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Catholic bishops pressured Komen over Planned Parenthood

(Reuters) - When he visited the United States four years ago, Pope Benedict XVI blessed a box of silver ribbon-shaped pins for breast cancer charity Susan G. Komen for the Cure and sent them to its founder, Nancy Brinker.

Brinker was touched by the gesture and thanked the pontiff in person on the day of his departure.

"He took my hands and blessed me for my work. I couldn’t help myself. I burst into tears," she recalls in her memoir, "Promise Me: How a Sister’s Love Launched the Global Movement to End Breast Cancer."

Pope Benedict’s blessings marked a high point in the Komen charity’s relationship with the Catholic church. But even before the papal jetliner touched down at Andrews Air Force Base near Washington in 2008, American church leaders had already begun to emerge as critics of Komen’s longstanding ties to Planned Parenthood, the women’s health organization whose services include birth control and abortion.

Internal Komen documents reviewed by Reuters reveal the complicated relationship between the Komen Foundation and the Catholic church, which simultaneously contributes to the breast cancer charity and receives grants from it. In recent years, Komen has allocated at least $17.6 million of the donations it receives to U.S. Catholic universities, hospitals and charities.

Church opposition reached dramatic new proportions in 2011, when the 11 bishops who represent Ohio’s 2.6 million Catholics announced a statewide policy banning church and parochial school donations to Komen.

Such pressure helped sway Komen’s leadership to cut funding to Planned Parenthood, according to current and former Komen officials. The decision, made public in January, and Komen’s reversal only days later, sparked an angry outcry from both sides of an intensifying American debate over abortion.

The anti-abortion movement gathered momentum last year when hundreds of newly elected Republicans entered office across the country and ushered in a wave of local and federal legislation aimed at restricting abortion services and family planning.

"From a moral point of view, and that’s what this is about, it has to do with cooperation and doing things contrary to the church’s teaching," Bishop Leonard Paul Blair of Toledo said of the agreement the Catholic Conference of Ohio reached on diocese donations.

"In today’s world, there are a lot of entanglements of many things and one has to exercise a certain prudence about standing firm on principle and church teaching and the moral conscience," he told Reuters in an interview.

Komen officials at the Dallas-based charity declined to speak on the record about relations with the Catholic church.

THE SHIFT

The earliest signs of discord came in 2005, when South Carolina’s Catholic diocese pulled out of the local Komen fundraiser. It was followed over the next four years by individual dioceses in Arizona, Indiana, Florida, Missouri and other states, where bishops either spoke out against Komen or took steps to stem donations to the charity, mainly because of its Planned Parenthood link.

The momentum picked up in 2011 when top Ohio clerics met in Columbus. High on their agenda was the question of whether the state’s nine dioceses should participate in Komen fundraisers.

No Planned Parenthood clinics in Ohio receive Komen money. But the bishops decided that diocese funds should no longer benefit the charity, for fear that money sent from local Komen affiliates to the Dallas headquarters could wind up in Planned Parenthood’s coffers or help fund research on stem cells collected from human fetuses, according to church officials.

Planned Parenthood was receiving between $500,000 and $700,000 annually in Komen grants to fund cancer screenings and education for low-income women, many with nowhere else to turn. The charity says it does not fund embryonic stem cell research.

The Ohio bishops would soon be joined by the North Dakota Catholic Conference, which cautioned its nearly 190,000 parishioners against donating to Komen. The charity’s officials in California also say they received their first request in two decades to meet with Catholic bishops, who expressed concern about Planned Parenthood but took no action.

The Ohio and North Dakota pronouncements nearly doubled the number of dioceses that have questioned Komen’s support for Planned Parenthood or severed financial ties with the charity, bringing the total to at least 23 of the 195 Catholic dioceses in the United States.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has no official policy on donations to Komen because funding activities take place at the local level, according to conference spokeswoman Sister Mary Ann Walsh. That could change as more bishops speak out on the issue, though another conference official said the national body has no plans to take up the question.

Observers say the local bishops’ focus on Komen and other social issues reflects a larger conservative shift within the American church since New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan became chairman of the Conference in November 2010.

Under Dolan’s leadership, the conference last year set up a new ad hoc committee on religious liberty to oppose government policies that conflict with church teachings on abortion, contraception and gay marriage.

That move coincided with the rise of social conservatives in Congress and state legislatures during the 2010 elections and has gathered pace during the 2012 presidential campaign.

"It’s an ideal time for them to push both Democrats and Republicans to acquiesce to their demands, because nobody wants to be seen as disrespecting religion," said Jon O’Brien of the advocacy group, Catholics for Choice, which opposes the Vatican on matters related to sex, marriage and family life.

THE DILEMMA

But even as opposition to Komen continues, some Catholic recipients of Komen money have promoted their ties with the breast cancer charity to the media. Other institutions carry hypertext links to Komen on their Web sites and some display the Susan G. Komen for the Cure logo, including a pink ribbon.

