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Action Alert

Catholic bishops go after women's right to contraception

During church services on the last Sunday in January, Catholic hierarchy read what CBS News called a "blistering letter," assailing the Obama administration for an "assault on religious liberty." (Read a version of the bishops' letter proclaimed in every Catholic Church, urging Catholic congregants to contact Congress members.)

The U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops has been gunning for President Obama, since the welcome decree on Jan. 20 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services declared that most health insurance plans must cover contraception with no co-pay. Secretary of HHS Kathleen Sebelius formally announced: "Women will not have to forego these services because of expensive co-pays or deductibles, or because an insurance plan doesn’t include contraceptive services."
The Administration specifically exempted churches themselves, along with any other employer who is explicitly focused on offering a religious message and primarily employs those who believe in that message. HHS additionally is giving religious groups more time to comply with the rule, to generally take effect on Aug. 1.

Catholic and other religious hospitals, schools and universities are substantial beneficiaries of all kinds of public funding, including but not limited to Pell grants. This new rule will ensure that a student going to a student health center at a Catholic-affiliated college will not find herself out in the cold when needing a birth control prescription, as currently happens at places like Fordham University. Rape victims in communities served only by Catholic hospitals (receiving huge federal infusions) are being denied the morning after pill.  Working class women struggling to pay bills who must contribute to workplace health care premiums are being double-billed, forced to shell out as much as $100 a month for birth control pills that should already be covered.

Without such protection, women in one of the wealthiest countries in the world are reduced to reproductive rights paupers. Women are either denied benefits or are penalized for choosing birth control.

The Catholic Church is wrong. Requiring birth control coverage as part of health care is not a blow to Catholic religious liberty. No one is forced to use birth control, much less the church's professional celibates. Employees are ensured that dogma does not interfere with their private conscience and personal health needs and choices. The Catholic Church, the largest single denomination in the United States, claims, in a clear threat: "The federal government . . . has just dealt a heavy blow to almost a quarter of those people— the Catholic population." Yet studies show that 98 percent of Roman Catholic women have used birth control! It is hypocritical for the church to claim that this is a "heavy blow" to "the millions more who are served by the Catholic faithful." Those "millions more" who are not Catholics are being denied health care on the grounds of religion, in a manner which disproportionately denies reproductive freedom and health care to women. Denial of contraceptive coverage is sex discrimination.

We have only to look at the vindictive response of the Roman Catholic reaction in Rhode Island toward appealing high school student and state/church plaintiff Jessica Alhquist, to be reminded that if the Roman Catholic church is permitted to dictate theology into our secular laws, the candles lit during the Enlightenment would be blown out. The Roman Catholic hierarchy, which is committed to denying all women worldwide contraception and abortion whether or not the women are Catholic adherents, has not successfully dictated its anti-contraception policies to its own female members. It must not be allowed to deny birth control to other women.

Unfortunately, in an election year, this correct decision by the Obama administration may be used to pillory him, not just by Catholics but by many anti-women evangelicals who are increasingly joining that church and working against contraception. The public backlash against the Susan G. Komen for the Cure cut-off of funding to Planned Parenthood should give public officials some reassurance. But that kind of public opinion needs to be harnessed now in support of the HHS rules.

Please take a moment to send quick thanks to the Obama Administration for not caving into Catholic bishops, for choosing women's health needs over dogma. Now is the time to influence public opinion via letters to the editor and posting pro-birth control comments at online news sources.

Talking Points

Cut and paste if you like:

President Obama:  The matter of whether or not to utilize family planning options is a private decision for individuals – not employers, priests, pastors, or other evangelists. Please hold firm and ensure that women employed by religious hospitals and universities have the same right to contraceptive choices and health care coverage as other women.


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