The Contraception Kerfuffle

Over the last few days, there has been no shortage of crazed invective on the contraception issue from certain religious folks. For them, the notion that religious institutions providing public services ought to play by the same rules as everyone else constitutes tyranny. So we have Rick Santorum, for example, casually invoking images of the guillotine and the French Revolution.

This is all just election-year grandstanding, of course. It is this year’s Ground Zero Mosque. If this were February 2013, or if a Repeublican were President, we would not be hearing the usual bleats and howls from the right-wing outrage machine. As Rachel Maddow pointed out on her show, numerous Catholic universities and law schools already provide coverage for contraception, and some Republicans are on record in the past supporting this.

With all the crazy talk out there, my nomination for the most utterly oblivious comment comes from Catholic blogger Edward Feser. He writes:

Suppose that the bishops had for decades consistently thundered against contraception and disciplined all priests and Catholic writers and teachers who publicly dissented from the Church’s teaching. There would be many more Catholics faithful to the Church’s teaching than there are now, both because more Catholics would realize how grave a sin contraception is, and because they would be having far more children than they do now. Even those Catholics who still disobeyed the teaching would be more likely to have a guilty conscience about doing so, and would be far less likely to dissent from it publicly. And non-Catholics would have no doubt whatsoever that the bishops, and Catholics more generally, would “go to the mat” to protect Catholic institutions from policies like the one now announced by HHS.

Let me suggest a different scenario. Had the bishops spent decades consistently thundering against contraception, the result, at least in the United States, would have been an exodus from the Catholic Church of a magnitude not seen since the Jews left Egypt. It’s hardly a secret that the overwhelming majority of American Catholics reject the Church’s teaching on contraception. And for good reason! They recognize it clearly as absurd and anti-woman and an impediment to living a happy life.

For its part, the Church, which is primarily a political organization that cares far more about secular power than it does about anything transcendent, would love to reverse its position on birth control, but that would make them look weak and compromising. But they also know that if they start acting like they really mean it, everyone would laugh at them and they would thereby render themselves irrelevant as an organization with any hold over public opinion. So they do the next best thing, officially maintaining the policy, but calmly looking the other way while virtually everyone flouts it.

You should read Feser’s whole post, if only for the light it sheds on the mindset of fanatical Catholics. He writes:

It goes without saying that the bishops have also done very little to discipline those Catholic politicians who publicly and obstinately promote policies which the Church teaches are gravely immoral. Only a few individual bishops have dared to state publicly that those Catholic politicians who promote abortion or “same-sex marriage” ought not to receive Holy Communion. But no such politician seems to have taken these admonitions seriously, and even the most conservative bishops seem to regard the harsher penalty of excommunication as unthinkable. How surprised should they be now that one of these Catholic politicians — Kathleen Sebelius — has moved on from promoting abortion “rights” to actively persecuting her fellow Catholics, while other Catholics in the administration (such as Vice President Joe Biden) stand by without protest?

That a Catholic could reasonably believe that Church teaching should not be the basis for public policy does not seem to have occurred to Feser. There is no contradiction in believing that X is morally wrong, while simultaneously believing that X should be legal. To argue that Catholic politicians are obligated to use their power to implement the Church’s moral principles is to argue that America should be a Catholic theocracy, and people who hold such views have no business giving lectures on tyranny and persecution.

For people like Feser, Catholicism is primarily about adherence to a set of doctrinal beliefs. But for many, Catholicism is something else entirely. For them, being Catholic is similar to what being Jewish is for many secular Jews. It is a culture, and an environment in which they feel comfortable. It certainly is not something that entails waiting on tenterhooks to hear the latest pronouncements from Rome. It is important in their lives, but not something that governs every aspect of what they say and do. If the polls are to be believed, a majority of Catholics support the President on this issue. If the Church really started excommunicating people willy-nilly, or started forcing people either to be abstinent or to have enormous families, or made unwavering adherence to every aspect of their doctrine a condition of membership, then they would thereby divorce themselves from the daily realities of people’s lives. Does the Church exist to be an island of fanaticism sitting in judgment over everyone else? Or does the Church exist to encourage people towards its way of thinking in this life, confident that God will handle the fallout in the next?

Of course, I would argue that Catholic moral teaching on a great many issues should be rejected because what the Church teaches is wrong, and sometimes even disgusting. Those in the pro-life, anti-contraception and anti-gay marriage camps hold positions that are themselves morally wrong and which lead to awful consequences that no one should find acceptable. But that is for a different post.

Moving on, here is what Feser has to say about health care reform:

The bishops have also put little emphasis on the principle of subsidiarity, according to which the needs of individuals, families, and local communities ought as a matter of justice to be met as far as possible by those individuals, families, and communities themselves rather than by centralized governmental institutions. This is a fundamental principle of Catholic social teaching, and its point is in part precisely to shield smaller and more local institutions from arbitrary and tyrannical power of the sort the federal government is now exercising vis-à-vis Catholic institutions. Yet most Catholics have probably never heard of the principle; worse, and as I complained in a post on the 2010 health care debate, though the Obama administration’s health care plan is seriously objectionable from the point of view of subsidiarity, the bishops took no account of the principle when commenting on the plan. Indeed, they gave the impression that, apart from some aspects of the plan concerning abortion and coverage of illegal immigrants, it was not only unobjectionable but something to “applaud.” How surprised should they be when government officials well known for their hostility to Catholic teaching use the power the bishops have urged them to take in ways the bishops do not like?

I am all in favor of solving problems at as local a level as possible. But it is a delusion of the first magnitude to think that more than forty million people without health insurance represents a failure of individuals, families and communities. I would very much like to hear how Feser thinks we can attain universal health care without running afoul of the principal of subsidiarity, which he fancies he understands better than the bishops.

If we think it is a problem that so many people lack health care until they are sick enough to go to an emergency room then only the government can fix things. But maybe Feser doesn’t think it is a problem, since he chides the bishops for applauding the goals of Obama’s reform while only objecting to certain specifics. The bishops probably just think that Catholic social teaching does not need to be obsessed with contraception, gay marriage and abortion, but could also find time to worry about those who lack basic needs.

The irony is that this whole kerfuffle shows why Obama’s health reform didn’t go nearly far enough. As pointed out by Lawrence O’Donnell on his show on Wednesday, a single-payer system for health care would have avoided this problem. Get employers out of the health insurance business and we avoid this problem altogether.

