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Contraception, Catholics, and the old Kosher Deli

Contraception, Catholics, and the old Kosher Deli

Yesterday’s story was of a mostly-testosterone-y panel of witnesses on Capital Hill at the birth-control-benefit hearings (walked out of, in protest, of by Congresswomen Carolyn Maloney [D-N.Y.] and Eleanor Holmes Norton [D-D.C.]) It led Katie Halper to muse that the “hearing was good, but having it in Salem in the 17th century would have made it even better.”

Anyway, Most Rev. William E. Lori, Bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., (he of the testosterone brigade) made midrashic through the Parable of the Kosher Deli, in which he imagines that a deli is forced to sell ham sandwiches and thus to contravene its deepest conscience. Lori parabolically concludes:

The government recognized that it is absurd for someone to come into a kosher deli and demand a ham sandwich; that it is beyond absurd for that private demand to be backed with the coercive power of the state; that it is downright surreal to apply this coercive power when the customer can get the same sandwich cheaply, or even free, just a few doors down.

Mark Silk responds:

…let’s imagine a more accurate analogy–one in which, for reasons of scarcity, say, places of employment were required to provide food stamps for their employees to obtain what they needed to eat. And let’s say that, as in the real world, such stamps did not cover all foodstuffs: no to Twinkies but yes to pork. Would our deli owners have any objection to providing stamps that their employees could take next door to Paddy’s Irish Pub and order a ham sandwich, or for that matter a traif plate of corned beef and cabbage? Of course not.

And that’s the point. Orthodox Jews understand the requirement to keep kosher as a religious duty required only of their kind. The Catholic bishops feel that contraception is an evil in the world at large that they cannot be complicit in. And so rather than simply say, fine, you take your health care coverage and avail yourself of whatever legal services you’re entitled to, they say, “Sorry, because some of those are sins for us, we won’t pay for you to commit ’em.”

Meanwhile, in the NYR Blog, Gary Wills says there are four arguments undermining the bishops:

(1) “imposing Catholic requirements on non-Catholics” is not to be confused with religious freedom

(2) banning contraception is a holdover from religious history – not necessarily the Bible

(3) speaking on behalf of Roman Catholics, and teaching them, is not the same thing as being the church entire (“Lord Acton said that Catholics were too sensible to go crazy every time a pope does”)

(4) “undying principles” can be trotted out for any political expediency without actually being undying so much as expedient


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Leslie Scoopmire

Of course, this entire debate would be completely different if we would decouple employment from health care. We do not have a health care system in this country– we have health insurance, which is in no way the same thing. Health insurance does not aim to provide health care but to maximize profits by getting consumers to pay for a limited good which the insurance companies then gamble that the insured will not need. In the instance that health care is needed, insurance companies have further indemnified themselves by restricting how long, how much and what kind of treatments and prescriptions it will and will not provide. The point of health care is wellness. The point of health insurance is maximizing profit by denying health care whenever possible.

But to our specific issue: to be able to obtain birth control pills, one must have a doctor’s examination by a specialist and blood work done. This is absolutely not something that should be made optional. BUT it does have a considerable cost. Then there is the cost of the prescription itself. This is 30-50 dollars per month.

Well fine, some of you may say, “That’s not that much.” But now let’s consider the equal treatment of men and women under their health insurance policies. Most insurance plans cover viagra, cialis, etc– which, unlike birth control pills, really does not serve a health function but a quality of life function.

Having nearly died (no hyperbole here– I mean nearly bleeding to death) giving birth to an infant, I can tell you with absolute certainty that there are health risks even in this modern age associated with pregnancy and childbirth, and even if one survives such a crisis, there are LONG TERM consequences to a woman’s health. Males do not risk any sort of health consequences in the process of procreation.

Finally, when the Roman Church employs beyond its religious function and moves into the marketplace among those who are not members of its denomination, its ability to enforce its doctrines on those in that marketplace must be denied in light of not only the free practice of religion by others but also in the name of the equal treatment of those they employ, including those who are women.


Heat or eat? Which of the two does condoms count as? These are employed women we’re talking about, after all. Employed with insurance. Why shouldn’t employers give free toothpaste and floss, too? After all, that’s important preventive care.

By the way, there were two women out of the 10 House witnesses on religious liberty. Maybe not enough, but it’s a bit unkind to pretend they aren’t women.

Doug Taylor-Weiss

Sarah Flynn

The “Pork” problem that the Roman Catholic bishops refer to is the “pork” that the church receives from the public purse for Catholic hospitals and schools. If they wish to serve all the public, and not just Roman Catholics, then they must abide by the principle of equal justice for all. If we start down the road of granting religious exemptions for those engaged in public accomodations and employment then there will no end to the exemptions and civil rights will look like Swiss cheese. Do the bishops not remember how religious fundamentalists made the same arguments about having to serve African Americans at lunch counters in violation of their insistence that ‘race mixing’ was contrary to the Scripture?


Anyone who wants to buy the stuff can, and cheaply.

An “aspirin between the knees” eh, Doug? :-/

Here in the REAL WORLD, the costs of birth control for people who choose to use it is considerable. “Heat or Eat?” considerable.

While it’s great to know you’d be entirely OK w/ your tax money paying for oh, say, abortions under Single Payer, the current iteration of health insurance included many-if-not-most people receiving it from their employers. Who financially and MORALLY should pay for this essential aspect of health care: birth control.

JC Fisher

P.S. Good luck when your Jehovah’s Witness boss doesn’t want to pay for your blood transfusion!

John B. Chilton

Some argue it’s not cheap, but all the rest of Doug’s economic points go through. If it’s not cheap to a woman that’s why she’s not buying it, so don’t take it out of her pay. The access issue is only a financial one, and that requires a social policy solution that is not implemented through the employment relationship.

As to whether RC bishops have said they don’t speak for Catholics, they may have said that but that’s now what those who are using this as a political football are saying. They’re saying it’s a religious freedom issue for Catholics. There’s plenty of Catholics who say it isn’t.

And we still have the farce of a Congressional hearing. You have a hearing on female contraception and you fill the panel with men?

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