COMMENTARY: The Catholic case for contraception coverage

Print More
Jon O’Brien is the president of Catholics for Choice, an independent Washington-based group that supports abortion rights and reproductive freedom. Photo courtesy of Catholics for Choice

Jon O’Brien is the president of Catholics for Choice, an independent Washington-based group that supports abortion rights and reproductive freedom. Photo courtesy of Catholics for Choice

Active RNS subscribers and members can view this content by logging-in here.

WASHINGTON (RNS) Institutions -- both secular and “religious institutions,” as well as “religious organizations” -- do not have the right to claim “consciences” in order to trample on the conscience rights that properly belong to their employees.

  • Anton Richards

    Thank you for the thoughtful and well written article. I concur. It seems the owners of corporations want all of the protections that incorporation provides but not all of the responsibilities that incorporation imposes. And if people believe that their employees can just go find another job if they do not wish to live according to their employer’s conscience, they should also believe that the employers can do the same. Nobody is forcing them to own a corporation.

  • Paulette A. Meulenberg

    Mr. O’Brian, what a breathe of fresh air you are! I am an “older” person who remembers the old days when the church made some of these rules. I had very dear friends, Irish Catholics all the way. They had 2 children. Then 5 more who lived long enuf to be born. With the 8th, they were able to obtain the then “experimental” RH shots. My friend had her tubes tied, went to confession and told her priest.
    Then they were excommunicated. And they never recovered from that. In Maryland there are a lot of ex-catholics and a lot of sorrow over the unfeeling
    actions of some priests in past. Your column reminded me of some of this. Hope to see more from you. P.S. Dont use a catholic hospital if you have a compromised newborne! Another story, another day!

  • Duane Lamers

    Once again we have a demonstration, this time by a Catholic, that there’s not sufficient understanding of the Constitution and the limits it places on the power of the federal government.

    The argument, at bottom, Mr. O’Brien, is not about the “personhood of a corporation. It is about the federal government mandating where it has no business doing anything at all.

    Should Catholic hospitals, which form a significant percentage of healthcare providers, decide to close up shop, the liberals would rejoice. The consequence, that many millions would be without any healthcare at all, is unimportant to them. History demonstrates that liberals do not want to be judged by results, only by good intentions.

    In this case the liberals don’t even begin with a good intention, not anymore. The half-century of demonstrated failure by the government to develop and administer social programs gives liberals no pause. No one, except with evil intent, would continue to shackle individuals and families–actually contribute to the destruction of families–having seen the wreckage they created in all this time.

  • Anton

    Mr. Lamers, I am a liberal and I would certainly not “rejoice” if Catholic hospitals “decided to close up shop”. Although, I would certainly respect their right to do so, knowing full well that there are non-religious providers, whose commitment to health care is every bit as steadfast as the Church’s, that would step up. Scare tactics about how this country could not survive without the Catholic Church will not work with me. In fact, I would welcome the experiment.

  • Duane Lamers

    O’Brien, how do you explain the need for taxpayer-funded contraception at this late date? People have been purchasing it for more decades than you’ve seen the light of day.

    As for the percentages of Catholics using contraception and demanding federal mandates for its coverage, that only demonstrates–which we already knew–that, perhaps, a majority in this country want the socialist state. They will until they have to start paying for it.

    The editor notes that you are president of Catholics for Choice. No, you are not Catholic. You should disavow your afiliation with the Church. In an earlier time you would have faced sufficient pressure from the pulpit as well as from the congregation to send you packing.

    Take note as well that recent polling tells us that a majority of people no longer support for abortion-at-a-whim. Given your notions of government, however, this will not impress you. You are not being “controlled” by anyone refusing to pay for your contraception any more than you are being “controlled” by someone refusing to give you a ticket to a Lady Gaga event.

    Logic is not your strong suit. I must also conclude that religious education isn’t, either. On the other hand, adolescent rebellion can extend well beyond the teen years.

  • Duane Lamers

    Editor, once again your bunch fails miserably at writing headers to articles. The definite article “The” carries a much different meaning from the indefiniate article “A,” so why do you head O’Brien’s muddled mess in such a manner as to suggest that it carries any official weight?