And the newest problem involves the Catholic Church. The Catholic
Church, as an institution, running hospitals and schools all around the
world, is not confronted by a theological challenge of the kind we`re
seeing today in any of the other countries where it employs people because
those countries do not make the irresponsible mistake of relying on
employers to help to pay for their workers` health insurance. This is a
uniquely American problem because the American health care system is and
remains a unique mess.

Where we now, after three years of the most successful health care
reform president we`ve ever had, now have more people without health
insurance in this country than when George W. Bush was president. And that
is no fault of President Obama`s. That is the fault of our employer-based
private health insurance system.

When unemployment goes up in our system, people lose not just their
jobs, they lose their health care. In other countries, they just lose
their jobs. Those countries think that`s bad enough.

Losing your job and your health care with it is an unrelenting piece
of American inhumanity that will be with us forever under the new health
care law. The law is frequently and always falsely described as one that
will achieve universal coverage in this country.

Indeed.

Comments

  1. #1 Garnetstar
    February 10, 2012

    Catholicism teaches that adultery is immoral, yet no bishop is advocating the excommunication of Newt Gingrich, much less jailing him.

    Back in the day, Catholic women had a much higher rate of hysterectomies than non-Catholics. This was because in order to be absolved, you must repent and promise never to sin in that way again. That’s tough when you’re taking a birth control pill every day.

    But with a hysterectomy, you can confess, repent, very truthfully promise never to do it again, say your Hail Marys, and have your cake and eat it too.

    So let’s just go back to those days.

  2. #2 Lenoxus
    February 10, 2012

    Had the bishops spent decades consistently thundering against contraception, the result, at least in the United States, would have been an exodus from the Catholic Church of a magnitude not seen since the Jews left Egypt.

    Nicely put. (Apart from the likely fictionality of the Egyptian Exodus, but you knew that.)

    Various anecdotes I have read on the interwebs suggest that it is hard enough to leave the Church if you want to. I mean, obviously nothing stops anyone from just saying “I’m no longer a Catholic”, but actually getting your name off the lists (so they have smaller numbers of which to boast, etc) is apparently a minor ordeal. So it’s little wonder that the Church doesn’t bother to kick out the people who would rather stay.

    On a tangential note… both the fact that religions have to be relatively flexible in order to survive for millenia, and the sense in which a religion is much more a community than a set of Official Beliefs, are discussed in the fascinating if occasionally frustrating book The Religious Case Against Belief by James P. Carse, author of Finite and Infinite Games.

    To argue that Catholic politicians are obligated to use their power to implement the Church’s moral principles is to argue that America should be a Catholic theocracy, and people who hold such views have no business giving lectures on tyranny and persecution.

    Though I see your point, I wouldn’t go quite that far. It’s all just a voluntary organization; it’s not like excommunication is a real punishment. If the Church really wants to start “enforcing” its rules on politicians (and everyone else), it can go right ahead. I’m waiting. As you pointed out, the Church would only be hurting itself in doing so.

  3. #3 eric
    February 10, 2012

    Interesting how he doesn’t apply this principle of subsidiarity to the problem of contraception. Why leap to a federal solution when catholic indidividuals, families, and communities are perfectly capable of resisting free contraception.

  4. #4 Another Matt
    February 10, 2012

    Fred Clark at Slacktivist has been very good on the subsidiarity issue for the last year. Here’s his latest:

    http://www.patheos.com/blogs/slacktivist/2012/02/06/ross-douthats-utopia-exists-in-haiti/

  5. #5 LetterD
    February 10, 2012

    If we think it is a problem that so many people lack health care until they are sick enough to go to an emergency room then only the government can fix things.

    There is in fact a large network of public and private programs and institutions that provide free or low-cost health care services to poor and uninsured persons, such as the federal health centers program. There is little evidence that expanding health insurance would have much effect on the health or economic security of the population. The importance of health insurance tends to be grossly exaggerated by liberals.

  6. #6 Ron Popil
    February 10, 2012

    Feser is a pompous delusional moron and a first-class crackpot. He’s not worth wasting any time on.

  7. #7 John Krehbiel
    February 10, 2012

    Much of the rhetoric from conservatives is along the lines of “Obama is telling Catholics to go to Hell.”

    Well, no. Catholics in the US use birth control at a rate pretty much indistinguishable from that of non-Catholics. It’s the bishops he’s telling to go to Hell, and simply joining most Catholics in doing so.

  8. #8 Jr
    February 11, 2012

    Personally I am more curious how some even came up with the idea that an insurance plan should cover contraception. What’s next, buying insurance in case you need food?

  9. #9 complex field
    February 11, 2012

    As a former Catholic, I find it entertaining that the most fanatical Catholics believe it a sin to question the Church, and here Feser is, questioning the bishops, en masse, and thus, the Church.

  10. #10 Verbose Stoic
    February 11, 2012

    “As Rachel Maddow pointed out on her show, numerous Catholic universities and law schools already provide coverage for contraception, and some Republicans are on record in the past supporting this.”

    The difference is that in those cases, it’s a choice. If those people think that it’s compatible with their religion — ie they disagree with the principle — or decide to do it regardless, they are making the choice and presumably — although in this modern world this seems less and less likely to be true — are willing to take the consequences of so doing. The problem is when it is forced on people, and people who might in fact think that it is indeed unacceptable by their religious principles and think that they don’t want to face the consequences of it. And even if most Catholics would choose to provide it, this starts down a slippery slope that people whose religious convictions mean that they don’t want to be involved in such an action should be forced to do it anyway.

    The fact that almost all of the counters focused on saying that Catholics have to follow the law is ignoring the fact that freedom of religion is indeed a protected right and so in cases where the law and a right clash it is the law, not the right, that gives way. And so even though I, personally, don’t care about the specific issue, I do see the arguments and this sort of measure as being a bit unnerving, and if this sort of debate is an indication of what you’d see in a secular state then I don’t want one, and want something that actually respects the right to freedom of religion that’s supposedly guaranteed in secular states.

  11. #11 John Krehbiel
    February 11, 2012

    We all have to support things we don’t approve of. My tax dollars support “professional” sports, for instance, which I consider unmitigated evil.

    Even if you think I’m being silly or exaggerating, why should my moral opinions be of any less importance than someone else’s? Does the fact that they think their moral rules come from their imaginary friend make them more valid? I can’t see why.

