Yesterday I blogged about a teacher at a Catholic school, Emily Herx, who was fired because she got IVF treatments. I received several comments that because of freedom of religion, the church can fire Herx if it wants to.
That argument doesn’t hold; it’s based on the idea that human rights for women are not important. Too many Americans believe that women’s rights are a “cultural” issue and not a political one.
If the Catholic Church “believed” that African-Americans could not be teachers or that adults should have sex with children, the American government would call that illegal. Freedom of religion does not give a religious institution the mandate to violate basic human rights.
As I wrote yesterday:
In 2010, Herx learned that she suffered from a medical condition that caused infertility. At that time, she told her principal she needed time off for IVF treatment. Her request was granted and the principal allegedly told Herx: “You are in my prayers.”…
Herx is claiming sex discrimination and disabilities discrimination under the Americans with Disabilities Act and requesting lost wages, punitive damages, attorney’s fees, and compensation for her mental anguish and emotional distress.
Just like infertility, pregnancy is also medical condition. Women have all kinds of serious health complications from ectoptic pregnancies to hemorrhaging. Contraception is preventative health care. Women’s bodies are different than men’s bodies and have different medical needs. To deny women health care based on those differences is to deny women a basic human right. It’s sex discrimination, and it is appalling that this kind of abuse is tolerated in America.
When I was in college, Apartheid was the government of South Africa. Every day, there were protests against South Africa’s racist government in our campus quad. At the same time, I was taking a sociology class where we learned that cliterodectomies were performed in some countries in Africa. I was taught in my class that to condemn that procedure was wrong; it was to enforce my Western beliefs on another country. It was in this way that I was taught the concept of “relative ethics.” It took me years after my “education” to recover from that kind of teaching, to be able to say that cliterodectomies are wrong, wherever and whenever they happen.
The Taliban is gender apartheid. But the first time I ever heard about the horrible gender crimes supported by that government was not in a campus quad or even a sociology class, but in the back pages of Newsweek, where the celebrity news is. In the Nineties, I read that Mavis Leno, Jay Leno’s wife, was trying to raise funds and awareness to help women under the Taliban rule. At that time, I was a producer for a talk radio station. I brought the article to the host of the show and asked him to talk about it on air. “Have you heard about this?” I said. He responded that our show was local, that no one in the Bay Area would care about the Taliban. “How is it relevant to our lives?” he asked.
Of course, the Taliban became relevant to Americans on 9/11. I don’t believe that a country, even ours, can isolate itself from that kind of hatred and violation of human rights, as much as we try our best to ignore them unless a celebrity happens to host a fundraiser.
In 2009, Pulitzer Prize winning journalists Nicolas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn published Half the Sky, a book that documented sex trafficking, acid burnings, poverty, and lack of access to healthcare for women all around the world. The thesis of Half the Sky is that the world is losing its most valuable resource: women. The writers argue that in the nineteenth century, the central moral challenge was slavery. In the twentieth century, it was the battle against totalitarianism. That in this century, our century, the paramount moral challenge will be the struggle for global gender equality.
I was certain that after the publication of Half the Sky and the media that the book initially received, Americans would finally get that demanding full human rights for women is essential to our survival as a human race, that human rights for women is not a cultural issue. But right now in America, in 2012, we’re fighting over contraception? In our Presidential election? For Americans not to allow all women access to contraception and to basic health care is a human rights violation. Until our government stops seeing women’s rights as a cultural issue, how can we ask the rest of the world to?
Maybe this all goes back to what my professor was trying to teach me in Sociology 101: Americans are hypocrites.