Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Women, Catholics, and Birth Control - Wow!

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on February 17, 2012

As a local columnist, I generally leave the debate over national policies and issues to others. But the recent discussion on health insurance and contraceptive coverage is simply too outrageous to overlook, and the effect on women and families in our area too profound to ignore.

It has become the latest hot-button national political issue. The Obama administration has backtracked on a part of the new healthcare law that would require employers including hospitals and other institutions owned or operated by religious organizations to offer health coverage that includes birth control. The compromise says religious groups do not have to pay for that part of the coverage. Employees can go directly to the insurance companies and they must provide the service at no additional cost.

Now the US Conference of Catholic Bishops has come out against the compromise, saying it has “serious moral concerns” over the revised policy. They point out contraceptives would still be paid for out of revenues earned in part from the religious organizations.

I was born and raised Catholic. Baptized, First Communion, Confirmation, seven years of CCD classes, Mass every Sunday until I was about thirteen, being an altar boy – I lived it. It gave me a keen appreciation and a proper respect for the Catholic religion and those who practice it.

But this position I do not view as valid, and polls show most American Catholics do not either. This is not about exercising religious freedom, but rather about exerting religious control. It is not about preserving any group’s religious rights, but about imposing them on others. This is about elevating religious dogma over individual liberties. And it most definitely is not an attack on any church.

Despite claims to the contrary, no one is forcing the Catholic Church or any other religious organization to abandon its beliefs or compromise its principles. In fact, the law extends to them protections and privileges not available to their competitors who employ people. But that apparently is not enough, and that stance smacks of arrogance, greed, and a lack of respect for others.

We are not talking about forcing religious hospitals or facilities to fund abortions here. The topic is allowing Americans the right – if they choose – to access basic contraceptives with insurance coverage. This means birth control pills and other things that have been common practice and are preventive in nature, which reduces health risks and costs. That this is even up for debate in this day and age is sad.
It is also sexist. As has been said before, if men could get pregnant we would be handing out birth control pills like candy on every street corner. But in part because our government and religious organizations are primarily run by men, we get positions such as this.

The term “serious moral concerns” lacks some sincerity when used by the same organization that shifted pedophile priests from parish to parish in order to avoid public and financial ruin. This is a matter of conscience to them, but that was not? Yes, that is in the past. But then, like now, the real issue was not morality but money.

Imagine for a moment there was an organized religion that devoutly believed antibiotics to be immoral, that they altered God’s plan for our bodies (and for all I know, such a religion exists). Would we allow them to run a hospital where workers were not covered by insurance for antibiotics simply because it offends their employer’s religion? It sounds ridiculous, but is it any more absurd than the current situation?

The compromise solution should be accepted and reproductive care provided for those who work in good faith for these religious institutions or hospitals, Catholic or otherwise. Workers should not have their reproductive needs dictated by the religious or social beliefs of their employer.

I am a defender of the right of the Catholic Church to proudly embrace any moral standard it wishes, even if that standard is regularly ignored by most Catholics. But I draw the line at allowing the Church to impose that same religious standard on those it employs in the secular world. The health and safety of people is worth far more to me than the “conscience” of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist and a longtime area town official. He can be reached at

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