  12. #12 Jason Rosenhouse
    February 11, 2012

    Verbose Stoic –

    The fact that almost all of the counters focused on saying that Catholics have to follow the law is ignoring the fact that freedom of religion is indeed a protected right and so in cases where the law and a right clash it is the law, not the right, that gives way.

    That isn’t true. If it were, anyone could form a religion of one to get around any law they didn’t like. There are all kinds of laws that infringe on religious practices, such as laws against polygamy, use of certain drugs, or against animal sacrifice, and these laws have never been found to be constitutionally problematic.

  13. #13 dean
    February 11, 2012

    That the bishops were full of crap in their initial objections is becoming more obvious
    now that the proposal has been changed so that it essentially matched
    what is already required in several states and they are still whining
    but now it is about some other make believe problem.

  14. #14 Reginald Selkirk
    February 11, 2012

    David Frumm points out

    If the audience is paying attention, for example, it will notice that Republicans are not proposing to allow employers and plans to refuse to cover blood transfusions if they conscientiously object to them (although there are religious groups that do). Or vaccinations (although there are individuals who conscientiously object to those as well). Or medicines derived from animal experimentation. (Ditto.)
    .
    No, Marco Rubio’s Religious Freedom Restoration bill provides for one conscientious exemption only: contraception and sterilization.

  15. #15 Deepak Shetty
    February 11, 2012

    @Verbose stoic
    that freedom of religion is indeed a protected right and so in cases where the law and a right clash it is the law, not the right, that gives way.
    Yes clearly it is the law that must give way before the religious right to murder apostates.

  16. #16 Lenoxus
    February 11, 2012

    Hhh, apparently my earlier comment got swallowed, up, so here’s a shortened version:

    Various anecdotes I have read on the interwebs suggest that it is hard enough to leave the Church if you want to. I mean, obviously nothing stops anyone from just saying “I’m no longer a Catholic”, but actually getting your name off the lists (so they have smaller numbers of which to boast, etc) is apparently a minor ordeal. So it’s little wonder that the Church usually doesn’t bother to kick out the people who would rather stay.

  17. #17 Verbose Stoic
    February 11, 2012

    John,

    “We all have to support things we don’t approve of. My tax dollars support “professional” sports, for instance, which I consider unmitigated evil. ”

    And that description doesn’t seem a bit … exaggerated to you?

    There is a difference between tax dollar support and directly providing. I don’t think anyone is forcing you to, say, but their tickets or merchandise.

    “Even if you think I’m being silly or exaggerating, why should my moral opinions be of any less importance than someone else’s? Does the fact that they think their moral rules come from their imaginary friend make them more valid? I can’t see why.”

    Don’t take it up with me; take it up with your Constitution. That’s what says that freedom of religion is a right but freedom of personal conscience isn’t. Personally, I don’t think that anyone should be forced by law to violate their morality, but then I don’t like rights-based law or morality, so take that with a grain of salt.

  18. #18 Verbose Stoic
    February 11, 2012

    Jason,

    Before I go on, let’s take a step back and let me ask you this: do you agree that, in general, if a law is made that infringes on a legally guaranteed right, that in general the law is what gives way, either by there being an exception made in the law for that purpose, or by the law being struck down and removed? I hope you do, because it seems to me that it would be foolish to deny that. And then let’s go on further and let me ask if you accept that some laws have been overturned because they infringe on the right to freedom of religion? And, further, if you think that, say, a law that made a particular religion, say, illegal, would indeed be struck down as infringing on that right?

    I hope we’re in agreement up to this point. Here, then, we can see that your examples are essentially of cases where that right DIDN’T trump a law. And, well, no right is absolute, so there will be cases where a law may be made that, say, creates a clash between two rights, and it’s a long and complicated process to sort out which takes precedence. In general, as I said, rights trump laws, and if a right does not trump a law in a specific case it means one of two things: a) there is a really, really good reason to not allow an exception (like a competing right) or b) the judgement that the law should trump the right is wrong.

    So, let’s look at the examples:

    ” … laws against polygamy, use of certain drugs, or against animal sacrifice, and these laws have never been found to be constitutionally problematic. ”

    In Canada, polygamy was challenged recently, and it has been ruled that the impact on women trumps the right in that case. So that’s isn’t unproblematic. And I do believe that there have been cases where if an illegal drug is required for a religious ceremony, exceptions have been made but only in the context of that ceremony. One simple example is that it is indeed legal, as far as I know, for Christian churches to serve communal wine that I believe contains some alcohol to children as part of communion, and while I can’t remember such cases off the top of my head I’ve heard people complaining about other cases. As for animal sacrifice, I’m not certain that that’s as safe as you think it is, but you would also have to look for a challenge. Actually, note that when the U.K. introduced stricter animal cruelty laws hallal and kosher meat production might have been influenced, and I do think they were granted exceptions for that purpose.

    There is no reason, as far as I can see, to not do the compromise that Obama eventually did to ensure that the right of freedom of religion is indeed respected.

  19. #19 Gerry L
    February 11, 2012

    My company documents what they call ‘total compensation’ to show employees how much they actually receive in addition to the numbers on their paycheck. The cost of healthcare coverage is included in the total compensation breakout. All employers figure this out even if they don’t show the numbers to their employees. What this tells me is that employers — catholic or otherwise — are not being FORCED TO PAY for contraception because it is the employee who is EARNING coverage. Insurance coverage is part of their total pay package — their earnings, not the employer’s money.

    BTW, the other night on PBS News Hour, a guy representing the “this is anti-religion” view made it clear his side holds that NO employer who had a religious objection to contraception should be forced to include it in insurance coverage for employees. (Think Domino’s Pizza.)

  20. #20 Blairmc
    February 11, 2012

    The government should not trample on the first amendments protection. Contraception is not a medical service but a social decision.

    A people who support the policy of a government enforcing laws over a person’s conscience is doomed when that government overrides all the people’s rights of conscience!

  21. #21 eric
    February 11, 2012

    Jr @8:

    Personally I am more curious how some even came up with the idea that an insurance plan should cover contraception.

    Probably the insurers did. After all, they have to pay 80-90% of costs for deliveries, pediactric care, and so on. If they can prevent that cost by giving out condoms and birth control, it’s bargain.

