Frame Issues

As  can be expected, Get Religion has been paying especial attention to the controversy between the administration and the Catholic church. I first suggested that some stories went unheard.

One story aspect that I have not seen covered is that of the recipient of these pills. Let’s call her Hanna in Housekeeping, the single mom with two pre-schoolers. This is the human interest side, the one with real skin in the game. Up until now we have pretty much dealt with the story as told by one of the two institutional players, the administration or the Catholic hierarchy, but the individual story actually gives some substance as to what is involved here, what these larger decisions mean for those who do the work.

To which, Paul of Alexandria responded

Harris (22): Hanna is actually irrelevant to this story, even though the Democrats keep trying to drag her in. This issue is about the rights of the employers, not the employees.

Hanna belongs. While the nominal controversy can be framed as one of government v. employer rights that particular frame has been decided by courts; the government possesses the power to establish uniform measures for employers. The issue here does not turn on that rather unexceptionable finding, but rather on the violation of particular institutional religious tenets.

When we engage in religious battles we encounter a landscape in which multiple claims to rights are made. There is a persistent tension between the right of religious practice and societal limits in the concern of equity; this roughly the battle between the 1st and the 14th amendment. This battle-line keeps shifting, these concerns are constantly recalibrated with respect to each other.

Seen as a battle-line, the conflict does become one of winners and losers, the easy stuff of political conflict. here is where the human interest story actually helps us out. We meet the stakeholders being affected. A good focus on the individual not only makes for some interesting story-telling (e.g. why are you working at this Catholic hospital and not the big one on the hill?), it also helps humanize the hospital – itself, not a bad outcome.

There is also one other story not getting told well at all in this: that of the Church’s own position – this too arises from the battle-line coverage of winners and losers. If we miss the impact on the female employees (the Hannas), we also miss the actual reasoning for the position. The New York Times went a little down that road, in spelling out the reasoning that pushed the American Church to this decision. Ironically, one of the best presentations of the Church’s case for this outsider, showed up in comments by “theAmericanist” on Ed Kilore’s post “Contraception and ‘Religious Liberty’” at Political Animal.

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