Monday, February 20, 2012

Catholics and Contraceptives

To recap the War on Contraceptives (also the War on Women's Rights):

In President Obama's healthcare plan, all health insurance companies would be required to provide coverage of contraceptives. The Institute of Medicine recommended that contraceptives be available free of charge to women as part of preventative health care services. Some religious leaders objected to this requirement on moral grounds. And, as expected, some members of the GOP hijacked the discussion, making it an election year issue.

So Obama made a compromise and said organizations affiliated with religious institutions (like Catholic universities) would not be required to pay for health insurance coverage of contraceptives, but employees would be notified that they were still eligible for free contraceptives. Catholics and others who object to contraceptives on moral/religious grounds do not have to pay for the service with health insurance companies.

Unfortunately, the momentum of this chaotic side show was unstoppable. Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) convened a committee to hear testimony on how the availability of contraceptives to women was unconstitutional, immoral, and against the freedom to practice religion. Oddly enough, all of the "expert" witnesses were men, which begs the question as to when they were forced to take or pay for contraceptives against their religious/moral/legal rights. Exactly what experience did they have with contraceptives that made them experts?

Fortunately, women on the committee spoke out, questioning the absence of women from the discussion. Rep. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-DC) and Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) took Mr. Issa to task for the absence of women on the panel and then walked out of the hearing. (Here is Rep. Maloney's statement and here is the video of Rep. Norton during the committee meeting.)

There is a small piece of history that we need to remember: In 1968, the Conference of Catholic Bishops in the United States voted 180 to 8 that Catholic married couples could use contraceptives and still be an active member of the Catholic church (Daytona Beach Morning Journal, Nov. 16, 1968).

This is not a new problem. Liberal Catholic priests in the US have consistently challenged Rome on moral issues, and the issue of contraceptives is an old issue. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, most Catholics disagree with conservative church leaders on whether contraceptives violate religious principles.

Researchers found that 41% of Catholics believed contraceptives were morally acceptable and 36% said contraceptives were not a moral issue. Only 15% of Catholics polled said contraceptives were morally wrong. Of all people polled, only 8% said contraceptives were morally wrong.

If this is not an issue for Catholics (men and women), why is it an issue for the Catholic hierarchy (all men)? (Did I just answer my own question?) And what made the GOP think joining forces with a group so out of touch with its own membership could possibly help them?

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