    Now, if they know you’re going to want it, will they want to charge you for it anyway? Of course. Because that’s extra profit. But sort of like offering free nicotine patches to smokers trying to quit, they’d make money even if they charged you nothing for it.

    VS:

    The difference is that in those cases, it’s a choice…The problem is when it is forced on people…

    I assume you are talking about people being forced to pay for contraception, and agree that nobody is being forced to take contraception, right?

    If that’s the case, see above. While companies can and will itemize a cost for it, nobody really “pays” for it since your overall health care costs go down when you use birth control.

  22. #22 eric
    February 11, 2012

    VS:

    Don’t take it up with me; take it up with your Constitution. That’s what says that freedom of religion is a right but freedom of personal conscience isn’t.

    None of the rights are considered wholly absolute, nor have they ever, because that would be stupid. Civil law, passed for well understood and necessary purposes, trumps your rights. Thus, no shouting “fire” in a theater. More recently, no bearing arms (carrying guns) in a courtroom. For religion, no polygamy, no peyote, and so on. It has been that way since at least 1879 and the Supreme Court case of Reynolds v. United States.

    If you want to know how the courts make these decisions (i.e., what criteria a law has to pass to be constitutional when it limits a right), I suggest you look that case up, as well as others.

  23. #23 Blairmc
    February 11, 2012

    Why does our government wish to slow the birth rate?

  24. #24 Phaedrus
    February 11, 2012

    Garnetstar,
    You seem to be somewhat confused about Catholicism, which teaches that adultery is a grave sin — in fact a mortal one — but also teaches that mortal sins can be absolved in the sacrament of penance, i.e., confession to a priest. Given that, how can you argue that a bishop must excommunicate him after he has done penance, which he must have done to be receiving Communion?

    Can you direct us to any studies that controlled for pertinent factors — like number of children, family income, how many parents worked outside the home, the use of prenatal care, etc. — that found that “[b]ack in the day, Catholic women had a much higher rate of hysterectomies than non-Catholics?”

  25. #25 John Krehbiel
    February 12, 2012

    @Blairmc,

    Because almost all of the serious problems we face are caused by the fact that the Earth’s human population is 3 orders of magnitude higher than it’s carrying capacity. (which I count with reference to the pre-agricultural population of 5 million or so)

    Of course we can have a much higher sustainable population (than 5 million, I mean), but there is no way the current population is sustainable at any reasonable standard of living.

    @Verbose Stoic,
    “nor prohibit the free exercise therof” isn’t the same as saying that religious people get to tell others what to do.

    If I were Jewish, could I pay employees with some kind of scrip that prevents them from buying pork?

    Health insurance is compensation for employment. The employer pays for the insurance coverage, which by law (if not simple common sense) must cover preventative medicine. It’s hard to define birth control is such a way that it is not “preventative.”

    And an exemption does exist for those cases where the employees can reasonably be expected to be members of the same faith. Churches are exempt for that reason. But a hospital run by a church is not likely only to hire members of its own faith. Once they pay their employees, the employees are free to use their compensation in any legal way they see fit. I don’t see any difference between using their cash wages and using their employer provided health insurance.

  26. #26 Steve Greene
    February 12, 2012

    Jason, you wrote, “For them, the notion that religious institutions providing public services ought to play by the same rules as everyone else constitutes tyranny.”

    That’s the issue, and that’s why it’s a political issue. The issue being a political one, all the other discussion is irrelevant to this. When we agree or disagree with the religious beliefs people have is not the issue here. Yes, I completely agree that the Catholic doctrine against contraception is crazy (and no less or more crazy than the religious belief of tens of millions of religious believers in the U.S. that the universe only came into existence about 6,000 years or so ago).

    But the issue here is has the government gone too far, or not? And how does the First Amendment come into play in this?

    Critics of the propose government regulation are, of course, focusing on the concept of religious freedom behind the words “Congress shall make no law…prohibiting the free exercise” of religion. However, the whole statement there is “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof….” So you are completely correct to begin by bringing up the issue that they “ought to play by the same rules as everyone else”. Which really complicates the issue, because what if the rules being imposed (the government regulation) is in fact entangling government in “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion.

    The broader issue is that perhaps the real problem is overregulation by government in the first place.

  27. #27 TylerD
    February 12, 2012

    Freedom of religion = the right to worship whatever stupid fairytale you damn well please.

    Freedom of religion != the right to be exempt from laws that everyone else has to follow because of you belief in said stupid fairlytale.

    /thread

  28. #28 Wow
    February 12, 2012

    “But the issue here is has the government gone too far, or not?”

    Not.

    “And how does the First Amendment come into play in this?”

    It doesn’t.

    Because you are still allowed to believe that contraception is wrong AND NOT USE IT.

    It really is rather simple.

    PS if government really should get out of religion completely, then this would include the special privileges given to faiths. Start paying taxes on the grounds, kiddies.

  29. #29 eric
    February 12, 2012

    Steve Greene @26:

    Which really complicates the issue, because what if the rules being imposed (the government regulation) is in fact entangling government in “prohibiting the free exercise” of religion.

    Its not complicated at all. As Wow and Tyler have mentioned, religious belief does not give anyone the right to ignore civic laws. The latter trumps the former.

    I think there are arguments to be made against the US model, but saying it violates 1st amendment freedom of religion is not one of them. We have been forcing people to treat their kids with medical care for years. And that is a much much stronger imposition than forcing them to merely pay for some medical service they won’t (so they say) personally use.

  30. #30 Rick
    February 12, 2012

    Jason,

    “That isn’t true. If it were, anyone could form a religion of one to get around any law they didn’t like. There are all kinds of laws that infringe on religious practices, such as laws against polygamy, use of certain drugs, or against animal sacrifice, and these laws have never been found to be constitutionally problematic.”

    I’m an atheist and I’d like to see the RCC disappear along with all the hideous morality they’d like to foist upon us. However, respectfully I think there is an asymmetry in your argument. There is a difference between prohibition of something and compelling someone to do something.

    What do you think?

  31. #31 Nemo
    February 12, 2012

    Blairmc:

    Why does our government wish to slow the birth rate?

    I’m not aware that there is any such policy. But either way, it has nothing at all to do with the issue at hand, which is merely facilitating the choice of individuals whether or not to reproduce. It would, on the other hand, be fair to ask why the Catholic Church wishes to limit individuals’ choices and control their behavior. But I already know the answer to that.

