“We are governed not by armies and police but by ideas.” Mona Caird, 1892.
Catherine Mackinnon, professor of law, wrote a provocative essay “Rape, Genocide, and Women’s Human Rights” examining the nature of what is legally deemed a human rights violation. In time of war it is well documented that rape becomes a method of terror. The perpetrators of this systematic terror are not held accountable for this because rape is not classified as a crime against humanity. Mackinnon points out that if soldiers were to march from village to village and cut off the arms of civilians then that would be a crime against humanity–and rightfully so. She writes:
“What is done to women is either too specific to women to be seen as human or too generic to human beings to be seen as specific to women. Atrocities committed against women are either too human to fit the notion of female or too female to fit the notion of human.”
What is the reason for leaving rape out of a legal discourse as a human rights violation? Is it because the act of cutting off arms is identified as impacting all people whereas the raping of women during wartime as a method for attacking the “enemy” only physically impacts one gender? How much do women count? She continues:
“This problem is particularly severe for women’s human rights because women are typically raped not by governments but by what are called individual men. The government just does nothing about it. This may be tantamount to being raped by the state, but it is legally seen as ‘private,’ therefore not as a human rights violation….When men sit in rooms, being states, they are largely being men. They protect each other; they identify with each other; they try not to limit each other in ways they themselves do not want to be limited. In other words, they do not represent women.”
At the heart of the matter I am wondering if the recent Supreme Court ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby didn’t succumb to some of the same problematic thinking. I realize the issue is not of the same magnitude as rape during wartime, but I’m not looking to the actualization of the actions; rather, I am questioning the underscoring point of view that may contain a similarity.
The Supreme Court carefully stated that while Hobby Lobby was exempt from providing coverage for four types of birth control due to “belief,” this could not translate into a company opting to withhold blood transfusions based on belief. What is the difference? First, let’s examine the essence of the belief.
Those opposing blood transfusions are basing this on the belief that it is a means of consuming another’s body (or one’s own in the case of receiving one’s own blood). This hinges on an interpretation of the Bible stating that one must not consume another. That is, people abiding by this interpretation believe the taking of a person’s blood falls into that category. This belief, and I’m not advocating for it, is not something that can be “proven” false, which is primarily what makes it a belief and not a fact. Yet, it is a serious and deeply held belief, but not serious enough for the Supreme Court to consider as protected. Why not exactly? (I’m being rhetorical, please note.)
On the other hand, birth control acting as an abortion is not a belief, even though it is characterized as such in the ruling. It is, rather, a false claim. One can prove it is untrue. Please read this insightful blog post for a thorough understanding by Defeating the Dragons. Abortion by definition ends a pregnancy, but the contraceptions in question prevent a pregnancy. That little tidbit is apparently unimportant, as the ruling made the effort to acknowledge that Hobby Lobby’s and thereby the court’s decision was not based on medical facts.
Is there a parallel here between Mackinnon’s concern for how crimes against humanity come to “count” as crimes? Notice the act of cutting off arms impacts both genders as would the withholding of a blood transfusion. Men, the ones making the laws, can identify with that. They “get it.”
The desire to not be pregnant (one of the health issues) only physically impacts women, and it has been decided is not worthy of being protected legally.
But “Belief” should be protected! Well, then, why not the belief about blood transfusions? Although, as previously stated there is a stark difference here, for that does qualify as a belief whereas the other, contraceptions as abortions, amounts to a false claim. Note the quote below that demonstrates what is called a straw-man fallacy; namely, the position is reframed from its original claim and then argued against.
In this case, keep in mind that Americans never argued for abortion inducing medications; moreover, the “medication” is misnamed here (as abortion inducing), and its actual functions are not mentioned. This also mistakes a company’s role with respect to insurance, but that topic can be for another day.
The quality of an action or law hinges on the quality of the idea initiating said action or law. For example, if I wave to someone who is far away (the wave being the action), and then the person approaching turns out to be a stranger instead of my friend, I realize my wave is silly because the idea (that I knew the person) supporting it was erroneous .
To put another way, a boat may have the best navigation plan, but I don’t want to be on it if the captain believes the world is flat. In both instances, the hand wave and a navigation plan cannot hold much weight because the foundational ideas are shaky. Something of this nature actually happened with the Titanic. A series of bizarre decisions were made (not enough life boats, going faster, a nearby ship could have responded to the Titanic’s distress signal and saved everyone but decided not to, the look-out was without binoculars), and they teetered on the idea or false belief that the Titanic was unsinkable. We know how that turned out.
To be clear, I’m not opposed to belief as such or religious practice. My concern is twofold: issues pertaining specifically to women are not held in the same esteem as issues relating to men, and that we now find it acceptable to create a law based on a false claim, which thereby threatens the value of the law.