The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has not been shy about expressing its opposition to the Obama administration refusing to change a rule requiring that Catholic institutions provide health insurance coverage for contraception for employees at no additional cost. Now the bishops are straight-out demanding that private businesses have the right to deny women insurance coverage for contraception.
Earlier this week, the White House announced that it would seek to make the rule “more palatable” to religious-affiliated institutions including Catholic colleges and universities. 28 states indeed have laws calling for free access to contraception; eight of these states do not have the religious exemption in the federal rule, which is to go into effect August 1.
Despite the White House’s efforts, Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, drew a line in the sand on Thursday and said that the Obama administration has offered “all talk, no action” about any sort of compromise. The bishops are now demanding that the contraception rule be removed from the health care law, arguing that it is not enough just to change it for Catholic employers and their insurers. As Picarello summed the matter up:
“If I quit this job and opened a Taco Bell, I’d be covered by the mandate.”
According to Picarello, woe to the Catholic business owners who find themselves having to comply with federal law and provide insurance coverage for contraception for their employees.
Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) responded to the bishops’ announcement with a statement that makes it clear that the fight about the contraception rule is not, as GOP politicians and Catholic leaders have been claiming, about “religious freedom.” It is an “ideological political issue” to exempt all businesses — all private businesses, from Taco Bell to Target — from providing birth control for their employees. Says Gillibrand:
“I am dumbfounded that in the year 2012 we still have to fight over birth control. It is sad that we have to stand here yet again to fight back against another overreach and intrusion into women’s lives.
“This is what it is – a political overreach to roll back access to birth control – not a religious issue. The fact they want to exempt all businesses from providing contraceptive care is just outrageous.
“The power to decide whether or not each individual woman uses contraception should be with that woman – not her boss. We will not stand for these attempts to undermine the ability of women to make their own decisions.
“If my Republican colleagues want to continue to take this issue head on, we stand ready to oppose any attacks launched against women’s rights and women’s health.”
Despite what the bishops say, not all Catholics share their opposition to contraception. Surveys have found that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women have used contraceptives, the same number as in the general population. Moreover, most Americans, including most Catholics, support the Obama administration’s proposal and believe that there should be increased access to contraception.
The bishops, and right-wing Catholic politicians including House Speaker John Boehner and Republican presidential hopeful Rick Santorum act as if their views are eternal. But the Church’s position on contraception has changed over time, as revealed by a historical review of the Church’s stances on this issue (such as John T. Noonan’s Contraception: A History of Its Treatment by the Catholic Theologians and Canonists). The bishops’ and conservative Catholics’ latest attempts to deny women access to contraception shows that they need to wake up and realize this is the 21st century, and that, as Sen. Gillibrand says, “each individual woman” — not her boss, not a bishop — makes her own decision about using birth control.
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Photo by Catholic Westminster