    Anyway, although this policy is not reflective of a desire to slow the birth rate, and it’s disingenuous of you to suggest that it is, it’s nevertheless true that any sane and educated person should want to see birth rates slowed. You’re probably well aware of the reasons for that, too, but choose to ignore them, in favor of the delusion that “God will provide”.

  32. #32 Ema Nymton
    February 12, 2012

    Wow, Blairmc. You’re really quite dumb. You know that, right?

  33. #33 Mike Haubrich
    February 12, 2012

    Blairmc, this is not a program by the government to lower the birthrate. This is about several things, but the main thing is to allow women to control their own reproductive rights and their reproductive health is a matter between themselves and their health care provider. The individuals’ right to reconcile their practices (or not) with their religious beliefs (if any.) Free Exercise does not include the government being forced to accept a church ruling over the rights of the individuals.

  34. #34 eric
    February 12, 2012

    Rick:

    There is a difference between prohibition of something and compelling someone to do something.

    We compel fundies to give medical treatment to their kids against their beliefs. We compelled Jehovah’s witnesses to participate in the draft. This rule seems quite tame compared to those, since the RCC is (1) merely a purchaser, not the provider of (2) an service none of them are required to use.

  35. #35 MikeN
    February 12, 2012

    Phaedrus

    Question on the Newt Gingrich adultery thing. Part of penance surely must be saying and meaning you’re going to at least try to stop doing the sin you’re getting forgiven for, yes?

    If a woman on the Pill asks for forgiveness knowing she has her supply in her pocket and is intending to take her daily dose as soon as she leaves the church, that would hardly count, would it?

    So are you saying that every time Newt receives communion he has sincerely made a resolution to stop living with Callista as husband and wife?

  36. #36 tomh
    February 12, 2012

    eric wrote:
    We have been forcing people to treat their kids with medical care for years.

    Unfortunately, that’s simply not true. In fact, the exact opposite is true. The governing federal statute, the Child Abuse Prevention and Treatment Act, sets the standards for states in the federal grant program (they all are), and requires states to include failure to provide medical care in their definition of child neglect. It also includes the stipulation that, “Nothing in this Act shall be construed as establishing a Federal requirement that a parent or legal guardian provide a child any medical service or treatment against the religious beliefs of the parent or legal guardian.”

    This stipulation has allowed states to include religous exemptions in their child abuse laws for everything from school-required vaccinations (48 states), to physical examinations, prophylactic eyedrops, metabolic testing of newborns, lead poison screening, among a myriad of other medical procedures. Many states also allow a religious defense for various criminal charges. Iowa, for instance, specifies depriving a child of health care as felony child endangerment, yet follows that with, “the failure to provide specific medical treatment shall not for that reason alone be considered willful deprivation of health care if the person can show that such treatment would conflict with the tenets and practice of a recognized religious denomination of which the person is an adherent or member.”

    There are many examples. Idaho’s abuse statute includes, “A child shall not be considered neglected or abused for the sole reason that such child’s parent or other person responsible for his or her welfare depends upon spiritual means through prayer alone for the treatment or cure of disease.”

    Children die every year from these laws, yet when the federal law CAPTA was reauthorized, Sen. Dan Coats, R-Indiana, argued (successfully), on the floor of the Senate, that parents have a First Amendment right to withhold medical care from children.

  37. #37 MikeN
    February 13, 2012

    Never mind, Phaedrus, i see that according to the Church Newt has never been married before, as per the definitions of “annulment” used by the catholic Church

    a) an arduous process whereby the circumstances pertaining to a marriage are stringently investigated to determine if it is valid according to canon law.

    b) a form of quickie divorce for wealthy and well-connected Catholics.

  38. #38 Wow
    February 13, 2012

    “”We have been forcing people to treat their kids with medical care for years.”

    Unfortunately, that’s simply not true.”

    Are you talking about the USA or some third-world country?

    Because there’s the measels, mumps and rubella vaccinations in every CIVILISED country, but maybe I’m incorrect and the USA doesn’t fall into that category.

  39. #39 Verbose Stoic
    February 13, 2012

    eric,

    If that’s the case, see above. While companies can and will itemize a cost for it, nobody really “pays” for it since your overall health care costs go down when you use birth control.

    This argument moves from sophistry to undercutting your whole case. The problem is that people choose what they pay for, and so might well prefer to pay more for those extra costs than less for the option they find morally problematic. So saying that they don’t really “pay” in that case ignores the actual issue. But what it does do is concede that they DO provide the coverage by arguing that that option would cost them less, meaning they would pay less. Since, then, they clearly DO pay for it we’re right back into making them pay for something they find immoral, and which violates their right to freedom of religion.

    None of the rights are considered wholly absolute, nor have they ever, because that would be stupid. Civil law, passed for well understood and necessary purposes, trumps your rights. Thus, no shouting “fire” in a theater. More recently, no bearing arms (carrying guns) in a courtroom. For religion, no polygamy, no peyote, and so on. It has been that way since at least 1879 and the Supreme Court case of Reynolds v. United States.

    If you want to know how the courts make these decisions (i.e., what criteria a law has to pass to be constitutional when it limits a right), I suggest you look that case up, as well as others.

    As I said in my reply to Jason — which you might have missed — I agree that rights are not absolute. But that you can point out some exceptions does not mean this is one, and the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that this case should also be one of those exceptions, not on me to argue that it should not. All of your arguments about this have been based entirely on finding exceptions and then saying that in general the law trumps rights. But those exceptions prove the rule; they do not disprove it.

  40. #40 MartyM
    February 13, 2012

    Do you think free exorcize applies to individuals as opposed to religious organizations? I tend to think so. Unless a similar Citizens United kind of case has been held, I wouldn’t grant religious institutions with rights of an individual. It may be messy, but we can’t apply other amendments to organizations (i.e. the 15th amendment – corporations and organizations don’t get to vote), so how can we apply the 1st or the 2nd to them? This is entirely framed as an intrusion on Catholic hospitals and schools, but these are not individuals. And each individual still retains a choice on whether to use or not the insurance services.

  41. #41 Wow
    February 13, 2012

    “The problem is that people choose what they pay for”

    That is a problem.

    But if you’re going to offer it, then they can’t choose what they pay for and this is fine.

    “Since, then, they clearly DO pay for it we’re right back into making them pay for something they find immoral”

    Try re-reading.

