Catholic institutions will resist the Obama administration decision that birth control is preventive medicine and thus must be covered by group health insurance plans. The institutions will fight this as an incursion on religion.
This is a tough issue. It is also a poor proxy for a fundamental difference in the political parties. Republican candidates, including Mitt Romney, the likely nominee, say they want to roll back federal support for family planning. Medical opinion is firm: family planning prevents unwanted pregnancy and thus discourages abortion and the poor pre-natal care that often accompanies unwanted pregnancies. Women, who are the ones who get pregnant, understand this. 98 percent of women have used contraception and the percentage is the same for Catholic women, despite the church's firm position against it.
Do women really agree with the archbishop quoted in this New York Times summary of the debate who describes use of condoms and birth control pills as the "culture of death"? Is there political gain in supporting a position that forces this medical outcome?
One recent Georgetown law graduate, who asked not to be identified for reasons of medical privacy, said she had polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition for which her doctor prescribed birth control pills. She is gay and had no other reason to take the pills. Georgetown does not cover birth control for students, so she made sure her doctor noted the diagnosis on her prescription. Even so, coverage was denied several times. She finally gave up and paid out of pocket, more than $100 a month. After a few months she could no longer afford the pills. Within months she developed a large ovarian cyst that had to be removed surgically — along with her ovary.
“If I want children, I’ll need a fertility specialist because I have only one working ovary,” she said.
ICYMI: The Catholic Diocese of Little Rock is fully committed to the fight against contraception. News release last week:
Bishop Anthony B. Taylor is asking people of faith to get involved in fighting a recent ruling by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that will require most private health care plans to cover sterilization and contraception free of charge.
He said the religious liberty of Catholics will be violated if the ruling is implemented. The Catholic Church believes sterilization and contraception, some of which can cause abortions, are immoral because they sever the inherent link between sex and procreation and limit the spouses’ total gift of self to one another. Furthermore, direct sterilization involves intentional damage to a healthy part of the body that is not a threat to the patient’s life.
While there is a narrow religious exemption, Catholic hospitals, charities and colleges would not be exempt. Business owners, insurers or individuals would also be forced to comply with the ruling even though they might believe contraception and sterilization to be morally wrong.
In a Jan. 25 letter, Bishop Taylor said, “We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law.”
Bishop Taylor said the ruling is a violation of the First Amendment.
“In so ruling, our government has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty. And as a result, unless this rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled either to violate our consciences or to drop health care coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so).”
Letter from Bishop Taylor, dated January 25, 2012
Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ:
I write to you concerning an alarming matter that strikes at the fundamental right to religious liberty for all citizens of any faith. The federal government, has just dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those people — the Catholic population — and to the millions more who are served by the Catholic faithful.
Last year the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services issued rules requiring all health care plans to cover sterilization and contraception, including abortifacients. The only Catholics who would qualify for the so-called "religious exemption" allowed under these rules would be only those Catholic employers who hire mainly Catholics, serve mainly Catholics and exist mainly to inculcate religious values. All these conditions would have to be met in order to qualify for the exemption. Catholic hospitals would not qualify, not to mention ordinary businesses owned by Catholics. Moreover, there was no conscience protection whatsoever for insurers or individuals with religious or moral objections to being forced to help pay the cost of these abortions and sterilizations. This is a direct attack on religion and our First Amendment rights.
In so ruling, our government has cast aside the First Amendment to the Constitution of the United States, denying to Catholics our Nation’s first and most fundamental freedom, that of religious liberty. And as a result, unless the rule is overturned, we Catholics will be compelled either to violate our consciences, or to drop health coverage for our employees (and suffer the penalties for doing so). The Administration’s sole concession was to give our institutions one year to comply—what Archbishop Dolan of New York correctly describes as "a year to figure out how to violate our consciences."
We cannot — we will not — comply with this unjust law. People of faith cannot be made second class citizens. We are already joined by our brothers and sisters of all faiths and many others of good will in this important effort to regain our religious freedom. In generations past, the Church has always been able to count on the faithful to stand up and protect her sacred rights and duties. I hope and trust she can count on this generation of Catholics to do the same.
And therefore, I would ask of you two things. First, as a community of faith we must commit ourselves to prayer and fasting that wisdom and justice may prevail, and religious liberty may be restored. Without God, we can do nothing; with God, nothing is impossible. Second, I would also recommend visiting www.usccb.org/conscience, to learn more about this severe assault on religious liberty, and how to contact Congress in support of legislation that would reverse the administration’s decision.
Sincerely in Christ,
Most Rev. Anthony B. Taylor
Bishop of Little Rock