In Ohio, tens of thousands of dollars in Komen grants have gone to some of the same institutions that bishops there proposed as funding alternatives to Komen.

Georgetown University in Washington has received $15 million in Komen grants. Catholic institutions overall collected $7.4 million from the charity in 2011 alone, while Planned Parenthood’s receipts totaled $684,000 during the same year.

The grants, and the warm reception for Komen among some Catholic institutions, underscore the common interests of charity and church in protecting women against a devastating and deadly disease. But some outside observers say the money also raises ethical questions about the bishops’ opposition role.

"It is morally inconsistent, and difficult to explain, why you would condemn donations but continue to accept grants. It makes no ethical sense at all," said Arthur Caplan of the University of Pennsylvania’s Center for Bioethics.

Some parishioners agree.

"It is blatantly hypocritical," said Al Mancuso, a 42-year-old Cleveland resident who regularly attends church and volunteers at church functions but opposes the Ohio bishops’ stance on Komen and Planned Parenthood.

Michele Allen, a 40-year-old mother of two from Lyndhurst, Ohio, said: “This happens every election cycle. The church is a little too politicized. This association with the Republicans and all these pro-life issues around the primaries is too connected with politics.”

Catholic officials say there is nothing inconsistent about criticizing Komen’s spending policies while accepting money from the charity. They argue that church-affiliated institutions can reach some of the poorest and most underserved women without spending funds in ways that conflict with Catholic teachings.

"I don’t see any kind of ethical or moral concern here," said the Rev. Tadeusz Pacholczyk of the National Catholic Bioethics Center, an agency that analyzes healthcare and life science issues from the standpoint of church moral tradition.

"The concern is at the front end, when you’re donating money to an entity that’s taking that money and using it in a contradictory way."

(Additional reporting by Anna Yukhananov in Washington and Kim Palmer in Cleveland; Editing byMichele Gershberg and Anthony Boadle)

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File this under: “Why the fuck am I not surprised? Of course, they did.”

GOP Continues To Oppose Contraception Coverage Plan Now Supported By Large Catholic Institutions

The U.S. Catholic Conference of Bishops almost immediately rejected a compromise on requiring contraception coverage that the Obama administration announced on Friday, and Republicans have continued to attack the accommodation. Under the compromise, religious institutions will not be required to provide contraceptive coverage because insurers will provide contraception directly to employees at no cost, completely removing religious institutions from the equation. But this deal was not enough to satisfy conservative opposition.

On ABC’s This Week, Rep. Paul Ryan echoed the Republican objection of contraception coverage. Ryan told host George Stephanopolous the compromise is nothing more than a “fig leaf” and an “accounting trick”:

RYAN: To paraphrase the bishops’ letter, this thing, it’s a distinction without a difference. It’s an accounting gimmick or a fig leaf. It’s not a compromise. The president’s doubled down. […] If this is what the president’s willing to do in a tough election year, imagine what he’s going to do to implement the rest of his health care law after an election.

STEPHANOPOLOUS: You heard Jack Lew right there, this is not going to force the institutions to pay for the coverage. […]

RYAN: It’s a distinction without a difference. This is an accounting trick.

Ryan’s own heavily-Catholic home state of Wisconsin currently mandates contraception coverage without any exclusion for religious institutions. As ThinkProgress reported, Marquette University, a Jesuit institution located in Milwaukee, even decided to offer contraception coverage prior to the state’s mandate.

White House Chief of Staff Jack Lew repeatedly defended President Obama’s decision on several Sunday morning TV shows. “It does not force an institution that has religious principle to offer or pay for benefits that they find objectionable, but it guarantees a women’s person’s right to access,” Lew said on Fox News Sunday. “Hopefully now this will set the issue to rest.”

And Ryan and his Republican colleagues are arguing against a policy that a majority of Catholic voters support and that major Catholic organizations favor, including the Catholic Health Association, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities and Catholic Charities USA. The Rev. John Jenkins, president of the Catholic-affiliated University of Notre Dame, supported President Obama’s compromise, calling it a “a welcome step toward recognizing the freedom of religious institutions to abide by the principles that define their respective missions.”

As Republicans stand with the conservative Catholic bishops in opposition to allowing women to receive contraception at no cost, they are embracing an increasingly extreme anti-contraception position, with which even many Catholics disagree.