    By REFUSING to fund contraceptives, the total cost of care goes up. Therefore, they pay IF THEY REFUSE to do something they find immoral, they have to pay.

    By not refusing, they save.

    And nobody is going to go round and force them to put a rubber on.

    And as Marty says, these institutions are not people. So they’re not choosing a thing and have no moral qualms.

  42. #42 Wow
    February 13, 2012

    “and the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that this case should also be one of those exceptions”

    1) Nobody is being forced against their moral code to buy and use contraceptives.

    2) The point of a health service is to make the populace healthier, and therefore getting in the way of this is a societal bad. Since composite entities only exist to serve the public good, they have to concede.

  43. #43 eric
    February 13, 2012

    VS:

    the burden of proof is on you to demonstrate that this case should also be one of those exceptions, not on me to argue that it should not. All of your arguments about this have been based entirely on finding exceptions and then saying that in general the law trumps rights.

    I cited a well known, often-cited-as-precedent Supreme Court decision which has been followed by all lower courts since the late 1800s. Your counter example consists of one modern Canadian case and your personal opinion that drug laws will be challenged in the future. I think the burden of proof has been met.

    Now, if you are asking me to come up with a court case where SCOTUS ruled that it is constitutional to make RCC organizations pay for insurance plans that include birth control, obviously I can’t. Because no such case has reached the courts yet. That is a ridiculous level of proof to demand. If your demand for ‘burden of proof’ is to be sensible, you should be willing to accept precedent-setting supreme court cases that religious belief does not permit people to break civil laws (that conflict with religious demands).

  44. #44 Verbose Stoic
    February 14, 2012

    eric,

    You just don’t get it. I’m not asking you for ANY court case or decision. I’m asking you for a philosophical argument relating to rights, or why you think in this case the right to freedom of religion should be infringed upon. It is, of course, quite possible for the SCOTUS to have ruled that a case does not violate a right and disagree with them (ie say that they were wrong wrt how rights actually work).

    The example you have me is of an exception case. I have conceded that there are exceptions. I have conceded, even, that this may be one. I don’t think it is, and the burden of proof is on you to either demonstrate that law always trumps rights — which is patently false — or to demonstrate that the law should trump the right in this case.

    So, no, you haven’t met the burden of proof because you don’t understand what it is I want you to prove.

  45. #45 Wow
    February 14, 2012

    “or why you think in this case the right to freedom of religion should be infringed upon.”

    Since the right to freedom of religion isn’t being infringed, there is nothing to answer on this point.

  46. #46 eric
    February 14, 2012

    VS @44:

    You just don’t get it. I’m not asking you for ANY court case or decision. I’m asking you for a philosophical argument relating to rights, or why you think in this case the right to freedom of religion should be infringed upon.

    In @10 and @17 you are clearly making a legal argument. Remember when you said “don’t take it up with me, take it up with your Constitution?” That’s a legal argument, not a philosophical one.

    I will happily discuss my philosophy relating to rights, after we end the legal argument. I’ve cited a legal precedent – a famous, regularly used precedent – as to why its perfectly consitution to override a person’s 1st amendment right to pratice some religious proscription, when it conflicts with civil law. Do you agree that that predecent holds – and therefore this is constitutional – or do you have a non-Canadian legal argument why it doesn’t?

  47. #47 Verbose Stoic
    February 14, 2012

    eric,

    So, the fact that I reference the document that states the rights that your country says you have means it’s strictly a legal argument and we don’t have to ask what that means philosophically? Please.

    And you are still ignoring my main argument, which is that at times rights may be infringed on. These are exceptions. You cannot use exceptions to prove that when civil law and rights clash, civil law wins, or that civil law will or should win in all cases. You continually ignore that and are still insisting that your precedent — the exception, I argue — proves something about this case. It doesn’t, except that it might be possible that this case will be an exception, too. Which I already accepted, you’ll note.

  48. #48 Wow
    February 14, 2012

    The fact that the document you call the constitution has no bearing on this since there is no coercion to follow any religion and everyone is free to follow their own, as long as they obey the law.

    eric, I would suggest that until VS explains why this is an infringement on the right to religion, you merely repeat after me:

    The first amendment has not been infringed here.

  49. #49 Tulse
    February 14, 2012

    If the contraception rule were indeed unconstitutional, I would think that all the similar laws in various individual states that have been around for years, if not decades (Virginia’s law came into effect in 1997), would have been challenged on those grounds.

    And I note that while most opponents of the federal law argue about government interference in religion, almost no one is actually suggesting that the law does not pass constitutional muster.

  50. #50 ildi
    February 14, 2012

    “We all have to support things we don’t approve of. My tax dollars support “professional” sports, for instance, which I consider unmitigated evil. ”

    And that description doesn’t seem a bit … exaggerated to you?

    There is a difference between tax dollar support and directly providing. I don’t think anyone is forcing you to, say, but their tickets or merchandise.

    Actually, the comparison is apt: health insurance is part of the employees’s benefit package; i.e., part of their compensation for working there. In addition, employees directly pay part of their insurance costs. People who are using contraceptive services are doing so using their own compensation. No one is forcing the Catholic employers to, say, hand out condoms on dress-down Fridays.

  51. #51 Wow
    February 15, 2012

    “No one is forcing the Catholic employers to, say, hand out condoms on dress-down Fridays.”

    Or, indeed, even wear one or take one. Or have sexual relations with someone who does.

  52. #52 eric
    February 15, 2012

    VS @47:

    You cannot use exceptions to prove that when civil law and rights clash, civil law wins, or that civil law will or should win in all cases.

    We are not discussing “all cases.” We are discussing the case where religious organizations who employ a significant population of non-believers (because there is already an exception for organizations that are overwhelmingly of one faith) must offer health insurance that includes voluntary services their faith finds objectionable.

    THIS case is very clearly less of an imposition on religion than requiring medical intervention for children or requiring Jehovah’s witnesses serve in the military. Because the current law is not actually forcing the believers to do something they consider heresy. But rather merely provide to a mixed employee population of believers and nonbelievers the opportunity to commit heresy.

    Tulse:

    almost no one is actually suggesting that the law does not pass constitutional muster.

    I actually think there are some due process issues with this system – just not religious (1st amendment) ones that VS is claiming exist. And I’m not even sure the issues I have would rise to the level of ‘unconstitutional.’

