Why this Baptist is opposed to the Catholic Bishops on the birth control mandate

In the Baptist tradition, believers come to their own moral reckoning through a reading of scripture as informed through the … Continued

In the Baptist tradition, believers come to their own moral reckoning through a reading of scripture as informed through the power of Holy Spirit. There is no hierarchy with the power to say what a believer ought to do. This does not mean that the tradition does not have a moral position, or that it does not teach that there are very fundamental differences between what is right and what is wrong. It does mean that at the end of the day, each person must make h/er own moral choices based upon her own conscience.

This is why I say the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and their Baptist allies are wrong in their opposition to the Obama administration’s requirement that insurance companies offer coverage for contraception. They want to deny women the right to the dictates of their own consciences.

In an article “Why Baptist stand with Catholics on birth control mandate,” Bryant Wright, Richard Land and O.S. Hawkins said: “This mandate by the executive branch is less about birth control, abortion or the Catholic Church than it is about the government attempting to compel people to subsidize and pay for that which they find unconscionable.” They argue that the mandate is a violation of religious freedom.

I say that if the Obama administration had not made the mandate applicable to all employers, it would have violated the Fourteenth Amendment, the equal protection rights of women. This amendment says in part: “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws.” In this debate we have a clash of rights. Or do we?

The First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution says in part: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof;” There is nothing in the Affordable Care Act that requires Catholics to use contraception. There is nothing in the law that prohibits Catholics-lay or clergy-from preaching against contraception. The accommodation that President Obama announced moves the mandate from the Catholic institution to the insurance companies. So, it is difficult to see how this is a prohibition of the free exercise of religion. However, this is not enough for the USCCB and their allies because they want to restrict the use of contraception by restricting access.

And, this is a violation of the First Amendment because it establishes a religious principle in the public square and violates the principle of equal protection under the law.

Those opposed to President Obama’s mandate argue that women are free to use contraception, however without insurance coverage, it is more expensive and women without coverage will have to pay more out of pocket for contraception. This could very likely put an additional financial burden on women who work for employers who do not want to include contraception in their insurance coverage.

Further, not all Catholics agree with the USCCB. There are religious organizations that not only agree with President Obama, but who want the mandate to go even further. The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice said in a statement:

The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) celebrates the decision by HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on January 20, 2012 to reaffirm the importance of contraceptive services as essential to the new health care plans and requiring that most religious employers comply with it. We recognize this is a victory for many women, but her decision not to extend this coverage to all Americans, no matter the religious perspective of their employer, is disappointing. All women deserve access to affordable birth control.”

The Christian Post reports that several interfaith organizations also support President Obama’s position:

“Catholics for Choice, Episcopal Divinity School, Jewish Women International, Methodist Federation for Social Action, Muslims for Progressive Values, the Planned Parenthood Clergy Advisory Board, and several others said in a Wednesday statement that the Obama administration was correct in requiring institutions that do not have purely sectarian goals to offer comprehensive preventive health care.”

This discussion has been framed as a clash between religious liberty and women’s health. In reality, religious liberty is not prohibited. The law prohibits religious institutions having the power to impose their religious belief on people, even their own employees. I say again: women ought to enjoy equal protection under the law.

This Baptist believes that woman is created in the image and likeness of God no less than man. This American citizen believes that woman ought to enjoy the blessings of life, liberty, property and equal protection under the law no less than man. I believe that churchmen ought not to seek to deny women equal protection in the name of their own church teachings.

I say to them: make a stronger case and trust women to use their own minds and their own moral consciences to make a decision that is right.

(I invite the USCCB and the leaders of the Southern Baptist Convention to join in opposing a proposed bill in the Virginia legislature that would require women to have an invasive ultrasound procedure before having an abortion. This is true overreach of government.)

  • savvy5


    Contraception is already available in many places. There is no restriction to access. It’s like saying refusing to fund hamburgers forces people to be vegetarian.

    People are also free not to work for religious organizations. They cannot demand that these groups violate their principles on contraception and abortion drugs.

    Who do you think the insurance companies are getting their money from?

    Do you think the costs will not be passed on to the employer. This is a shell game.

    There is also no constitutional right to free birth control. Even food is not free.

    This woman finds it insulting that the government thinks they have to act like daddy to protect women from themselves.

