Reason Not to Rest

Reason Not to Rest May 23, 2012

I’m reading the book American Pandemic: The Lost Worlds of the 1918 Influenza Epidemic, by Nancy K. Bristow.

It’s pretty good by the way, well worth a read. It’s amazing reading about how many people were dying, and how the public reception, including media coverage, was so casual for so long. And really, how the thing mostly vanished from the public mind after it was all over, despite its impact.

Wikipedia says “Between 50 and 130 million died, making it one of the deadliest natural disasters in human history.”

One interesting bit for me was some details about the preceding pandemic of 1890, at a time when medical science was still primitive enough that nobody had any good idea what caused the flu, how you caught it. Or, more importantly, how you avoided it.

The malady was called “the grip,” or “grippe,” in that era, and it was accompanied by a serious battle between homeopathic and allopathic (real medicine) segments of the medical field.

From page 24:

An essay in the North American Journal of Homeopathy in 1891 by Dr. George Allen reinforced this position, arguing boldly, “Regarding the medical treatment [of influenza], it should be strictly homeopathic.” Allen asserted further, “A study of the comparative results obtained by the two schools of medicine in the treatment of this disease, shows overwhelmingly in favor of the homeopathic system.” The homeopathic approach, he reassured readers, would allow for the successful recuperation of patients and the dodging of secondary complications, known as “sequelae.”

The allopaths fought back, reaffirming what they viewed as the importance of expert medical care during the epidemic. The editors of JAMA worried about the “mental perversities” often associated with epidemics, in particular “the idea that the epidemic is to be treated by ‘common sense,’ or by nostra which have been largely advertised, or by specifics which are known to the laity mainly through their frequent mention in the daily press.” Such a response, they contended, led people to believe “it is wholly unnecessary to seek skilled assistance.” Hoping to stem the tide of such foolishness, the editorial concluded, “It is serious enough to cope with an epidemic and its sequelae, without having matters complicated by ignorant and reckless experimental therapeutics.” The challenge of the epidemic, then, did not undercut the importance of medical expertise, this writer concluded, but rather highlighted its value to the ignorant public, vulnerable to the competition of alternative practitioners.

You read something like that and it makes you think we’re actually very lucky today, that we’ve advanced this far. Today, everybody except complete nut cases or the terminally ignorant take it for given that medicine works. We might have a few holdouts against vaccination, but today even rustic country people mostly go to doctors when they get sick or injured. Rather than, for instance, witch doctors or prayer vigils.

Bearing that in mind, some of us might think, “Well, we won” and back off on any concerns that we are in danger from the craziness. We might think the things that so incense rationalists — atheists and freethinkers — is not all that important.

But when you look at the side of the field held by the crazies, especially by the strongly religious, you see them constantly working to move the ball toward their goalpost. By lies, by persuasion, by deliberate confusion of their followers.  Oh, gods, do they keep at it — ants would look like slackers in comparison.

This is not a fight against nitwits way out on the edge, either. It’s a fight that often involves major elected officials, acting in Congress to pass laws favoring their positions. Not to mention large and powerful institutions such as, for instance, the Catholic Church.

I think we have damned good reason to continue to be afraid.

Just the latest salvo from the goddy … well, I almost said “goddy fringe,” but they’re not fringe, are they? If anything, they’re mainstream. BIG.

Anyway …

Consider the issue of contraception.

We’re not talking bloody-fetus posters here, and all the heated rhetoric about the brutal murder of unborn citizens, passionately described as if it was the equivalent of scraping a screaming full-term baby out of the womb with a garden hoe.

We’re talking that moment in a woman’s life (or a couple’s life) when no baby exists — when there is no baby at all, no fetus, no fertilized ovum, not even a twinkle in a daddy’s eye, and when she (they) wants to keep it that way. At least for now.