  53. #53 Lenoxus
    February 15, 2012

    Verbose Stoic @ 47:

    And you are still ignoring my main argument, which is that at times rights may be infringed on. These are exceptions. You cannot use exceptions to prove that when civil law and rights clash, civil law wins, or that civil law will or should win in all cases.

    In my genuinely humble opinion (ie, I’m still working this out in my head), the civil law should always win, or else it’s a dumb law. “You must do X unless you have a religious objection to X” is ipso facto a dumb law. It means either that:
    • those without the religious objection are pointlessly being forced to do something it’s apparently okay to not do (for example, saluting a flag), or
    • those with the religious objection are pointlessly being permitted to not do something it’s generally not okay to not do (for example, having one’s kids be vaccinated)

    I don’t think this view of mine actually conflicts with the basic freedom-of-religion rights of all citizens, but I’d be interesting in exceptions. Regardless, this particular kerfuffle doesn’t even involve something close to my more “extreme” view anyway.

  54. #54 tomh
    February 16, 2012

    Lenoxus wrote:
    the civil law should always win, or else it’s a dumb law. “You must do X unless you have a religious objection to X” is ipso facto a dumb law.

    That would make a big portion of US laws dumb, since there are few areas of law that don’t include religious exemptions. For instance, civil rights laws, tax exemptions, immigration, lobbying rules, IRS reporting requirements for non-profits, regulations covering social services, federal laws meant to protect pensions and to provide unemployment benefits, land use laws, abuse and neglect laws meant to protect children, all these are just some of the US laws that include exemptions for religion – all in the name of free exercise of religion. And, it’s getting worse, (think billions of dollars for faith-based initiatives.)

    Separation of church and state was once a part of American law. That’s no longer the case.

  55. #55 Jordan Bissell
    February 16, 2012

    The present administration is very much in the position of walking into a Jewish deli and decreeing that it must serve ham sandwiches to the goyim; or in light of the compromise, at least having a vendor of shellfish on the premises during all operating hours.

    You could argue that this is not ham-handed or fascistic, but you would be wrong.

  56. #56 lenoxus
    February 16, 2012

    tomh:

    That would make a big portion of US laws dumb

    No surprise here!

    since there are few areas of law that don’t include religious exemptions.

    Heh, good point.

    For instance, civil rights laws

    I might consider those exceptions reasonable, but in a subtle way. Namely, it’s reasonable for a religious institution to discriminate about a potential employee’s religion in the same way it’s reasonable for a movie director looking for an actor for a certain role to discriminate based on age, sex, and race (for example, an MLK biopic is obviously going to want a black male actor); in both cases, the various facets of the human being in question really are relevant to the job.

    So in a way, the religion aspect there is just tangential. That said, I understand why laws get into nitty gritty details rather than something too open to interpretation like “Discrimination is okay if it can be shown that it’s relevant to the job”, so I understand the existence of explicit religious exemptions, but they need to be very precisely phrased.

    tax exemptions

    These are just dumb

    immigration

    I’d be curious about the details, but this is probably just dumb.

    lobbying rules

    Dumb.

    IRS reporting requirements for non-profits

    Dumb.

    regulations covering social services

    Almost certainly dumb.

    federal laws meant to protect pensions and to provide unemployment benefits

    Almost certainly dumb; at least, no distinction should be made here between churches and equivalently-rich-or-poor nonprofits.

    land use laws

    Dumb.

    abuse and neglect laws meant to protect children

    Way, way worse than dumb.

    all these are just some of the US laws that include exemptions for religion – all in the name of free exercise of religion. And, it’s getting worse, (think billions of dollars for faith-based initiatives.)

    Yep.

  57. #57 lenoxus
    February 16, 2012

    Jordan Bissell:

    The present administration is very much in the position of walking into a Jewish deli and decreeing that it must serve ham sandwiches to the goyim; or in light of the compromise, at least having a vendor of shellfish on the premises during all operating hours.
    You could argue that this is not ham-handed or fascistic, but you would be wrong.

    Is there any particular reason for the law to require that delis in general serve pork or shellfish? No, that would be stupid. (Also “ham-handed”!) Conversely, employer-based insurance being required to cover contraception has a very solid ethical basis.

    In short, I believe that the relevant opposition is simply incorrect, ethically speaking. It’s just like parents insisting that their religion means their children should be shielded from the theory of evolution in the public schools. Sorry, folks, but the universe decided that evolution should be true long before you came to the opposite position. And likewise with the scientific/social facts about contraception.

    To go back to the deli analogy, this is more like a restaurant health and safety requirement.

  58. #58 Jordan
    February 16, 2012

    Lenoxus:

    I don’t know that abortifacients which kill nascent human life stand on a “very solid ethical basis.” An embryo was an individual member of the species homo sapiens long before academicians invented casuistry.

    But the idea that the government can’t promote access to contraception apart from making Catholic employers vendors of it is absurd. I don’t know where you live, but on my campus at least free contraception comes with most pizza deliveries.

    When in Rome, do like the Romans. When working for a Papist, get your contraception somewhere else.

    How hard is that?

  59. #59 eric
    February 16, 2012

    The present administration is very much in the position of walking into a Jewish deli and decreeing that it must serve ham sandwiches to the goyim;

    No, because the RCC isn’t “serving” birth control, AETNA or Kaiser or Blue Cross or whomever else they contract with is. The RCC doesn’t even have to offer birth control in their policy, its just that the individual can go to the RCC’s contracted provider separately and get it (for free). AND the RCC’s providers don’t have to offer birth control in institutions that are overwhelming RCC at all (these get an exception), just in institutions with a significant number of noncatholic employees.

    So, unlike your bad analogy, a correct analogy would run something like this: the government decrees for some reason that meat companies like Oscar Mayer must sell both kosher and non kosher meats. Then a Jewish Deli says that this decree violates their first amendment rights, because God told them never to buy meat from a company that also sells ham to their non-Jewish customers.

    Sounds a bit more ridiculous when you accurately describe the incident, doesn’t it?

    I don’t know that abortifacients which kill nascent human life stand on a “very solid ethical basis.”

    Taken regularly, progestin prevents ovulation and increases cervical mucus, blocking sperm from egg. IOW, the pill prevents conception, it doesn’t end it.* As do condoms.

    Now, your argument might (and I stress might) hold water if the RCC was solely objecting to emergency, next-day birth control being included. But they aren’t. They are objecting to birth control methods that have nothing to do with abortion.