    I don’t think this is a “slip of the pen.” No, I don’t. Given the fact that RNS casts every conservative personality or position in negative light and goes full speed ahead at presenting liberal positions as the only reasonable ones, I submit that this is your distinct bias. You are entitled to that.

    At least you demonstrate enough fairness to allow me to continue posting. There are plenty of liberal sites that ban the opposition, as I know from experience. I thank you.

  • Ken STL

    Why should a business or insurance company pay for someone’s “Choice” as the author calls his organization, when it’s really medically needed? Birth control is not medicine. It cures no illness or disease.

  • Anton

    I think the word “Commentary” suggests it’s not an encyclical.

  • Anton

    Please do not take my comment as crass or uncaring. I have the utmost respect for human life and I think abortion should be as rare as possible, which is why I promote the use of birth control. But from a strictly physiological perspective, birth control prevents unwanted parasitization.

  • Michael Slater

    Please provide a citation for the claim “The bishops themselves have acknowledged that the provision and use of emergency contraception in Catholic-sponsored hospitals is permissible, particularly for victims of sexual assault.” As a physician who may work in a Catholic institution, this may be of great interest. Thanks.

  • Anton
  • Larry

    Because labor laws demand it and they don’t have a reasonable excuse for avoiding them.

    It is not the role of an employer to micromanage an employees healthcare choices. Healthcare is a form of compensation for work performed. The employer has no more power over what needs to be covered than they do in controlling how a paycheck is spent.

  • lucia

    Dear Mr. Lamars,
    I assume you are a good Catholic, not to be confused with a good Christian, talking about decades and the light of day, Christ certainly espoused the caring for his flock, unconditionally. I guess you find that damned socialism, a little friction with a gospels, that never excluded the woman’s right to sovereignty over their own bodies. For when we have authority over the choices we make for our bodies, we are exercising God’s greatest gift to those created in his image, free will. Or do you disagree, women were not created in His image, or are too weak to be granted their equality in will? and in the end, who are you to forbid the author form attending the faith based institution of his choice? obviously, dear sir, you imagine your self to be bigger than the bishops, who are concerned with falling attendance, and Pope Francis himself making you a mighty big person. beware hubris!

  • lucia

    the illness, i’m sure you find the outcome of it socially, ethically, and financially unpalatable, is the prevalence of under loved, underfed, undereducated, essentially unwanted children who may become, in one way or or other, responsibilities of the state. yes it is a medical necessity, providing for the opportunity to create a more robust well functioning society unburdened by the enforced unhappiness of both the majority and their offspring. but all you seem to care about is control, not positive outcomes. have you forgotten the bill of rights.

  • Frank

    No one is stopping anyone from buying and using whatever birth control they choose to use.

  • Kurt Reimer

    Thanks for this article, Mr. O’Brien. I’ve long opposed the notion of Corporate Personhood, but I’ve always let talk of “Corporate Conscience” slide by unmolested, despite mountains of evidence of Corporate behavior patently conscience-free. You’re right. Individuals clearly have consciences, it’s far more problematic to speak of a ‘corporate conscience’. And it’s especially arrogant to behave as amorally as corporations typically do, then turn around and speak of aggrieved corporate consciences.

  • Duane Lamers

    Anton, I commend you for standing up for your political position and not go undercover about it. I suggest, however, that there would be major consequences and hardships for the population as a whole if Catholic facilities “went on strike” even temporarily. There are not sufficient healthcare providers elsewhere to make up the difference. This is a simple matter of numbers, of arithmetic. Remember, this is not about being “without the Catholic Church,” this is being without necessary healthcare facilities.

    If you “welcome the experiement,” I suggest that what you’re really saying is that no matter the effect on the population as a whole, you’d be happy to see part of the liberal agenda in place. That, Anton, is the essence of contemporary liberalism.

    The liberals have already put in place massive social programs that do not work, contribute to the decline of the family–have you checked out the stats regarding black communities?–and continue to demand more funding for failure. That is because liberalism believes in the fiction that bigger government is better government and facts don’t matter. In short, liberals want to be judged by their intentions, not their results.

    Are you sure you want to be identified with this sort of thinking? “Welcoming the experiment” is precisely such an identification.