[ And jeezumbygollydamn, you might be surprised how difficult it is to get that simple concept across to some people. I got into an online tiff, essentially a screaming match with a supposedly liberated woman — she called herself Sin*Sation, fer crissake, and claimed to be a passionate defender of women’s rights — back before the Internet really even existed (it was on a BBS), when I tried to refocus an ongoing debate about abortion: “Okay, let’s go back to the time before the woman gets pregnant …” Response was the equivalent of: “No! No! Abortion is MURDER!! It’s KILLING BABIES!!” ]

You just have to ask “Who the hell has any right to weigh in on the decision of whether or not to get pregnant?” The number one best answer at present is The Woman. Slightly-more-distant second answers might include Her Partner and possibly Her Doctor.

Nowhere among the good answers is Her Government, or Her Church, or Her Employer. In my mind at least, Her Church is actually over on the list of bad answers. Considering that the church answer is informed by unchangeable, inarguable mandates from the Creator of the Universe™, something even governments don’t attempt to claim, I might even say that, conceptually at least, the church answer is slightly worse than that of a dictator. Because dictators come and go, but churches are there with you from cradle to grave and for generations in both directions.

How utterly easy it is to accept this scenario? Presented with the question “Would you like to get pregnant?” The Woman says “No, definitely not. Not right now. I have some other things I want to accomplish first.” And society answers “Well, you have these options: A) Contraceptives. B) Abstinence.

Instead of that, churches and religious authorities – some of which are state and federal legislators but who are acting as church/religious authorities nonetheless – appear to answer:

“You have this one option: A) Abstinence. But also B) Why don’t you want to have a baby? You know civilization depends on women like you having babies, right? We just don’t get why you don’t like babies. Is there something wrong with you? In light of your inability to make the right choice, we think we should probably pass some laws that sort of push you in the right direction. It’s either babies or no sex at all, little missy, so just you get used to it.”

Contraception. Should it be accessible or not? Should it be as accessible as Viagra? Should it be covered by insurance, just as Viagra is covered by insurance? Should it be accessible to all women, everywhere, equally? Or should those who work for churches be told “No, not you. We’re a little squeamish about it, and we think our right to be squeamish trumps your right to have the same rights as all those other women.”

Anyway, without dragging this out further, churches in the U.S. – by suing to block recent insurance and health care rules from being applied to them – are basically taking the second position, the Squeamish Trumps Equality argument. And they really are framing it as a case of THEIR rights being trampled on.


So much for compromise. A total of 43 Catholic educational, charitable and other entities filed a dozen lawsuits in federal court around the nation Monday, charging that the Obama Administration’s rule requiring coverage of birth control in most health insurance plans violates their religious freedom.


The Department of Health and Human Services instituted a rule from the Affordable Care Act that ensured all employer-provided health insurance plans would cover reproductive and preventive services with no co-pay. This included a wide range of preventive services and not just birth control. But religiously-affiliated institutions, mostly Catholic ones, objected.

Mind you that homogenous religious institutions like churches were already exempted. But religiously-affiliated employers, even though they have employees that don’t subscribe to their faith, wanted to control what kind of health services those employees would be allowed to access for free. It’s a question of “conscience,” you see, not control.

So the Administration responded to these objections by crafting a compromise, whereby the insurance company would have to provide the free preventive coverage to employees who wanted it, if religiously affiliated institutions opted out. This means that the institutions would have no direct contact with the birth control services, for example. But I guess the indirect, tacit assent, through one of their employees getting free preventive services, was just too much to take. So they filed suit.

Bear in mind, we’re not talking about abortion. We’re talking about contraception. The issue, basically, is one of allowing women — free and equal American women (no matter where they are employed) — to choose not to get pregnant. In the same social context, with the same rights and choices, as all other Americans.

Planned Parenthood responded to news of the lawsuit:

“Access to birth control is a critical health and economic concern for American women,” said Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “It is unbelievable that in the year 2012 we have to fight for access to birth control.  Yet this lawsuit would make it harder for millions of women to get birth control.  Insurance companies should cover birth control just like any other preventive prescription, as the independent Institute of Medicine (IOM) recommended.”

We haven’t won. We’re still fighting fights that seem like they should have been decided decades ago. The Ants of God are still marching. Still pushing. Apparently forever.

Reason not to rest.


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