    *You don’t have to be a rocket scientist or medical doctor to figure this out. A woman not having a period is not a sign they are taking an abortifacient.

  60. #60 Jordan
    February 17, 2012

    Eric—If you drive like you make analogies make sure no one else in on the road. In your analogy, no customer of the deli gets access to non-kosher foods by patronizing the deli. But religious employers must contract and pay—directly or indirectly—for insurance plans which cover contraceptives and abortifacients.

    Employees, by virtue of the insurance they receive from their employers, will receive access to contraception and abortifacients. So what’s missing from your analogy is something like a coupon for non-kosher barbeque that Jewish delis are required to hand out: doesn’t do a great deal to assuage the impression that the administration’s mandate is coercive and absurd.

    True, if Catholic hospitals stopped serving non-Catholics, they wouldn’t have to provide contraception, what progress!

    And the fact that ella can prevent conception doesn’t mean it does not also function as an embryocidal drug—it does.

  61. #61 tomh
    February 17, 2012

    lenoxus wrote:
    it’s reasonable for a religious institution to discriminate about a potential employee’s religion

    I agree, but religious exemptions go far beyond discriminating on the basis of religion. For example, a business run by a religious organization, whether day care centers, fitness clubs, bookstores, funeral homes, or thousands of others, are exempt from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2009, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

    immigration

    I’d be curious about the details

    Ministers and other religious workers may apply for an immigrant (permanent resident) visa under a special immigrant visa program available to religious workers but not to workers in any other field. Labor certification is not required. There are also special visas available for temporary (5 years) religious workers. There are other exemptions, for instance, U.S. immigration laws require immunizations for foreign adopted children, but the requirement can be waived for religious reasons. (The adoptive parents’ religion, not the children’s.)

    One problem is that there is nothing easier to pass in the US Congress than a religious exemption. Many are inserted as earmarks, without discussion, since it is political suicide to even argue against them, let alone vote against them.

  62. #62 Wow
    February 17, 2012

    “But religious employers must contract and pay—directly or indirectly—for insurance plans which cover contraceptives and abortifacients.”

    And religious employers must contract and pay directly or indirectly employers whether they’re christians or not.

    Why the bitching?

    Look raise the pay of employees if you’re a religious employer to those who want to buy contraceptives. OR DON’T EMPLOY PEOPLE.

    We’re not FORCING you to be an employer. Go work for a bigot who hates religious freaks, see what it’s like to work for someone who hates what you do but has to put up with it anyway.

  63. #63 Lenoxus
    February 17, 2012

    tomh:

    I agree, but religious exemptions go far beyond discriminating on the basis of religion. For example, a business run by a religious organization, whether day care centers, fitness clubs, bookstores, funeral homes, or thousands of others, are exempt from the Employment Non-Discrimination Act of 2009, which prohibits discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation or gender identity.

    That’s a perfect example of the stupidity. By having such an exception, the message of the law is “Do not discriminate against gay people unless you really really want to.”

    Anyway, thanks for the information; I hadn’t considered all the politics of this stuff.

  64. #64 eric
    February 17, 2012

    @60:

    So what’s missing from your analogy is something like a coupon for non-kosher barbeque that Jewish delis are required to hand out…

    I’m mostly fine with that analogy, if we agree the BBQ is sold by a third party. The deli provides a box of coups by the door, if you will; individual patrons decide whether to take one and whether to go get BBQ at the non-deli store.

    Now, remind me again how this violates any Jewish deli owner, worker, or patron’s religious belief to keep kosher?

    And the fact that ella can prevent conception doesn’t mean it does not also function as an embryocidal drug—it does.

    So does caffine. 200 mg/day doubles the chance of spontaneous miscarriage. Meanwhile, condoms very clearly don’t.

    The RCC’s opposition is very clearly targeting birth control. Anything that prevents pregnancy, abortifacient or not. I think trying to claim otherwise is naive at best and disingenuous at worst.

  65. #65 Jordan
    February 17, 2012

    You’re a slippery fish, Eric. For the sake of the argument, we can leave aside the fact that insurance companies will raise employers’ premiums in order to make up for the “free” contraception they’ll be obliged to offer (“Hey kids, look over here!”).

    Leaving that aside, compelling all Jewish delis to promote non-kosher foods, when there’s no lack of coupons for non-kosher foods at non-kosher locations, and the non-kosher products in question are not that expensive to begin with—not to see this as fanatical is to be fanatical.

    The RCC opposes both birth control and abortifacients, though the latter is held to be a graver matter since a human being is killed by it. And, again, the present mandate requires employers to insure both.

  66. #66 tomh
    February 17, 2012

    These are the same old tired arguments that religion always falls back on in order to avoid obeying laws that the rest of us have to follow. Religions spend at least $400 million a year lobbying Congress, (successfully), in order to sustain the privileges that they have enjoyed for so long. Their whole argument is; if we had to follow the same laws as everyone else it would infringe on our free exercise of religion. It doesn’t matter what area of the law it is, now it happens to be health care, it’s always the same. This one will probably be successful too, after they finish spreading millions of dollars around the halls of Congress – not to mention directly into campaign coffers.

  67. #67 ildi
    February 17, 2012

    For the sake of the argument, we can leave aside the fact that insurance companies will raise employers’ premiums in order to make up for the “free” contraception they’ll be obliged to offer

    Except that’s not true. The Department of Health and Human Services conducted an analysis in 201 and found that

    “While the costs of contraceptives for individual women can be substantial and can influence choice of contraceptive methods,[2] available data indicate that providing contraceptive coverage as part of a health insurance benefit does not add to the cost of providing insurance coverage.

    Evidence from well-documented prior expansions of contraceptive coverage indicates that the cost to issuers of including coverage for all FDA-approved contraceptive methods in insurance offered to an employed population is zero.”

    Not only that,

    “When indirect costs such as time away from work and productivity loss are considered, they further reduce the total cost to an employer. Global Health Outcomes developed a model that incorporates costs of contraception, costs of unintended pregnancy, and indirect costs. They find that it saves employers $97 per year per employee to offer a comprehensive contraceptive benefit.[13] Similarly, the PwC actuaries state that after all effects are taken into account, providing contraceptive services is “cost-saving.”[14]”

  68. #68 ildi
    February 17, 2012

    That was supposed to be 2011, not 201.

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