Meet 8 Right-Wing Groups Practicing Scorched-Earth Anti-Choice Nuttery Against Women

sexgenderbody:

(via Alternet)

By Amanda Marcotte, AlterNet
Posted on December 11, 2011, Printed on December 13, 2011
http://www.alternet.org/story/153351/meet_8_right-wing_groups_practicing_scorched-earth_anti-choice_nuttery_against_women

Is there a rift in the anti-choice movement? A recent story in the New York Times centered around Ohio Right To Life’s unwillingness to lend their support or endorsement to a bill banning abortion from the time a heartbeat is detected in an embryo certainly makes that clear. As reproductive rights activists have noted for a couple of years now, there’s a war breaking out between two anti-choice groups, the incrementalists and the absolutists. Both largely agree on the goals of the movement, which is a complete ban on all abortion, with severe restrictions and possibly bans on contraception as well. What they disagree about is tactics. Incrementalists view themselves the more mainstream branch of the movement, and they focus mainly on chipping away at abortion rights. They’re wary of taking the fight to the courts, who tend to routinely shoot down any legislation perceived as an out-and-out ban on abortion.

The absolutists, on the other hand, claim this is a failed strategy and want to come out of the closet as full-throated soldiers in the war on women and sex, by directly attacking Roe v. Wade and taking the fight beyond abortion to contraception. Absolutists have managed to go around the more mainstream anti-abortion movement, passing legislation and gaining ground in the Republican Party. They’ve even managed to make Democrats cower, as evidenced by the highly unusual decision of the HHS to overrule the FDA’s decision to make Plan B available over the counter.

Who are some of these absolutists? Here’s a snapshot of some of the organizations that are demanding not just immediate challenges to Roe, but also want a rapid escalation of the war on women’s right to contraception and other forms of basic reproductive health care.

Who are some of these absolutists? Here’s a snapshot of some of the organizations that are demanding not just immediate challenges to Roe, but also want a rapid escalation of the war on women’s right to contraception and other forms of basic reproductive health care.

Personhood USA. This is the umbrella group for various state activist groups pushing to get “personhood amendments” onto the ballot. Unlike most anti-choice organizations that push for a variety of actions, Personhood USA has only one ostensible goal, to amend state constitutions to get fertilized eggs defined as legal “persons”. Behind this seemingly simple goal lies a radical agenda. Not only would personhood amendments ban abortion, but they would also make it illegal to treat ectopic pregnancies, save women suffering incomplete miscarriages from dying of sepsis, open up criminal investigations of miscarriages, and ban IVF and research on stem cells, personhood advocates have repeatedly suggested that it should also be used to ban the birth control pill and the IUD, which they incorrectly argue work by killing fertilized eggs. The radical nature of the initiative made it impossible to pass in Mississippi, arguably the most conservative state in the country, giving incrementalists ammo in their argument against the absolutist approach.   

Live Action. That absolutists can’t get their agenda past the voters doesn’t mean that their radical approach is a failure, however. After all, they don’t have to win over voters so long as they control the Republican Party on the choice question.  Live Action provides some of the best evidence of the success of the absolutist approach. Live Action openly supports the absolutist agenda, putting their support behind personhood initiatives and attacking Planned Parenthood not just for providing abortion, but because the organization is willing to provide STD and contraception information to minors and self-identified sex workers. 

Early in 2011, Live Action launched a series of deceptively edited videos that managed only to prove that Planned Parenthood follows the law, provides perfectly legal health care to minors and self-identified sex workers, and immediately complies with reporting laws regarding the abuse of minors. Even though they did nothing but prove that Planned Parenthood obeys the law and standard medical ethics, Live Action still managed to compel a national crisis over Title X funding offered to clinics who provide contraception services that culminated in the Republicans threatening to shut down the federal government if contraception subsidies weren’t immediately halted. This, even though 77% of Republican voters support contraception subsidies.  The word “abortion” was thrown around a lot to justify this attack on Title X, but at the end of the day, Live Action and the Republicans were attacking contraception, as Title X legally cannot subsidize abortion. 

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops. The USCCB presents itself simply as a support structure for American Catholic churches, but a large wing of the organization is devoted to lobbying for extremist anti-choice policies that are often far beyond anything being asked by incrementalist anti-choice activists. Conservative media threw a fit when Nancy Pelosi described this group as “lobbyists”, but the term is utterly accurate. The USCBB does spend a great deal of time and  money lobbying for severe restrictions on abortion and contraception access.  

The USCBB lobbies for an overturn of Roe, but that’s only the tip of their anti-choice advocacy. They exploited the health care reform debate to try to push for Congress to prevent private insurance companies from covering abortion care. They have taken a strong anti-contraception stance that makes fallacious, unscientific claims about contraception, including claiming that contraception artificially induces an unhealthy state (something actual medical experts would strongly argue against) and making unscientific claims about how contraception works. Currently, they are demanding that religiously affiliated organizations that take taxpayer money, such as hospitals and universities, be allowed to deny contraception coverage to the female employees, many of whom aren’t even Catholic. They are also fighting the Obama administration’s choice to give groups who offer complete health care to trafficking victims grants instead of giving them to Catholic organizations that refuse contraception or abortion referrals for women who have been forced into prostitution, suggesting that their main concern isn’t getting women out of trafficking situations, but blocking them from having healthy and consensual sex lives after escaping forced prostitution.  

