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Helen Reddy sang it in her hit song back in 1972 – “I am woman, hear me roar” – and with the heady force of the female liberation movement, women across the country rallied “right on!”

“I Am Woman” became the theme song as women threw down the gauntlet and demanded equality. There was nothing they couldn’t do, nothing they couldn’t have, nothing they couldn’t be. Did you hear them? Nothing!

It you bought the mantra, there was no difference between men and women. Well, they might look different, have different bodily processes, even have different tendencies, but by golly, they were the same. Well, sort of.

There’s no doubt that some changes were in order. The right of a woman to have her own credit record and a legal right to buy and sell property and certainly more legal equality in marriage and the workplace.

But along the way, the concept of absolute equality got derailed and we’ve found ourselves in a swamp of rhetoric and stupidity. Equality for some jobs has meant lowering the standards to allow for the differ – oops, sorry. No such thing as differences between men and women. But forget that. However, make it easier for women to qualify as firemen, cops, soldiers. That such finagling waters-down the whole system is just ignored.

Want to go to a boys school? Well honey, if you want it, you must have it – so just go to court and force the rules to change. There goes VMI and the Citadel. Tradition be damned.

So far, they haven’t demanded an end to the Boy Scouts because the Girl Scouts still exist. But don’t hold your breath. If they don’t get the boys one way, there are other ways and folks are working on that.

So what else is new?

Well, it isn’t new. If you look back at the third paragraph of this commentary, you’ll note that I made mention of “different bodily processes.” Yup, that’s the one. Like it or not, women are different from men. Their parts are different and their bodies work differently. Regardless of the politics of abortion, adoption, homosexuality and the miracles of science and turkey basters – women can get pregnant and men can’t.

The monthly potential for pregnancy is a normal function of a female. It is a sign of health. It comes with being a woman. But somewhere along the way, it has become a political club and a gimme.

Suddenly, big, strong, independent, free, equal and self-possessed women become weak and put-upon. They complain of being discriminated against because their health insurance doesn’t cover birth control. Whatever mechanical or chemical means they choose to use, if their health plan doesn’t cover it, it becomes discrimination against them because they are female.

Consider the bind in which Catholic Charities in California finds itself. One newspaper headlined the story “A Victory for Birth Control.” The bottom line is a California State Appellate Court, a three judge panel, which ruled last Monday that the charitable arm of the Catholic Church must offer birth control to its employees through its health plan. A new state law requires inclusion of contraception in health plans; the only out, a conscience clause, would be if employees were Catholic. Since nearly three-quarters of the employees are not Catholic, the clause doesn’t apply.

But the Catholic Church teaches that artificial contraception is a sin. Now it finds itself in the position of providing the means for what it considers sinful. Catholic Charities has followed the law since January but may appeal this decision to the state Supreme Court.

Margaret Crosby, ACLU attorney, called the ruling “a victory for women’s equality and reproductive freedom.” Of course.

But there’s a larger issue here, more important even than women’s rights. Yes Virginia, there are things more important than women’s rights. The real issue is freedom of religion and conscience and religious practice.

When the courts start deciding what a religion must or must not do under specious interpretations of the Constitution, then the slippery slope has gotten another coat of wax.

Last month, reproductive-rights activists were all twisted out of shape when the National Conference of Catholic Bishops banned sterilizations at Catholic Hospitals – because, you see, it’s against their religion.

I only hope Catholic Charities has the spine to do what’s right in this case: eliminate all health-care plans for its employees and stop taking government money for any of its activities. No money; no strings. It won’t be the first time it’s faced this choice. Let’s hope this time it has the guts to put its money where its mouth is. The church doesn’t need any false martyrs. Given the amount of good the organization does, I have a feeling they’ll win that showdown.

As for women having to spend so much of their own money on birth control that they must have policy coverage, I have a suggestion. It comes from an old buddy of mine who had the easiest and cheapest method available, it’s reusable and never wears out.

It only costs a dime. Ladies, take the dime, put it between your knees and keep it there. It works every time!

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