Catholic bishops: Birth control debate about ‘religious freedom,’ not access to contraceptives

Top U.S. bishops on Wednesday formally made their fight against a White House mandate for reproductive services the church’s top … Continued

Top U.S. bishops on Wednesday formally made their fight against a White House mandate for reproductive services the church’s top priority, saying “this struggle for religious freedom” demands their immediate attention.

The statement, issued by the leadership of the U.S. Conference for Catholic Bishops, came at the end of a closed, two-day meeting and comes as some close to the bishops say the men are concerned that their campaign is faltering in the public square.

“This dispute is not about access to contraceptives but about the government’s forcing the church to provide them,” the statement read.

Carolyn Kaster


Reverend William E. Lori, Roman Catholic Bishop of Bridgeport, Conn., speaks during a Oversight and Government Reform committee hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Thursday, Feb. 16, 2012, on “Lines Crossed: Separation of Church and State. Has the Obama Administration Trampled on Freedom of Religion & Freedom of Conscience.”

The statement represents an expanded PR effort to oppose the mandate that most religious employers — like all employers– provide health care coverage for employees that includes contraception and sterilization, services forbidden under Catholic teaching. The new White House rule spells out which faith groups — primarily houses of worship — are exempt from the requirement.

“If this definition is allowed to stand, it will spread throughout federal law, weakening its healthy tradition of generous respect for religious freedom and diversity,” the bishops’ Administrative Committee said.

The bishops will also in the coming days launch a broader PR effort about religious freedom, expanding to include not only reproductive issues but state and local laws they say reflect a chipping away at the rights of religious groups. They’ll go after laws requiring religious ministries to turn in illegal immigrants they serve, limitations on religious groups on college campuses, restrictions on religious groups renting public schools for worship and other issues the bishops argue add up to a trend.

But some church-watchers say the bishops are trying to remake their public image on this subject, having won a great deal of public support earlier in the year on the health care issue — even from more liberal Catholics — and then seemingly getting caught up as the issue became more strongly partisan.

Recently, condemnations of Rush Limbaugh’s comments calling Georgetown law student and contraception advocate Sandra Fluke a ‘slut’ have diverted attention away from the bishops’ initial religious liberty argument. Meanwhile, Cardinal Francis George, former head of the USCCB, compared the Obama administration in 2012 to communists during the Cold War while Cardinal Timothy Dolan, current president of the bishops’ conference, compared the mandate to cover contraception with a made-up scenario of a sexually frustrated man who visits a prostitute and seeks government reimbursement. The comedy show “Saturday Night Live” lumped the bishops’ efforts to oppose the mandate in with the Virginia law requiring pre-abortion transvaginal ultrasounds and other limits on reproductive freedoms.

“When there is a ‘Saturday Night Live’ skit making fun of a bishop, you may have lost the framing issue,” said Michael Sean Winters, a liberal Catholic writer close to some bishops. “The bishops managed to change the nature of the debate in the beginning, but now how do they get it back?”

Tom Farr, who runs a religious freedom project at Georgetown University, said he thinks many Catholic Americans want to see the bishops continue their challenge to the White House mandate and to expand it.

“It’s fair to say in general bishops have not always gotten involved in public matters and sometimes are too slow,” he said. “I’m tickled that these men seem to be getting their act together.”

A spokeswoman for the bishops said they had been trying to frame the religious freedom campaign broadly since last fall, but were forced by news events to focus on the health care mandate and contraception.

“For one thing, that’s what everyone is asking them about,” said Sister Mary Ann Walsh of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. However, she added that the mandate is “the most significant” item on the agenda of the bishops meeting this week, the heads of the conference’s committees.

Walsh said members of the conference are continuing meetings with the White House to try and find a compromise on the mandate, but there are major stumbling blocks. Among the core questions is how the regulations will define an exempt religious organization. (Read more on defining ‘religious’ in the HHS regulations here.)

In the meantime, the bishops will launch their public religious freedom campaigns in the media, in efforts with lawmakers and in parishes with priests sermonizing.

“It’s a full-court press,” she said.

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  • ccnl1

    From a “sex is great guy” as long as your not stupid about it_

    The RCC’s position on contraception is a minor topic with respect to the following: (And it is something Obama always forgets to mention- but maybe he is not too bright in the area of contraception and STD prevention)

    The reality of contraception and STD control:

    Note: Some words hyphenated to defeat an obvious word filter. …

    The Brutal Effects of Stupidity:

    : The failures of the widely used birth “control” methods i.e. the Pill ( 8.7% failure rate) and male con-dom (17.4% failure rate) have led to the large rate of abortions and S-TDs in the USA. Men and women must either recognize their responsibilities by using the Pill or co-ndoms properly and/or use safer methods in order to reduce the epidemics of abortion and S-TDs.- Failure rate statistics provided by the Gut-tmacher Inst-itute. Unfortunately they do not give the statistics for doubling up i.e. using a combination of the Pill and a condom.