Ohio ProLife Action. As described in the New York Times, Ohio Right to Life refuses to support a bill that would ban all abortions after a heartbeat is detectable, not because they don’t wish they could, but because they believe it’s a political loser. The heartbeat is less extremist than personhood initiatives, but that’s like saying it’s less dark at 10PM than midnight: technically true, but not particularly relevant. The heartbeat bill is a direct assault on Roe v. Wade, and Ohio RTL wants to wait until the Supreme Court is even more conservative before challenging Roe.  

Meanwhile, the heartbeat bill is far more extreme than the simple abortion bans that were in place prior to Roe. Medical exceptions were available prior to Roe, and if a woman showed up in the emergency room with an incomplete miscarriage, doctors were allowed to save her life by removing the failing pregnancy. Under the heartbeat bill, doctors would be forced to wait until any kind of pulse in the embryo had ended before intervening, which would put women at risk of sepsis and would like result in unnecessary deaths—-all the save pregnancies that were unsalvageable to begin with. Ohio RTL likely realizes that it’s hard to endear yourself to voters when you stand up for torturing or even killing women for having incomplete miscarriages, so Ohio ProLife Action was formed to support this attack on women’s right not just to choose, but to survive a pregnancy gone wrong.   

Susan B. Anthony List. Anti-choicers fallaciously claiming to be supportive of some “older” form of feminism have been around nearly as long as conservatives supporting racist policies while quoting MLK, and so the SBA List is doing nothing new with their ahistorical claims that irreligious, childless Anthony would have, if she was alive today somehow miraculously supported their highly religious assault on abortion rights. But SBA List stands for a lot more than a simple overturn of Roe. In the name of Susan B. Anthony, who aligned herself with the 19th century “voluntary motherhood” movement that turned into the birth control movement, the SBA List has expanded into assaults on contraception access. SBA List has worked strenuously to defund contraception programs both on the national and international level. They claim to do so out of opposition to abortion, but in reality, the funds that they object to that go to Planned Parenthood and the United Nations Population Fund are used strictly for non-abortion reproductive health services. UNFPA does not provide abortion services or referrals, but because they prevent women from dying of botched abortions and offer contraception services, SBA List opposes them. Even under Roe, doctors were permitted to treate women suffering from botched abortions, but SBA List embraces a far more radical vision than a mere repeal of women’s right to legal abortion. 

In addition, SBA List put together a pledge for Republican presidential candidates to sign that hinted at a strong anti-contraception agenda with calls for the HHS and NIH to be staffed with “pro-life” leadership. Under George Bush, such leadership did more than simply oppose abortion, but fought against expanded contraception access at every turn. SBA List’s request for more of the same would endanger HHS regulations requiring insurance companies to treat contraception as preventive care that should be offered without a co-pay to insured women.  

Leslee Unruh with the Alpha Center. Leslee Unruh is a one-woman machine of anti-choice extremism in South Dakota. Unruh was instrumental in getting complete abortion bans on the ballot in South Dakota not once, but twice (both were voted down). Unable to get an abortion ban in South Dakota the honest way, anti-choice South Dakota legislators, who appear to hang on Unruh’s every word, passed a law requiring women to seek “counseling” from anti-choice crisis pregnancy centers before being allowed to have an abortion. Unruh’s CPC was clearly the one that they had in mind, as it’s right down the street from the Planned Parenthood in Sioux Falls that is the sole provider of abortion in the entire state. The legislation would basically force women to go through Leslee Unruh and her staff before they could have an abortion.  

If you go to Alpha Center and aren’t pregnant, you’re still out of luck, because they certainly don’t offer contraception counseling for those who wish to avoid pregnancy. In addition to being anti-abortion, Unruh is an outspoken anti-contraception activist who claims that the birth control is “playing God” and that women should forsake contraception because Unruh personally would like to see “more babies”. In addition to her CPC, Unruh runs the Abstinence Clearinghouse, which lobbied heavily for abstinence-only education during the Bush administration and now sells materials denouncing contraception, premarital sex (and premarital kissing), and even masturbation, even going so far as to threaten young people who send sexy text messages with claims that doing so causes depression and suicide.   

American Life League. The American Life League is an oldie but a goodie. Just as the Tea Party couldn’t get started without some long-standing far right organizations feeding them radical ideas, ALL led the charge of the hard-right turn of the absolutist anti-choicers. Before personhood amendments were even on the anti-choice radar, ALL was demanding not just an overturn of Roe, but also an overturn of Griswold v. Connecticut, the 1965 Supreme Court decision that legalized contraception for married couples. ALL has an annual anti-Griswold event called “Pills Kills”, where they charmingly argue against legal contraception on the grounds that it supposedly kills marriages. The theory is that sexual encounters that don’t make babies somehow drive couples apart, a theory that the 99% of American women who have used contraception at some point in their lives would find hard to believe.  

