The other night over dinner I had a conversation that left me bewildered. This was on two counts: my coworker across the table actually countenanced the idea that the world would end in 2012, and later she stated that the reason her health insurance premiums had been going up was because of “ObamaCare”. You can imagine the tact with which I tried to deliver my skepticism of the former idea and rebuttal of the latter in order to not too deeply offend my colleague. It was hard, and she didn’t really seem convinced by my explanations, so deeply rooted was she in her own popular education on Mayan calendars and Fox News analysis. [Sigh.]
Misinformation, particular the kind rooted in dogma, is everywhere. And this is particularly true during an election year, when the opponents of health insurance reform will continue to try to rally their troops around repealing ObamaCare on day one – because, you see, it represents a threat to the greatest health care system in the world, not to mention unvarnished tyranny. We could really use periodic reality checks as our leaders on the right try to feed us this grade-A bologna throughout the year ahead, because, unfortunately, they’re not going to stop.
But before you get depressed all over again about the state of American political discourse – about how ideology, not evidence, seems to inform so many of our debates – don’t feel too bad, for we are not alone. Let’s look at another country where dogma is trying to trump good public health. I give you the Philippines.
Like the Affordable Care Act, pending legislation in the Philippines is trying to make birth control universally accessible. This doesn’t mean abortion. Rather we’re talking about the pill, condoms, etc, that are cheap and widely available here, but completely unaffordable to most poor Filipinos living on just a few dollars a day and spending 70% of their income on food. Birth control is a big deal in the Philippines because almost half of all pregnancies there are unintended, abortion is illegal, and the country already struggles to feed its burgeoning population. All in the all, the Philippines is the world’s largest importer of rice despite having very productive farmland and high-yield rice strains. Meanwhile, across the sea to its west, Thailand has effectively brought down poverty rates partly with family planning. Parents generally choose to have only as many children as they can afford, and as a result Thailand is a net exporter of rice. So, get the birth control pill to every woman that wants it, some condoms to everyone that needs them – these are safe, cost-effective public health measures that will also improve the economy…what could be simpler? Enter the Catholic Church.
About 90% of Filipinos are Roman Catholic, and polls suggest a majority support the proposal for universal access to birth control. But the clergy contend that birth control is just the gateway to abortion, and have put their full political weight into defeating the bill. Catholic Bishops are even threatening to excommunicate the President, Benigno Aquino III, if he signs the bill into law. When asked about this religious pressure on pro-public health politicians, Archbishop Oscar Cruz uttered this threat to Public Radio International, “Don’t fool with the church, ‘cuz she will bury you.”
Now good Christians can disagree about whether it is better to follow the command to be fruitful and multiply, or to feed my sheep , but back in the United States, we have already litigated this fight about the benefits of basic birth control. It turns out that people are freer, and families are more prosperous, when they have some say over how many kids they have. And for heaven’s sake, using a condom is not the same thing as having an abortion. Rather, barrier methods like that one are unabashedly pro-life, in that they actually save lives.
Meanwhile, our own conservative dogma continues to haunt us as the same people who chanted “kill the bill” in 2010, crusade on to repeal health insurance reform in 2013. In the Philippines, the Church may or may not have the political clout to block progress, but right-wing ideologues on this side of the Pacific do seem ready to undo many important reforms. They would have us believe that the Patient’s Bill of Rights and covering pre-existing conditions are fascist ideas, that a guaranteed right to appeal claims denials and shopping Insurance Exchanges are against the free market. Well, in this New Year we here at Doctors for America resolve to not let this nonsense go unchallenged. The world will not end in 2012, and neither will health reform.