    Added information before making your next move:

    from the CDC-2006

    “Se-xually transmitted diseases (STDs) remain a major public health challenge in the United States. While substantial progress has been made in preventing, diagnosing, and treating certain S-TDs in recent years, CDC estimates that approximately 19 million new infections occur each year, almost half of them among young people ages 15 to 24.1 In addition to the physical and psy-ch-ological consequences of S-TDs, these diseases also exact a tremendous economic toll. Direct medical costs as-sociated with STDs in the United States are estimated at up to $14.7 billion annually in 2006 dollars.”

    And from:

    Consumer Reports, January, 2012

    “Yes, or-al se-x is se-x, and it can boost cancer risk-

    Here’s a crucial message for teens (and all se-xually active “post-teeners”: Or-al se-x carries many of the same risks as va-ginal se-x, including human papilloma virus, or HPV. And HPV may now be overtaking tobacco as the leading cause of or-al

  • RWLA

    Exactly how much of this information – contraception/STDs – is taught and discussed in ABSTINENCE-ONLY programs in schools? Programs that the Bush Administration began and funded and are still being funded by the U.S. government?

  • terrillterry

    What happened to individual conscience? They are making a women vs. church war. They will not win. They act like everyone is catholic or need to be. Save me from this new form of the inquisition.

  • ccnl1

    Oops make that “as long as you are not stupid about it”.

  • ccnl1

    Guidance for women on how to care for themselves:


    Percentage of women (men?) experiencing an unintended pregnancy (a few examples)


    Pill (combined)……… 8.7
    Tubal sterilization ……0.7
    Male condom ……….17.4
    Vasectomy…………… 0.2
    IUD (Copper-T)………….1.0
    (Masturbation mono or dual)………….. 0

    Periodic abstinence.. 25.3 (RCC approved)
    Calendar 9.0 (RCC approved)
    Ovulation Method 3.0 (RCC approved)
    Sympto-thermal 2.0 (RCC approved)
    Post-ovulation 1.0 (RCC approved)

    No method 85.0″ (RCC approved and important to women and men wanting to get pregnant)

    (Abstinence) 0 (RCC approved)

  • Humbly

    Anti-Catholicism is the last socially acceptable form of bigotry. Yet one would never have expected America’s first black President to engage in overt religious intolerance. We expect more from our President, regardless of her race or religious orientation. But to many Americans, our current President somehow deserves to get a pass on this, perhaps because he is genetically predisposed to other forms of injustice, or perhaps because of past evils visited on a large public by a tiny fraction of clergy. We should fear strong rhetoric founded on hate, regardless of the speaker and especially when he is a Head of State. If Catholic persecution by our government is deemed acceptable and the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights is allowed to be reduced to the First Suggestion of the Bill of Guidelines, then there is no protection for Baptists, Jews, Quakers, or even atheists.

  • DAVE22Qhotmailcom

    the church is realizing the extent of their overreach into american politics. now they use a tame mouthpiece to say no, no, no its not about our unholly allience with right wing extremests; ita about immigrant rights and liberal causes.
    bulls**t. its a naked papest grab for power. America needs to return to our historic principles– never accept a politician who does not reject papel rule both explicitly and implicitly.

  • WaxWings

    bigotry, hate, and intolerance are hallmarks of the abrahamic religions…

  • ChoKum

    A public hospital operated for profit is not a church. It should follow the law of the land and provide all medically sound, doctor approved medical procedure or medication.

    If it is not a public hospital it should not get special consideration from government. They should restrict services to members who agree with their policies and pay all local, state, and federal taxes.

  • fanofFDR

    Give me a break; Catholics haven’t been “persecuted” against in any significant form since the KKK in the 1920s. This is just a spiteful, hateful, and woefully ignorant post.

    You want religious persecution? Try the Crusades. Or Spanish Inquisition. Or Russian pogroms. I could go on, but I think you get the point.

  • Shumlaw

    What the Bishops want is a special privilege, there is no right here.
    I am a Buddhist and feel that I should adhere to a vegan lifestyle, and there are other religions (Hindu, Jain, Seventh Day Adventist, etc.) that have similar conscientiously held beliefs. Where are the Catholics when my tax money goes to subsidize cattle ranchers? Or when a school lunch program requires a student to take meat and dairy as part of the lunch? How about requiring a healthcare worker to accept an egg containing vaccination? If I thought about it long enough I am sure I could come up with literally thousands of government programs and requirements that violate my beliefs, yet no one has ever jumped in to defend my “rights.”

  • ccnl1

    Under “See More”:

    Obviously, political leaders in both parties, Planned Parenthood, parents, the “stupid part of the USA” and the educational system have failed miserably on many fronts.

  • cricket44

    Wrong, Humbly. Does anti-Catholicism exist? Sure. To the extent that it is claimed? Not usually. And there is NO religious intolerence in the mandate or from the President.

    When people are forced into ghettos, fired from jobs, beaten and killed for their religion, THEN you can cry “persecution.” To do so over this is *incredibly* disrespectful for those who have actually suffered for their faith.

    The only religious liberties at stake here are those of the employees.