ALL doesn’t even bother with claims that they object to contraception spending because of poorly established links to abortion. This is a group that uses scare quotes around the term “reproductive health services”, implying that a woman getting a Pap smear in order to prevent dying of cervical cancer is not receiving legitimate health care, but is instead participating in some kind of anti-family, anti-marriage, anti-God conspiracy. In addition to objecting generally to women’s reproductive health care, ALL fights mandatory vaccination, linking pages that claim falsely that the MMR is made from aborted fetuses, and that these aborted fetuses cause autism. For “pro-life” people, they heavily support increasing the incidence of often-fatal disease such as cervical cancer and preventable childhood illness. 

The entire anti-choice movement of Kansas. Maybe it was because Operation Rescue kept getting away with consorting with violent people and known terrorists. Maybe it’s because they were aided and abetted by district attorney Phill Kline, who abused his power to get the private medical records of abortion patients, which had information in them that miraculously became available to people who had absolutely no right to read them, such as Bill O’Reilly. (Kline’s license to practice law in Kansas has been indefinitely suspended due to his unethical behavior.) Maybe there’s something in the water in Kansas. For whatever reason, the Kansas anti-choice movement brings the concept of extremism to a new level.  

Unlike Ohio RTL, Kansas RTL offers full-throated support to a personhood amendment, as part of their interconnections with American Life League. They claim that this will “restore” personhood to fertilized eggs, but in fact this law would be far more extreme than anything that was in place prior to Roe. The Kansas Coalition for Life continues to brag about the daily harassment they dealt to Dr. George Tiller, even though the harassment campaign culminated in an assassination of Dr. Tiller while he was in church in 2009. Instead of showing remorse for the role they played in painting a target on  his back, KCFL moved on to the next target, Dr. Leroy Carhart, creating fliers with descriptions of his offices in nearby Nebraska with pictures of the doctor prominently displayed. Kansans for Life seems relatively mild compared to these two, but they still support defunding Title X subsidies for contraception. They also trade heavily in conspiracy theories around former pro-choice governor Kathleen Sebelius, accusing her of destroying evidence against Planned Parenthood in one of the various harassment lawsuits that anti-choicers in the state have filed against the organization.  

By ordinary American standards, incrementalists are already radical, with their willingness to make abortion increasingly difficult to get while working towards an eventual overturn of Roe v. Wade. But by anti-choice standards, incrementalists are beginning to look almost moderate, simply because they have patience when it comes to stripping women of basic human rights. Unfortunately for them, the wild-eyed fanatics that want to strip all abortion rights and contraception and do it now are gaining prominence and power, and the fealty of conservative politicians who are afraid of looking “soft” on sexually active women.

Amanda Marcotte co-writes the blog Pandagon. She is the author of It’s a Jungle Out There: The Feminist Survival Guide to Politically Inhospitable Environments.

They’ve all been discredited and they are all notorious for lying. How anyone falls for their propaganda and emotional manipulation is beyond me.

Expand Access, Not Exemptions

Our guest blogger is Jessica Arons, director of the Women’s Health and Rights Program at American Progress.

As the Obama Administration debates whether to expand an exemption to a new health insurance requirement to cover all FDA-approved methods of contraception, there are some important facts to keep in mind:

– The average woman spends five years pregnant, postpartum, or trying to get pregnant, and at least 30 years trying to avoid pregnancy.

– More than 99 percent of women of reproductive age who have had sexual intercourse have used at least one method of family planning.

– Contraception is the most commonly prescribed medication for women ages 18 to 44

– Eighty-eight percent of voters support access to birth control

– Approximately three-quarters of Americans agree that insurance should cover contraception

– Fifty-eight percent of pill users rely on oral contraception at least in part for non-contraceptive reasons

– Eighteen percent of women on the pill reported inconsistent use, such as skipping doses, as a cost-cutting measure

Under the Affordable Care Act, or the ACA, women will benefit from greatly expanded access to contraception—which has been shown to improve health. But this important consumer protection is at risk of being undermined by an unreasonably expansive religious exemption.

Congress recognized that cost was a major barrier for women in accessing care. In response, it passed the Women’s Health Amendment, which required health plans to cover preventive services for women with no cost-sharing such as co-pays. Contraception was included among the comprehensive list of services deemed preventive based on an assessment of their effectiveness by the Institute of Medicine, an independent body of experts that issues unbiased, evidence-based guidance on matters of importance to public health.

Indeed, the Department of Health and Human Services asked the IOM to determine which services should be covered so that there would be no question of political interference. HHS then adopted the IOM’s recommendations in full—but with one important exception. HHS exempted from the contraceptive-coverage requirement those organizations whose purpose is to promote religious values, who primarily employ and serve persons who share their religious tenets, and who qualify for a religiously-related non-profit tax status—in sum, churches and other houses of worship, church conventions, and the religious activities of religious orders.