  • savvy5

    women employees who have at some point worked for a Catholic institution are signing petitions saying that they support the church’s decision on this issue.


  • unclesmrgol

    We Catholics do not blindly prostrate ourselves before the Levites, so to speak — we are required to inform our consciences as a condition of proclaiming our faith. Now, I’m sure Baptists have a similar requirement of an informed conscience, so let me help the author inform hers:
    a) The 14th Amendment does not supercede the 1st Amendment — in fact, the 14th Amendment makes the 1st Amendment (the one requiring the Government to accomodate Baptists and Catholics — not the other way around) stronger by imposing the same requirements on individual States that are imposed upon the Federal Government itself. So, if the Federal Government can make no law respecting a free expression of religion, then no State government can do so either.
    b) While individual Baptists and individual Catholics may have many differing viewpoints about contraception and abortion-inducing drugs, the Catholic Church itself is pretty clear on the positions it has taken on the matters of sex without the possibility of procreation, and, of course, abortion itself. It’s positions are millenia old, and are rooted both in Scripture and in Tradition. As a Baptist, I would not expect you to understand Tradition, but suffice to say that it is an important element in Catholic faith — and certainly worthy of a 1st Amendment consideration.
    b) Part of freedom of religion is freedom of conscience — that the Government cannot force you to do what goes against your religious faith or ethics system. It is part and parcel of the 1st Amendment.
    c) If reproductive rights are a private right guaranteed by the Constitution, as many liberals contend, then, under that same interpretation, Government must, of necessity, not interfere either pro or con. The Government does not buy people printing presses, nor does it force third parties to do so. The Government does not buy people megaphones, nor force third parties to do so. In fact, the Government does not buy people religions, nor force others to do so. So,

  • Confucius11

    If passing a law requiring a woman to see an ultrasound before having an abortion is invasive , then how invasive is the procedure of Suction Crutteage (one form of abortion methods) where a cannula tube is inserted up a woman’s uterus and the baby is sucked and pumped out of the mother’s womb into this tube, either whole or in pieces. Who is the victim of invasion here, Valerie?

  • nkri401

    If I clean the Catholic Church toilet, why should I be less entitled to the labor law protection than I cleaned the toilet at Capitol?

    Do you think Catholic Church toilet stinks less?

  • nkri401

    “People are also free not to work for religious organizations. ”

    People are also free not to ride the bus if they do not want to sit in the back of the bus.

  • nkri401

    You are OK if the law to forced you to view the menstrual result so that you can see your sex act did not result in conception?

  • amelia45

    Thank you for speaking up and speaking out. As a Catholic, I also think the position of my Church leadership – and yours, too – does not recognize the importance of assuring that individual women and families make their personal choices on birth control. The decision made by each person or family really should not be of interest to one’s employer. Certainly, the employer should not be able to coerce or enforce a particular point of view on the individual.

    Any government that failed to recognize the role of contraceptives in our society would have to be dumb, blind, or religiously motivated. Our government did exactly what they needed to do. They set up conditions that let the choice of using contraceptives remain with the individual.

  • penik3

    This Southen Baptist female supports the Catholic and Southern Baptist position on this religious freedom issue 100%. Women do have a choice. No one forces a woman to work for a religious entity. When one chooses to do so, as I have done for more than 20 years, one knows that you are working for an organization with a set, religious-based belief system. If you disagree with the belief system of your religious employer, it’s time to find a new job. The employer is under no obligation to change their value system. Heaven help us all if the government is ever allowed to force private citizens and private organizations to violate their consciences. Today it’s birth control. What might it be tomorrow? Furthermore, why birth control? If we are going to provide free medication, shouldn’t it be to people with life-threatening illnesses – cancer patients, etc.? If people with heart disease, diabetes, etc. have to pay co-pays for their life-saving medication, there is no reason people should not have to pay co-pays for birth control – something which for the majority of people simply supports a lifestyle preference, not a matter of life and death.

  • cricket44

    What “baby?” You’re confused from the get-go.