    My wish is that the Catholic leaders would put the country’s liberals to the test by closing down shop. They wouldn’t have to be closed very long before political forces would overturn the DC regime either by act of Congress or otherwise because of the demands of the population at large.

    Yes, I welcome a “glorious revolution.” I prefer bloodless, but one can’t necessarily have everything. The Constitution provides for a bloodless one: elections as well as impeachments and direct petitioning by the people, such as locking the damned politicians in their chambers until they change the laws they never read in the first place before passing them..

  • Duane Lamers

    The employer does have the power you claim he doesn’t have. Your statement is based on your presumption that the federal government is justified in inserting itself this way into commerce.

    Healthcare is a form of compensation for work performed, true. But you failed to also note that all compensation is determined by a willing buyer and seller, that is an employer whose employment package is one that a would-be employee is willing to accept.

    Where did you come up with that juvenile analogy you burped up (or anally expelled) in that last sentence? Again, the good socialist that you are, you presume that government has the right to order this Sheesh!

    Do you offer contraception to your employees, as you seem to have suggested you do, because you think the government has the right to make you do this?

    How about a straight answer to this question, Larry.

  • Duane Lamers

    No, I haven’t forgotten the Bill of Rights. I doubt you’ve ever read it. Where does it say that the federal government is supposed to demand that an employer pay for someone’s birth control? The Bill of Rights includes a 10th Amendment. Have a look.

    In most cases contraception is not medically necessary. As for caring for unwanted children, you seem to have no concern that childrearing and conceiving is a matter of responsibility for the parents. In your mind, “society” is simply to pick up the pieces when irresponsible people decide to have fun without consequences.

    Nobody is “controlling” you or anyone else in stating flatly, ‘Take care of your own family planning or preventing. You are an adult. Act like one.”

  • Duane Lamers

    You can’t have it both ways, Reimer. If there’s no “corporate personhood,” there’s no corporate conscience.

  • Ken STL

    Just because labor laws demand something, does not make it right. What some of us are saying is that the laws should not say that. And if healthcare is considered a form of compensation, then employers do have some say. They set the compensation. And, again, birth control per se is not healthcare.

  • Earold Gunter

    Duane, Coming in late again, sorry I work, too much.

    No surprise to you, but I agree with Mr. O’Brien. I would go into detail as to why, but I think you can surmise, so I’d rather focus on a few of your points.

    A true conservatives like yourself believes in the free market, Right? I think that it should have an opportunity to flex it’s muscle here. I think if it did, we would see a migration of those employees who disagree with the catholic ideology to non-religious organizations. And employees would be needed greatly as non-religious organizations would also see an increase in patients who also did not agree with the ideology, and perhaps may need to expand, and hire even more employees away from catholic medical organizations to meet the needs of the majority of Americans who don’t want catholic ideology involved in their health care.

    The loss of medical staff, and support staff would either drive these catholic organizations out of business, or we would see what these catholic organizations are really committed to, their ideology, or their money, and I think you know which one it would be.

    Ironically both your opposition of government involvement, and these organizations to mandates which require them to pay for something they don’t believe in are really not possible. Even if they were to not include birth control as part of their medical insurance, they would presumably still pay them, and they would take that pay and buy birth control if that is what they desired. So, the money they use is printed by the government, so the government is still involved, and these catholic organizations would be still be complicit in the purchase of them by trading it for their labor.

    I know you have a dislike for what has only recently been my ending statement, so try to brace yourself.

    Religion is poison!!

  • Anton

    Mr. Lamers, I appreciate your considerate response and I agree that to close Catholic hospitals would certainly cause undue hardship and harm, especially in areas where they are the primary or only health care provider. And please do not confuse my feelings about Catholic theology with my feelings about the services Catholic hospitals provide, which are certainly of value to our society. But suppose ownership of all Catholic-owned hospitals was transferred to a non-Catholic owner in one swift move. Do you think that all of the employees would leave and services would cease? Would the Catholics employed at those institutions give up their livelihood altogether or continue expressing their faith through service at a non-catholic-owned hospital? Maybe it really is just about being “without the Catholic Church” involved in health care.