But this exemption was not enough for anti-contraception forces. They went on the attack and pushed for a much wider exception that would include universities, hospitals, social service organizations, and potentially any religiously-affiliated non-profit organization.

While a main purpose of the ACA was to ensure that everyone has the same guarantee of a baseline set of health care services, the number of people who work for an institution that meets the proposed exemption is relatively small. The same cannot be said, however, for the numerous religiously-affiliated organizations in our society that employ people from many different faiths, as well as those with no faith, and serve the general public. Almost 800,000 people work in Catholic hospitals alone. Religious universities employ and teach around 2 million. Then there are the hospices, nursing homes, and non-profits that help victims of trafficking, people living with AIDS, children in need of adoption, and people struggling with addiction—fields that employ high numbers of women.

All of these workers, students, and their dependents would be affected by an expanded religious exemption. Millions of women could have their consciences—that tell them using birth control is the morally right thing to do—overridden by those who privilege an institution’s tenets over an individual’s. These institutions may be guided by sincere, religiously-informed principles, but they engage in secular activities, such as providing an academic education or long-term care services, and they are sought out for those services, not for religious teachings.

It is for these reasons that the proposed HHS exemption mirrors the most common exemption in the 28 states that already require employers to offer contraceptive coverage if they cover other prescription drugs and devices. And it is for those reasons that courts have upheld challenges to those laws, finding that a neutral, generally applicable law not targeted at religion does not burden the right to free exercise of religion. In fact, there is the possibility that a broader exemption would violate the law. The Equal Employment Opportunity Commission has found that the exclusion of prescription contraception from an employer-sponsored health plan constitutes sex discrimination because it only burdens women.

The small minority in this country that opposes contraception is entitled to its opinion and should be free to preach it as often as it wants. But this very dispute belies the fact that only a fraction of followers practices what is being preached. Only 2 percent of sexually active Catholic women, for instance, have not used some form of modern contraception. Contraception opponents are resorting to coercion where persuasion has failed.

Read More

Obama and the Bishops: Is the White House Caving on Birth Control Coverage? (RH Reality Check)

[Few things make me angrier than religious dominance concerning my body. How many times must I say it USCCB? Your religious freedom is not infringed by the existence of women, birth control, marriage equality, lgbt people, or abortion! No, really, I promise. But every time you pull a move like this you infringe on my right to a secular government and the right to be free from religion. Sit down and shut up, maybe listen to Catholics For Choice and take some notes. And once again, these posts become painfully relevant.] (Source)

Women’s health and rights organization are asking supporters of contraceptive coverage to send a message to the White House.  Planned Parentood’s action is here.

This week, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) threw itself a pity party in Baltimore. According to the bishops, their “religious liberty” is threatened unless they are able to ensure that every single person in the United States (well, actually the world) is made to follow Catholic canon law to the letter. According to the New York Times, the bishops are “recasting their opposition” to same-sex marriage, birth control, and other fundamental aspects of public health and human rights, because they view both government and culture as infringing on the church’s rights.

“We see in our culture a drive to neuter religion,” Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the bishops conference, said in a news conference Monday at the bishops’ annual meeting in Baltimore. He added that “well-financed, well-oiled sectors” were trying “to push religion back into the sacristy.”

But the sacristy is where the vast majority of Catholics appear to believe the bishops should be focusing their efforts. The Times notes that in light of the ongoing evidence of massive cover-ups by the Vatican and the USCCB of the priest pedophilia scandal, the bishops’ “pronouncements on politics and morality have been met with indifference even by many of their own flock.”

The bishops issue guidelines for Catholic voters every election season, a document known as “Forming Consciences for Faithful Citizenship,” which is distributed in many parishes. But the bishops were informed at their meeting on Monday that a recent study commissioned by Fordham University in New York found that only 16 percent of Catholics had heard of the document, and only 3 percent had read it.

Nonetheless, the Bishops believe their own right to practice their religion is threatened by your right to practice yours or to act as a moral agent in your own life. Their freedom of religion is threatened unless they can ensure that all LGBT persons are denied the right to marry or adopt children. It is threatened unless all women are denied the rights to decide whether and when to have children. It is threatened unless a Catholic hospital can let a woman die from complications of pregnancy rather than provide her with or even refer her on an emergency basis for a life-saving abortion. It is threatened unless a two-celled fertilized egg has more rights than the living, breathing woman in whose body it floats.

They are not “free” until you are not free.

And they certainly are not “free” unless women are denied access to affordable birth control. 

An integral part of the Affordable Care Act is the new benefit requiring health plans to cover preventive health care, including cancer screenings, immunizations, and birth control, with no co-pays.  Inclusion of these benefits came about through dogged efforts by female legislators, including an amendment authored by Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), known as the Women’s Health Amendment. The Department of Health and Human Services, tasked with implementing health reform through regulations and oversight, took the advice of an expert panel of the Institute of Medicine (IOM) and recommended birth control be covered as a women’s preventive service because it is basic health care, and because it improves health outcomes for women and their families. Research shows that improved access to birth control is directly linked to declines in maternal and infant mortality among other health benefits. The IOM recommendations are supported by a vast amount of research and affirmed by the World Health Organization, the International College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American Public Health Association among many other medical and public health bodies.

