health risks from pregnancy should have to risk the consequences, up to and including death.

Instead of getting proper healthcare when you go to the doctor imagine that, as Zuzu noted last month, your doctor instead spends the time trying to talk you out of the decision you've made regarding your health? Imagine your doctor refusing to help you because of his/her religious beliefs?

Can you imagine going to your doctor and being told, “I won’t help you”?

No one—whether you have the common cold or a terminal disease—should ever face such a harsh dismissal from their health care provider, right?

Unfortunately, this exact scenario happened to Jay (his last name is being withheld to protect his privacy), a healthy, 25-year-old actor from a conservative, Midwestern state. His offense? Jay had just told his doctor he’s gay.

“What happened to Jay is very dangerous,” says Stephen Goldstone, Medical Director of GayHealth.com, “because it’s this kind of treatment that keeps LGBT people from going to the doctor."

“[My doctor] had suggested that I probably just needed a girlfriend,” says Jay, who was seeking his doctor’s help for depression and anxiety. “When I told her I’m gay, she just stopped talking.”

Instead of discussing his treatment options, Jay was given a stern religious lecture. “My doctor told me, ‘I can’t give you any medicine that will truly help you; no medicine in the world can do that. I cannot condone your lifestyle, but God teaches me to love the sinner and hate the sin.”

Jay then received a 10-minute lecture on the importance of praying and reading the Bible “for answers,” he says. “I repeatedly told the doctor that I have my own personal interpretation of God and spirituality…when I told the doctor that I didn’t agree with the way her professed spiritual beliefs felt about my lifestyle as a gay man, she told me I needed to pray to Jesus to forgive me because until he took away my sin, I wouldn’t be happy.”

“I told her, ‘I’m not a sinner’ and said I came in to get medical help, not a religious lecture,” adds Jay, who was then told, ‘I think we’re done here’ by his doctor, who upon leaving said she would get him “some medicine” and that she “liked him as a person.”

Imagine your doctor refusing to follow your advance directive, because of his/her religious beliefs, or your pharmacist refusing to fill your prescription?

Well, get ready for it, if the religious right gets its way. I can imagine a scenario in which a woman with cervical cancer is denied treatment by a religious health care provider who deems her illness "the wages of sin" for her "promiscuity." Maybe likewise for someone with HIV/AIDS. After all, if they're opposed to an ounce of prevention because it doesn't square up with their faith, why shouldn't they be opposed to a pound of cure too?

Like I said before, they don't just have us queers in their sites. They're aiming for everyone else too.

5 Comments

  1. This is already actionable, simply for pain and suffering. Hopefully, a large reputable local firm will take this on pro bono, and force an immediate settlement, with one award contingent on her not getting pregnant, and another on her getting pregnant. The ironic thing is that, by doing what she did, the medical supervisor may have an actual abortion on her conscience.

  2. I’m actually torn on this issue. I do think that health care providers, be they doctors, nurses, pharmacists, or otherwise, have a right to their own opinions about right and wrong. Those beliefs might be shaped by their religious views. However – I think they should have to be extremely open about their views – a bit of mandatory discrimination. Such as the Jay’s doctor putting a sign in her window that says Gays are unwelcome, please seek forgiveness before seeking medical treatment. And then – let the free market decide whether they stay in practice. Sure, this Doc has already decided she doesn’t want the business from LGBT patients … so be it, her loss. Depending on where she practices, its possible this sign would either attract more straight patients, or drive them away if they knew what she was telling the LGBT crowd.

    Just because someone is opposed to particular procedures based on his/her religious beliefs, does not mean that they cannot still provide medical care for their community in all other aspects. As long as there is open and frank disclosure about what services they will and will not perform, I am currently leaning towards letting the market decide … in my mind, its the purest form of democracy (i.e. without politics) one can find …

  3. Sorry for post part 2 – but I meant to also include that when it comes to scenarios like the cited rape scenario where the prisoner/victim was denied access to Plan B … in that case, I do believe that the patient’s belief’s should trump the beliefs of the provider. In a more general sense – when government dollars are funding the care, the provider’s conscience should take a back seat to the patient’s belief. Otherwise, however, in the routine day-to-day private setting, I’m currently leaning towards allowing both parties the right to conduct their lives according to their own beliefs. As I said in the beginning of the first post … I’m torn … and still working through this on my own …

  4. The only problem with that is this: what happens to those who live in small towns or other areas where there aren’t many providers to choose from? And if they don’t have the means to get to the next town, county, or state to look for health care providers willing to do their jobs?

    Maybe I’m wrong, but if the profession you’re in includes procedures you’d rather not perform, for people you’d rather not serve, then maybe you’re in the wrong profession.

  5. Libertarians are opposed to mandatory HPV vaccination because, unlike traditional childhood diseases such as measles or mumps, neither HPV nor cervical cancer are communicable among schoolchildren. If there is no positive externality from universal innoculation, then there is no justification in the government mandating it.

    Opposing it on fundamentalist religion grounds is, however, just plain nutty.

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