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Et tu, Asma?

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(this is edited from an earlier version which was based on a mis-reading of an ambiguous sentence in one of the source texts.  See, it can happen to me too!)

Asma Uddin is a rockstar in the American Muslim community and someone I have always looked up to and respected.  As someone who believes that reproductive health and freedom are key to the advancement of women in our societies, her latest article in the Washington Post broke my heart.

It is so rare that American Muslims have the platform and go on the record as American Muslims, and Ms. Uddin is in a very privileged position to be able to do that.   Unfortunately, she completely missed the mark, and I am not okay with her doing that in my name- as an American Muslim.

She played lip service to “differences in theology”, but failed to make clear in her post that Muslims run the gamut in their positions on contraception/abortion/reproductive health/etc. and that not all of us are going to share her point of view, namely that the Blunt Amendment tramples on religious liberty and that this question shouldn’t be framed as a “war on women.”  I think it is nice to be able to think about rainbows and cupcakes and religious freedom, but unfortunately, it is a war on women.  Which is exactly my point. I think that the religious freedom position is a dangerous luxury to take when womens’ reproductive health is on the line.

For starters, Roe v. Wade is threatened daily with the various piecemeal layers of state decisions mandating when and how women can get abortions, making it practically impossible for anyone to have access to abortion in my home state of Mississippi without going to New Orleans or Memphis (“theoretically” you can get one in Jackson). I don’t have to talk about the myriad of ultrasound laws and waiting periods all designed to punish women for being dirty girls who have sex.  And it isn’t just a war on women, this is also the class struggle talking.  I’m going to assume that the two women who wrote the article can afford their birth control each month.  Yeah, I said it. What we are dealing with is a nationwide campaign to deny women access to anything that can prevent them from getting pregnant. In this economy. By going against the Blunt Amendment and calling it religious freedom is tantamount to joining the Tea Party and putting the nail in the coffin for womens’ reproductive rights in the United States.  I find that horribly intellectually irresponsible. And don’t even get me started on how they managed to throw in a bingo blaming Obamacare, the closest thing (while deeply flawed) to a first-world health care regime the United States has ever seen. EVERYTHING IS OBAMA’S FAULT.

For the record, Switzerland does not cover contraception under basic health care plans either.  However, contraception does not become a cost issue for women here, mainly because unlike the United States, we have a decent healthcare system with mandatory universal coverage. While premiums are steep, the truly indigent get subsidies for the same healthcare plans the rest of us do and not some sort of separate Medicaid plan.  Because we don’t waste money on other aspects of our healthcare, we have more disposable income from which we can pay for our contraception.  FWIW I spend around 200 dollars a year on mine. Our unemployment runs at least 70% of our salary, which means that even the unemployed have enough to pay for basic necessities.  I mention this because, as Ms. Uddin should know from her years of being a community figure, that for American women, the situation is different.  Most American women are uninsured or underinsured. Since I haven’t lived there in ten years (but couldn’t afford my bc even back then), she should know even better than I do that the economy sucks and people don’t have any money.  It is all fine and good to pull the religious liberty card but meanwhile we have women who can’t afford birth control having babies they can’t afford to raise in a country with no social safety net whatsoever.  The utter lack of any functional social welfare for lower and middle class women in America is why some sort of subsidized access to contraception is crucial. It is a well known fact that access to birth control is a key factor in women being able to access higher education, gain and keep employment, and otherwise have control over their own destinies and not be dependent on men. Are we really going to throw that away for utopian notions of religious freedom?

It isn’t about religious freedom as the article frames it, and I am saddened that her position is so lacking in nuance and pure empathy for her own gender in the name of her vision of Islam, when you take into account how critical this issue is for American women. Ms. Uddin is entitled to her perfectly valid opinion, but what I can’t cosign is how sheuses her public visibility to take a stand on what she called religious liberty and speak for American Muslim women.  I can’t tell you how disappointed I am to see one of my stars fall.

Author: Nicole Cunningham

American Expat and convert to Islam living and working between Lausanne and Zurich, Switzerland.

4 thoughts on “Et tu, Asma?

  1. Hmm… I had read that quote (“As a Muslim and a Catholic, we disagree doctrinally about the morality of contraception, sterilization, and abortifacients”) as meaning that they disagree doctrinally *with each other* on those issues, not as a suggestion that they were both taking the stance that those were all immoral. (As in, it could be rephrased to say “As a Muslim, I disagree with her doctrinally about the morality of…”) It’s not a very well-worded or clear sentence though, and I had to read it a few times when I first saw the article, so I could be mis-interpreting it…

    • If so, that would slightly lessen the blow of what I think is a crap stance to take- the claiming religious freedom, which is a luxury in a time when people have to choose between rent and bc, food and bc, etc etc etc

      • Yeah, I still really disagree with her overall, regardless of that sentence. And it kind of annoys me to see Islam get dragged into the birth control debates at all – historically, this really hasn’t been much of an issue among Muslims. As far as I understand it, birth control has always been permitted (well, within the context of marriage etc., but still not seen as inherently wrong), and it’s only really become an issue because it’s such a big thing in some Christian circles. I know that Asma isn’t arguing that this is the most important issue, but even so, it would be nice if there was something out there like “actually, not all religions see birth control as a problem at all,” just to give some perspective.

      • I’ve just edited the post to take into account your comments.

        I feel like taking a stand as a Muslim on this is handing us and the way we practice our religion over to the tea party. I can see them wringing their hands with glee going “even the muslims are against obamacare!”

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