Regulations promulgated by HHS this summer mandate coverage in all employee-based health plans of contraceptive methods without a co-pay. The current provision includes what many already consider to be a sweeping refusal clause, exempting certain religious organizations for which religious values are their primary purpose; that primarily employ persons who share the religious tenets of the organization; that primarily serve persons who share the religious tenets of the organization; and that are nonprofit organizations. The regulations would still require institutions such as Catholic hospitals—for which one assumes the primary purpose is evidence-based health care—and universities (primary purpose, education?) to offer insurance that covers contraception without a co-pay. Nothing (repeat: NOTHING) in this new benefit requires an organization to dispense birth control, or an individual to take it. This is simply a matter of ensuring women have access to affordable preventive care by providing it with no co-pays. For an excellent and thorough review of this issue, read the testimony of Catholics for Choice President Jon O’Brien.

Still, this has so riled the USCCB that Archbishop Timothy Dolan took his lobbying straight to President Obama, with whom he met privately at the White House last week. In what I take to be a somewhat ominous comment, Dolan stated at a news conference that he “found the president of the United States to be very open to the sensitivities of the Catholic community.”

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Catholic bishops assault health and common sense

Anew, forceful campaign from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, pushing an extremist ideological agenda against literally every single form of birth control, family planning services and women’s health care, has come to light in Congress.

During a hearing of the Subcommittee on Health, Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., made clear that he will push to overturn a recent decision by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that ensures that health plans cover birth control.

At the behest of the bishops, Pitts ignores the fact that millions of women and families would greatly benefit from better access to affordable birth control, in keeping with the widely agreed need for crucial preventative services across the board — key to better public health and to reining in costs.

This is just the latest in a broad campaign by the bishops to impose their narrow religious views onto the laws of our country (and to enrich themselves with taxpayer dollars for the programs and institutions they run at the same time).

They very nearly brought down health care reform in its entirety over a contrived abortion controversy. More recently, they were the prime movers behind a bill that permits hospitals to refuse emergency care to women in need of life-saving reproductive health services.

The Catholic bishops’ efforts blatantly undermine religious freedom in our country.

Official Catholic positions say that abortion is impermissible even in cases of rape and incest; that stem cell research to help cure and treat debilitating illnesses is unacceptable, and that all artificial contraception and sterilization methods, including birth-control pills, vasectomies and condoms, are a violation.

As a Catholic, I know that all of the recent attacks by the Catholic hierarchy on birth control and women’s safety are completely out of step with most Americans’ views on contraception, including Catholics’.

Birth-control use is nearly universal in the United States: Ninety-nine percent of sexually active women will have used birth control at some point in their lives, including 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women.

Seventy-one percent of American voters, including 77 percent of Catholic women voters and 72 percent of Republican women, support access to birth control without copays.

And as a lawmaker, I know the American people want their legislators to be focused on creating jobs and fixing our economy — not on attacking women’s access to basic health care.

In fact, ensuring that health plans will cover contraceptives with no copays is especially important in these economic times. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control found that more than half of women reported delaying or even forgoing health care entirely because of economic barriers.

Access to affordable birth control helps millions of women prevent unintended pregnancy every year. Numerous studies, including recommendations by the respected Institute of Medicine, demonstrate that birth-control use improves maternal health.

Our lawmakers should be focused on keeping people healthy, not on obstructing access to health care in service to powerful religious interests.

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Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, is a member of the Minnesota Senate.

[Wow, a politician that looks at studies from reputable sources and understands that in addition to freedom of religion Americans are also entitled to freedom FROM religion. Emphasis mine.]

Catholics for Choice Urges Congress to Protect Every Person's Conscience

CFC President Jon O’Brien Testifies in Hearing on Access to Healthcare

Today, Catholics for Choice president Jon O’Brien was invited to testify before the US House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce Subcommittee on Health. The chairman of the Subcommittee, Rep. Joseph Pitts (R-PA), called the hearing to address the question, “Do New Health Law Mandates Threaten Conscience Rights and Access to Care?” Rep. Pitts was the sponsor of HR 358, a recently passed bill that gave unprecedented exemption rights to hospitals, allowing them to refuse to provide abortion care, even when necessary to save a pregnant woman’s life.

In his testimony, Jon O’Brien showed how Catholics support the recently enacted healthcare reforms and the recommendation that contraception be included in fully covered benefits for all American employees. He noted, “I firmly believe the requirements under the Affordable Care Act, and the slate of regulations being created to implement it, infringe on no one’s conscience, demand no one change her or his religious beliefs, discriminate against no man or woman, put no additional economic burden on the poor, interfere with no one’s medical decisions, compromise no one’s health—that is, if you consider the law without refusal clauses.”

