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King: Is birth control issue a debate or a discussion?

POSTED: January 28, 2014 1:00 a.m.

What’s the difference between a discussion and a debate?

This is where I go to the dictionary. I want to know exactly what a word means before I start a column. A discussion is the process of talking about something in order to reach a decision. A debate is the process of arguing a point of view in order gain support.

A discussion seeks to educate. A debate seeks to persuade. The difference is in the goal. Hopefully, an educated individual will make the best decision possible in a given situation. In a debate, however, the goal is not necessarily the best decision, but a decision that meets the goals of one side or the other. In other words, the goal is to win.

Let’s consider question The Times asked Jan. 19 in the Viewpoint section: “Should family planning health mandate stand?” First, the reader has to understand exactly what this mandate is. As written, the Affordable Care Act requires most employers to include birth control expenses in an employee’s health care package.

Religious organizations are exempt, but what constitutes a “religious organization?” A church, obviously. Church-run institutions such as hospital and schools have been accommodated, but what about private for-profit organizations? Can business owners claim their faith is violated if their employees obtain contraception through their health insurance?

Suddenly the picture has changed, and we’re debating morality. The fight is not about health care but about controlling private behavior. A number of religious fundamentalists object to birth control, but the largest and most powerful group is the Catholic Church. Even in an era of aids, poverty and overpopulation, the church has steadfastly opposed the use of condoms or the pill.

Now anti-birth control people are taking the fight to the Supreme Court. Their strategy: Corporations are people, and just as a person’s religious beliefs must be respected, so must a corporation’s. The court will hear the case in March. Costs to taxpayers could run into the millions.

Now let’s go back to the difference between a discussion and a debate. The Supreme Court will certainly discuss the issue, but the issue itself is being debated. There will be winners and losers. And to what purpose? Justice? Morality? What’s best for the nation?

Nope. None of this. It’s money and power as usual.

Corporations already have money, lot of it. When the court declared that a corporation has the same rights as an individual, they gave corporations power over our political process as well. Please don’t tell me that when a corporation spends big money on a political campaign it is doing it for the common good. At present, our political system is for sale to the highest bidder.

Let’s take another look at the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that employers must include family planning services in a company insurance plan. Shouldn’t it apply to everyone or no one at all? Do women really need the government to pick up the tab? As the woman opposed to the family planning health mandate said in The Times' article, contraception is legal, widely available and inexpensive.

Just as no one is forced to use contraception, no one is prevented from whatever family planning measure meets his or her needs. However, there is every reason to believe the nation as a whole does benefit when women have easy access to family planning. There are fewer teenage pregnancies, less poverty and fewer abortions. Statistics even suggest there is less crime. This is called the Donohue-Levitt hypothesis. Look it up.

Americans are never going to agree on matters of faith or on the best approach to various social problems. Nor should they, but when social issues are debated under the umbrella of free speech, one should question the speakers’ motivation. Are they concerned for the welfare of the nation, or do they just want to win an argument? Discussion or debate?

Joan King lives in Sautee. Her column appears biweekly on Tuesdays and at gainesvilletimes.com/viewpoint.


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