  • muusk

    As a Catholic woman, I think the bishops stance is unreasonable, even though I do not myself use birth cotnrol. This is not, in my opinion, a freedom of Religion issue. The mandate includes a great many preventive services that I would never use and which I may find objectionable, but the point of insurance is that no one uses all the services. The compromise allows the church to cleanly avoid the issue if they don’t want to be seen as purchasing a plan with contraceptive coverage. They aren’t happy because they want to be able to determine what coverage a woman gets, even if they aren’t the ones to be paying for it (and, yes, the insurance cos will save money on this deal). The church’s stand on contraception is enmeshed with the church’s stand on sacramental marriage for Catholics, and you can’t impose your views on contraception without also imposing your religious views on marriage.

    The reason the birth control mandate is important is that many women do not currently use reliable birth control for financial reasons, and that leads to crisis pregnancies and abortions. Women’s birth control, including diaphragms and pills, can only be obtained through medical professionals. Too many insurance policies exclude contraception or apply exorbitant copays, especially for the more reliable methods such as norplant. While readily available condoms are useful for preventing pregnancy and preventing disease, many women do not have enough power in their relationships to insist that their partner use one. Even if they have a compliant partner, many women are not completely comfortable relying upon the male partner to get it right because they are the ones who have to deal with the problem pregnancy if they don’t.

  • Catken1

    “Women do have a choice. No one forces a woman to work for a religious entity.”

    In what economy are you living? No, these days, many women DON’T have a choice of employer. Not if they want to feed their families. Especially if they are pushed into having large families by an employer who defines women as either “celibate humans” or “incubating machines to be used to produce as many babies as possible and then discarded when they wear out”.

    And if your employer is free to tell you that you can’t have health insurance that covers birth control, why should your employer not also have the right to tell you that, because their religion favors ZPG, they will not be covering your third and subsequent pregnancies and children? That OK with you too, even if there are no other jobs available in your field in the area?

    Why is your employer’s conscience more important than yours when it comes to your body, and your use of your fairly-earned compensation?

    And if you consider wanting to maintain a normal marital sex life without being exhausted by continual pregnancies and impoverished by having more children than you can afford to be a “lifestyle preference”, then I wish you could travel back in time a hundred years or so and see precisely what uncontrolled childbearing did to women’s bodies, minds, educations, lives, and potential.

  • Catken1

    Do you not understand the difference between a procedure you choose and one that is forced on you by government?

    Conservative men. If government takes their tax dollars, even to sustain the infrastructure that helped them make their money, they scream INVASION!. If illegal immigrants come into their country to pick their fruit and provide them with cheap grapes, that’s INVASION! of the worst kind. But government demanding that a woman’s own body actually be inhabited, and her most personal, intimate organs and bodily systems co-opted and used for another’s good, for nine full months? Oh, that’s not invasive at ALL.

  • haveaheart

    When will organized religion finally understand that you cannot legislate conscience?

    Trying to prevent your parishioners from committing what you consider to be sins by removing the means for doing so deprives them of the ability to make moral choices — an ability that is at the core of a robust spirituality.

    The issues here go beyond legislating religious principles to apply to people of other faiths. What a unimaginable lack of confidence the Catholic and Baptist hierarchies must have in their own believers!

  • haveaheart

    “If you disagree with the belief system of your religious employer, it’s time to find a new job.”

    Not good enough.

    If a religious employer wants to be free of government mandates, then that religious entity needs to give up its tax-exempt status. Until churches that function as employers in the public sphere give up that status, they should be required to comply in every measure with the law of the land.

    The solution is simple: give up the tax exemption.

  • haveaheart

    Yeah, these are the same guys that object so vociferously to an over-the-clothing pat-down at the airport terminal.

  • haveaheart


    Your interpretation of the “1st Amendment (the one requiring the Government to accomodate Baptists and Catholics” is a bit faulty and becomes downright absurd when you go on to apply it thus:

    “While individual Baptists and individual Catholics may have many differing viewpoints about contraception and abortion-inducing drugs, the Catholic Church itself is pretty clear on the positions it has taken on the matters of sex without the possibility of procreation, and, of course, abortion itself.”

    While the 1st Amendment does oblige the government to accommodate the religious beliefs and practices of individual citizens, it gives no such guarantee to religious institutions. So whatever the Catholic church may have been preaching for millenia, the federal government is not required to protect the church’s choices or “conscience” demands in the public sphere.

    The whole point of protecting the right of citizens to practice their chosen religion is to make sure that no collective entity can prevent it.