    And to suggest that “no matter the effect on the population as a whole, you’d [I would] be happy to see part of the liberal agenda in place”, is akin to my saying that you, no matter the effect on the population as a whole, would be happy to see part of a theological or conservative agenda in place. In fact, you said as much. “My wish is that the Catholic leaders would put the country’s liberals to the test by closing down shop.” That, Mr. Lamar, is the essence of contemporary religious conservatism. Are you sure you want to be identified with that sort of thinking? Is your apparent need to impose your religious ideals on others who do not see eye-to-eye with you on religious matters so important that you would do so, regardless of the cost? To wit, “I prefer bloodless [revolution], but one can’t necessarily have everything.” – seriously?

    As for “…liberals want to be judged by their intentions, not their results.”, I think you are being overly simplistic and are ignoring the complexities of the issue, which is one of the biggest complaints I have about many people who practice religious conservatism. They rest on the “black and white” dogma of their church and do not authentically employ their own capacity to reason and develop well-informed positions. In fact, many will simply reject valid evidence that conflicts with their church’s dogma. So with your statement, are you suggesting that nothing liberals have ever implemented or supported has produced value (results) for our society, or that nothing religious conservatives have ever implemented or supported has not produced value or even unintended negative results? Sometimes, both intentions and results (intended or not) are important considerations for judicious deliberation, the formation of opinions, and decision making.

    These are complex issues. Mutual respect, assiduous effort, cooperation and compromise will be required to resolve them in a way that produces the most value for our society. To get the job done, we need to identify and elect people who understand this.

  • Larry

    That is the power you want to give them and you want to pretend it has to do with religious expression. The federal government has a right to interject itself into commerce and in any way which can be justified before the supreme court. The ACA is already the law, sanctioned by SCOTUS, you don’t get to re-fight its passage. That opportunity is long passed.

    Employers do not get to micromanage what goes into healthcare coverage. Healthcare providers are always bound by the government as to what constitutes minimum coverage. No consumer gets a choice over what is the bare essentials of a policy. An employer has no right to strip away state sanctioned minimum coverage any more than you have a right to opt out of liability coverage for your car.

    My analogy is more on point and more honest than your claim that a company can act like an individual and express religious rights. Healthcare and paychecks are compensation which are subject to minimum levels of regulation joy the government.

  • Larry

    There is nothing right about compelling employees to follow the religious dictates of an employer. There is no legitimate reason for employers to have a say here. Contraception is the state mandated minimum coverage insurers must give. Insurers are always bound by the government as to what constitutes minimum coverage regardless of what their customers want.

    Compensation for work performed on behalf of the employer is not something done at the whim of the employers. It is controlled by labor laws. We have them to protect employees from workplace abuses.

    At least you acknowledge they don’t have a real excuse for ignoring the labor laws. The religious freedom angle is a sham. Institutions and companies do not have a religious belief. Religious freedom does not give one license to use authority to attack rights of others.

  • Larry

    You don’t read very well. Kurt Reimer opposed both.

    Besides personhood does not mean full rights of an individual citizen. A minor is a person in a legal sense, but does not have a right to vote. The oft told joke is a corporation can’t be considered a person until Texas executes one.

    There is no such thing as Corporate religious belief. A corporation, or any business entity is created to separate the personal life of its owner(s) from the business being run. It cannot be considered to assume the religious beliefs of its owners.

    Religious beliefs are for individuals. There is no way corporate religious beliefs can exist without engaging in sectarian discrimination or violations of every sane labor law out there.

  • Duane Lamers

    Anton, thanks for replying. I’ll address each paragraph in order:

    It’s not a matter, first of all, of whether healthcare employees at Catholic hospitals would leave following a sale–or some White House dictated takeover via some specious “executive order.” The issue is about ANYONE interfering with the Constitutional rights of the employer or employee. Employers not offering contraceptive services do not impinge on employee rights to get it and use it, including Catholic employees.

