The "Assault on Religious Freedom"

The Sexual Revolution dawned in the 1960’s with the invention of the birth control pill. Many Catholics were chafing under the Church’s prohibition of artificial contraception. The Vatican appointed a commission to reexamine the issue. It was widely hoped and expected that the Church would reverse its ancient policy but, in a controversial 1968 Encyclical letter, Humanae Vitae, Pope Paul VI announced his decision to uphold this doctrine. In response, Canadian bishops issued a statement affirming each Catholic’s right to follow his or her own conscience when deciding whether or not to practice artificial contraception. American bishops decided to let this “don’t ask – don’t tell” policy take effect in the United States. The mention of artificial contraception in Sunday sermons and, one might suspect, in the confessional became extremely rare. As the decades rolled on, the size of U.S. Catholic families shrank.

The bishops were silent as twenty-eight states passed laws requiring Catholic organizations to provide their employees with insurance which included contraception coverage. They uttered no complaint as more and more Catholic universities and Catholic hospitals began to offer similar benefits to their employees. But, when the Department of Health and Human Services decreed that artificial contraception coverage be made available to women through their employer-based health care insurance, several bishops headed for the nearest microphones to rail against this “assault on Freedom of Religion.” In view of their four decades of silence, this sudden outcry is hypocritical, even farcical.

In a recent letter to Catholics in the Columbus diocese, Bishop Frederick F. Campbell wrote: “almost all employers will be forced to offer their employees’ health coverage that includes sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs and contraception. Almost all health insurers will be forced to include those ‘services’ in the health policies they write. And almost all individuals will be forced to buy that coverage as part of their policies.” These charges are false.

The employer will not be required to provide, pay for or refer for contraceptive coverage. Coverage will be offered to women by their employers’ insurance company directly, with no role for employers who oppose contraception. The preventive care does not include abortifacient drugs. While it is true that insurers will be required to offer contraceptive coverage, 89 percent of insured plans already cover contraceptives. A 2010 survey found that 85 percent of large employers and 62 percent of small employers already offer contraceptive coverage. This coverage is cost neutral because it saves money for the insurance company by keeping women healthy and avoids spending on other health services. Finally, under the Affordable Care Act women will receive contraceptive coverage free of charge.

This bluster over Religious Freedom isn’t about contraception. It’s an attempt by American Catholic bishops to use an old wedge issue to further their own right-wing political agenda. And, of course, they want to reclaim their authority to act as arbiters of American sexual morality, authority they forfeited by their cover-ups in the continuing priest sexual abuse scandal.

Edward Taylor
Mount Gilead, OH

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