However, he argued that the refusal clauses in the new legislation and proposed expansions concerning implementation guidelines mitigate the benefits of the reforms. “When burdened by refusal clauses, the new health law absolutely threatens the conscience rights of every patient seeking family planning and of every provider who wishes to provide comprehensive care to their patients.” Even among Catholics, these restrictions are unpopular: 63% of Catholic voters polled last year believe insurance should cover the costs of contraception; 65% think that if a Catholic hospital receives any government funding, it should not be allowed to use “religious beliefs” as a reason refuse to provide procedures or medications. This isn’t surprising when 98 percent of sexually active American Catholic women have used a method of birth control banned by the Vatican.

Noting that the vast majority of Catholics reject the dictates of the US bishops on matters related to reproductive healthcare, O’Brien laid the blame for the attempts to restrict access to family planning at the doorstep of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) and their lobbying efforts. “Having failed to convince Catholics in the pews, the USCCB and other conservative Catholic organizations are attempting to impose their personal beliefs on all people. They claim to represent all Catholics when, in truth, theirs is the minority view.”

During the hearing Jon O’Brien affirmed that if refusal clauses are enacted, such restrictions would “go far beyond their intent of protecting conscience rights for all by eliminating access to essential healthcare for many, if not most patients, especially in the area of reproductive healthcare services” making it “harder for many working Americans to get the healthcare they need at a cost they can afford.”

“Protecting individual conscience and ensuring access to affordable, quality care is not just an ideal, it is a basic tenet of our society and it is the right thing to do,” he concluded.

For a copy of Mr. O’Brien’s written testimony, click here.

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Catholics for Choice shapes and advances sexual and reproductive ethics that are based on justice, reflect a commitment to women’s well-being and respect and affirm the capacity of women and men to make moral decisions about their lives.

Congressional Hearing on Religious Liberty Misled by Bishop’s Testimony

A Congressional Subcommittee hearing today on the state of religious liberty in the US heard from Bishop William Lori, the chair of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty, who gave testimony on behalf of the bishops’ conference. The bishop’s testimony intimated that some Catholic teachings on religious liberty should be incorporated into American law. His proposals, however, would disproportionately benefit Catholic organizations and institutions, while trampling on the religious liberty of every citizen and having a chilling effect on the ability of Americans to receive basic preventive healthcare in publicly-funded Catholic hospitals or through their health insurance.

In a written statement to the committee Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, presented the authentic Catholic position on religious freedom.

Religious freedom is an expansive rather than a restrictive idea. It has two sides, freedom of religion and freedom from religion. It is not about telling people what they can and cannot believe or practice, but rather about respecting an individual’s right to follow his or her own conscience in religious beliefs and practices, as well as in moral decision making. The protections we put in place to preserve religious freedom do not—and should not—be considered to permit religious institutions or individuals to obstruct or coerce the exercise of another’s conscience.

This tenet is the basis of the social contract that religious organizations like Catholic hospitals and charities are woven into by virtue of the tax benefits and other public funds they receive. One would expect that these organizations would play by the rules of society at large, rather than require the rest of society to play by their rules. In his testimony, Bishop Lori made the misleading claim that, should the refusal clause being considered in recently released rules implementing the Affordable Care Act pass as is, or be expanded by the Obama administration, only parish housekeepers would be affected. The reality is that a far greater number of workers would be affected by the exemption. By his calculation, however, it is acceptable to skimp on the rights of some because of the good that Catholic charitable organizations provide others. These terms are unacceptable, both to Catholics and to the American people.

Mr. O’Brien’s statement continues:

“Today, the 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women in the US who have used a form of contraception banned by the Vatican have exercised their religious freedom and followed their consciences in making the decision to use contraception. Thus, they are in line with the totality of Catholic teachings, if not with the views of the hierarchy. However, having failed to convince Catholics in the pews, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) is trying to impose its religious views by fiat, and in the process impeding the religious freedom of millions of Americans, taking reproductive healthcare options away from everybody.

Federal dollars should be used for the common good and to enable people to exercise their conscience-based healthcare decisions. The original vision of our founding fathers on religious freedom would have it no other way.”


Jon O’Brien’s full statement may be read here.

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Catholics for Choice shapes and advances sexual and reproductive ethics that are based on justice, reflect a commitment to women’s well-being and respect and affirm the capacity of women and men to make moral decisions about their lives.

[From me: Yes, yes, yes to this whole press release! It is a breath of fresh air to know that some religious people agree with me, an atheist, on conscience clauses. The point about there being two sides: freedom of religion and freedom *from* religion is so important. I wish more people understood how conscience clauses for doctors are against *my* conscience rights.]

CUDDLE FUDDLE by DEDDY