    Regarding “closing down shop.” Yes, this would likely precipitate Congressional action, based on the reaction of the public at large, to modify or rescind Obmacare, which we already know is not approved by 60% or more of the population. There are times when something must be done to trigger a response by one branch of government to recognize its own mistake and also to reclaim power usurped by the executive. Congress makes and changes laws, not the executive. Doing this does not impose values. People are still free to purchase contraception as they’ve always been able to do. Remember, the conflict is about a specious “right” of anyone to demand of the taxpayers or any instutions to provide what they desire. There is no such right, conservatives maintain and the Constitution itself demonstrates.

    No, I don’t suggest that liberals have never come up with ideas that address important issues. But I will say that liberals in Congress have never evaluated programs they started nor modified them in any way when evidence arose to demonstrate that parts of the laws and/or regulations have had a deliterious effect on the subjects. Family breakdown is one such example of things being amiss in welfare programs and not fixed. What is a constant here, however, is a continued rise in each annual budget in the amount of funding granted. None of this is primarily a religious issue, only a political and fiscal one.

    Compromise required to resolve these issues? What we’ve had thus far is compromise by conservatives, not by liberals. Where is the compromise by liberals as to the reduction in funding of programs when the deficits keep mounting? The only compromise liberals accept is a reduction in the percentage of INCREASE granted programs. We’d like to see compromise on the amount of DECREASE in budgets and allocations: For example: We propose an actual decrease of 10% in the federal budget, but we’ll compromise with the liberals and settle on 8%. Liberals don’t like compromised defined in that manner, which means they want a continued rise in cost of government and of its power. We know what has been happening for decades of “understanding’ what must be done: we have 18 trillion dollars in debt to show for our “understanding.” So much for “understanding” liberals–in both political parties.

  • Wrenn_NYC

    12% of the hospitals in the US are catholic run. A quarter of them are located in rural areas, where a significant number are the only hospital in the area.

    And they are all run with federal funds. Fully HALF their funds are from government sources. Taxpayer money. Approximately 45 billion in funds in 2005. Likely more now.

    Seriously. If they shuttered their doors over this – something that they actually did in most cases pay for for their employees before the ACA was passed, I’m sure that that federal money will go to other, non religious run health care agencies.

    The concept that they will close is quite unlikely. It’s a threat, and an empty one.

  • Wrenn_NYC

    Birth control not medicine?

    OF course it is. Especially if you have uterine fibroids, endometriosis or polycystic ovarian syndrome.

    That you don’t know that ‘birth control pills’ are used for other reasons is telling.

  • Duane Lamers

    Earold, thanks for replying.

    I doubt you’d see any migration to secular healthcare facilities. The reason is that the employees themselves have not been calling for the Obamacare mess and have been satisfied with healthcare coverage that does not include pills, latex, or anything else. Remember, this is Obama deciding what the people should have and who should provide it.

    Sir, your penultimate paragraph is a joke. If Alfred Nobel gave a prize for specious reasoning, it would belong to you–unless Obama would whine that he deserves it more. Once again, sir: the central argument is the Constitution’s restrictions on the State. It does not give power to ANYONE to dictate who must sell what and who must pay for it, nor who must buy it.

    Regarding your ending argument: This is a Constitutional question, not a religious one strictly speaking. You don’t like the Constitution protecting religious belief and expression? Fine! Amend the Constitution. We will not hold our breath on that one.

  • Duane Lamers

    Oh, Larry? So ACA is the law of the land. Fine. So are the immigration laws now on the books. But your point about ACA is null and void because Obama himself has unilaterally changed the law, usurping the Constitutional power of Congress to create legisltation.

    Your opening sentence of your second paragraph is only your opinion, based on your presumption that government has the power to “micromanage” healthcare coverage. Since you seem to know that healthcare providers are bound to minimum coverage rules established by the government, cite one such example.

    Regarding auto coverage: That is determined by the several states, not by the federal government. You seem to ignore the fact that the basic argument regarding Obamacare is the FEDERAL government’s intrusion which is contrary to the Constitution. Have you never read the 10th Amendment? Well, I know you have. You are endeared to “expansive” meanings of words, however.

  • Duane Lamers

    A lawyer you would not make, Larry–well, maybe in ambulance chasing you could make it. No employee is being compelled to follow religious dictates because the employer doesn’t provide pills or latex. The same pocket that buys the beer and burgers has the money for contraceptives. The argument, Larry, is with your third sentence!