  • cricket44

    ccnl1, when you spam like this, I doubt I am the only person who just skips the post entirely.


    The comment is the same copypasta the poster has been spamming the boards with for weeks. He spammed it on the Rush Limbaugh threads as well.

    I have no problem with fanatics, they just should post new content for every comment.


    To Rastafarians, marijuana is a sacrament. Why isn’t it legal for them?

    In my faith, The Church of the SubGenius, we adhere to the psychopatrioticanarchomaterlialist doctrine. How come I can’t have my own nukes?

  • candle1

    Sounds like an awful lot of lobbying for a tax exempt organization… When do they lose their special status?

  • gpcarvalho

    This apparently sterile debate is likely going nowhere. The bishops seem to recommend rhythm or abstinence. Outside the bubble, Catholic families, concerned about their shrinking budgets and caring for the future of their children, prefer more reliable methods of birth control. NonCatholics, the large and silent majority, find the debate absurd.

    As a young student of government, I read Chester Barnard’s The Functions of the Executive, finding his innovative concept of authority fascinating. What makes a directive truly authoritative, Barnard said, is decided by the subordinate, rather than his superior. It is up to the subordinate to accommodate or simply ignore a communication. Respect and competence, Barnard concluded, are essential elements of leadership.

    I believe that the trend has been set by countries with Catholic majorities, such as Austria, Belgium, Brazil, Chile, France, Ireland, Italy, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain and Uruguay, in which total fertility rates are well below replacement level. This kind of development would be impossible without universal access to basic education and birth control. Modern Catholics families, it must be noted, have contributed to defuse the population bomb, aware as they are that enough food and water will have to be found to sustain a world of 10 billion inhabitants by 2050.

    Fast urbanization, with the attendant access to education, jobs, and family planning, is the key to understand the growing preference for small-sized families. Besides, with social security reaching even the most remote rural areas, families tend to place a premium on the education of their children. And education, together with urbanization, tends to loosen traditional ties and the grip of cultural taboos. Families are increasingly small because they can afford to.

  • muusk

    The real problem here is that health insurance continues to be linked to employment. Why does that have to be? Why should I have to rely upon my employer to broker a plan that meets my needs? We would be far better off with a single payer plan, but the conservative wing demanded that be taken out of consideration during health care talks.

    But that is all that employers do wrt health care — they broker a plan, then the employee pays the premiums to get it. It is the employee who pays for the plan, not the employer! Yes, some companies pay part of the premiums as benefits, i.e. compensation. In other words, it is part of a person’s salary.

    I work for a Catholic organization. We pay very high premiums for a health plan which has significant exclusions for contraception and sterilization. Why should my employer decide that I should pay extra to prevent myself from getting certain health benefits? This makes no sense at all.

  • ccnl1

    Once again, reiteration is a major component of a good education as demonstrated by the number of times the OT has been reiterated over the last 3000 years and the NT over the last 2000 years. Reality and Truth are simply catching up. Deal with it and learn.

  • cricket44

    Reiteration is moronic when no one bothers to read it. By all means, spend your time how you like, but don’t expect others to pay attention.

  • MnReader1

    If you support
    The right of Catholic universites/schools/hospitals (religiously affiliated enterprises/corporations) to deny contraception insurance coverage (enforce their religious belief) without government interference,
    does it mean that you would also support
    The right of religiously affiliated enterprises/corporations (Muslim universities/schools/hospitals) to enforce their religious belief (straight shaia law) without government interference?

  • benabbie

    WAPO story on emergence of Mexico’s middle class noted birth rate of 2.3. Now isn’t Mexico a very Catholic country? One might tell the Church that they are losing this birth control argument.

  • JustMyOpinion2012

    If alter boys could get pregnant, the Catholic bishops would be all in favor of birth control! Such hypocrisy.

    As the entity known for the largest scale pedophilia in the world, and subsequent cover up of their member perpetrators, they really don’t have much credibility on dictating morality to anyone!

  • JustMyOpinion2012

    It’s high time they start paying taxes. If they are willing to engage in politics and can afford lobbyists and lawyers, they can certainly afford to pay taxes. Why should they be removed from the tax rolls when this country needs the tax dollars.

    Great Britain has begun taxing the church. It’s high time we do as well.

  • JustMyOpinion2012

    Time for them to pay taxes!

  • JustMyOpinion2012

    What about the Non-Catholic employees. Why should the Catholic Church be allowed to engage in prejudice against them? Or against women in general? Viagra is acceptable to the church but birth control is not????

    Hypocricy at it’s most extreme.

    And wait, where are the women bishops???

  • DaveHarris

    So Catholic holy men don’t have “religious freedom” if they can’t prevent somebody (including non-Catholics) from having access to birth control? What kind of logic is that? If they decided that their religion required them to beat and abuse children, or persecute gays, or assault doctors who try to help women, do we have to “respect” that, too? It’s curious how religion becomes the reservior for discredited modes of thought which are repellent to general society. They are not only not better than anyone else, they’re worse.