    Compensation is not controlled by labor law beyond minimum wage requirements and OSHA regulations regarding workplace safety.

    Not paying for someone’s pills or latex is not an attack on them. Maybe companies should also be required to pay for employees’ cable tv, eh? The direction of all your defense of Obamacare makes clear that you’d insist on this as well. Socialists have no limits as they worship the god of state.

  • Duane Lamers

    Wrenn, the point you make has nothing to do with contraception as such but with medical issues which the ingredients used in contraceptions can ameliorate or maybe cure.

    If a woman is physically endangered by pregnancy itself, then we have a true health issue.

  • Duane Lamers

    Indeed, Larry, I failed to read Reimer properly.

    On the other hand, you refuse to acknowledge what are the fundamental arguments against Obamacare–namely, First Amendment rights of individuals who own companies and provide jobs and the unlawful reach of the federal government which is limited by the 10th Amendment.

    Getting back to ” you don’t read very well”: You seem not to understand the First and Tenth Amendments. Certainly you disdain their intended effects.

  • Pingback: Catholic Church, and “Real Religious Freedom”Queering the Church | Queering the Church()

  • Larry

    No the ACA is still valid. He hasn’t done anything to the law. Again, the constitutionality of it has already been discussed and answered. (Btw Immigration laws are considered administrative code, entirely of the executive branches power, unlike other laws)

    All forms of insurance are micromanaged by government. Every state has a bureau of insurance specifically to allow them to do so.

    Your ignorance of how insurance is regulated is duly noted.
    One such example of what they do is the fact that liability coverage is mandatory for all homeowners and automobile policies. Most states make “no-fault” coverage mandatory as well. Government controls how claims issues are resolved between insurer and insured as well. Insurers can only operate in a location at the will of the state. There is a ton of licensing and government mandated financial criteria an insurer must comply with before one can even write a policy.

    The Federal government has the right to regulate interstate commerce. Article 1 of the Consitution. Healthcare provided by the workplace is an issue affecting commerce nationwide. Especially since healthcare costs are considered one of the leading causes of financial distress for the average American.

    Again, the constitutionality of the ACA has already been discussed by SCOTUS. The 10th Amendment is also not a blanket denial of all Federal powers that you would make it out to be.

    At least you are being honest that this whole contraception thing is really just a veiled attack on the ACA. The whole religious rights argument is just a sham. You support limited government provided its limited enough to fit in a womb.

  • Larry

    Really? So if your employer pays you in script which can’t be used for anything outside the company’s control, that is still legal? Not at all. The government also controls what constitutes an acceptable healthcare policy which may be issued by an employer as well.

    You really like to trumpet your ignorance!

    Micromanaging the way the employment compensation is used is attacking the employer’s rights. Its none of an employer’s business how the healthcare benefits or paycheck are used. Framing it as if the pay and healthcare benefits are a gift from the employer is dishonest overused claptrap. The compensation is the result of the employee’s efforts on behalf of the employer.

    Claiming it is religious expression is especially dubious. Religious rights are there to protect people from the dictates of another’s faith. Not as an excuse to bully people into compliance with theirs.

  • Larry

    Why don’t you read the ACA decision instead of trying to re-argue it?

  • Kurt reimer

    I do not expect to have either ‘way’, Duane. I am grateful when a Corporate entity behaves philanthropically or morally, but I do not expect it. Typically, amoral behavior is justified as “fiduciary responsibility”. And I think that the perversion of the notion of the limited liability of corporate shareholders into todays notion of corporate personhood is where we began to go wrong as a Nation.

    On Rightwing Talk radio it is commonplace gospel that our Rights and Freedoms are NOT GRANTED by our nations Founding Documents. Rather, those documents recognize that our Rights and Freedoms are endowments, gifts, from our Creator, and our documents acknowledge that our just Government cannot take them from us.

    Yet, when we take these most precious gifts from our creator and turn around and grant some or all of them to a Corporate Person, a set of documents, a made-up chimera, these same folks are fine with that. They see no potential for negative consequences.

    And the last thing on Earth that they’d do is question the notion of ‘Corporate Conscience’.