Select Media Coverage: Catholics Supporting Contraceptive Coverage Under the ACA

Compiled by Catholics for Choice

Washington Post, New York Times, Concord Monitor, Meet the Press, CNN, local papers coast-to-coast


Washington Post

5 February 2012

To the editor:

Michael Gerson imputed nefarious motives to President Obama for his administration’s requirement that contraception be made more affordable and available for American workers. He lamented the decision’s effects on a bishop, a priest and the vice president. Tellingly missing from this analysis: the profound and beneficial effects on the millions of American women and their families, Catholic and non-Catholic, Democrat, Republican and independent, whose health-care decisions are too often thwarted by a small, powerful cadre of men who have zero credibility with many lay Catholics when it comes to contraception. Churches across the country are filled with good Catholics, the majority of whom use contraception and have no objection to it.

Jon O’Brien, Washington
The writer is president of Catholics for Choice.

Jon is writing in response to an article by Post opinion columnist, Michael Gerson, available at


New York Times

The Church and the Birth Control Ruling

5 February 2012

To the Editor:

Traditional Catholic teaching rests on a tripod, including the hierarchy, the theologians and the sensus fidelium, the experience-fed wisdom of the laity. These three sources of teaching are, as Cardinal Avery Dulles said, “complementary and mutually corrective.” An accurate look at Catholic teaching on contraception today shows strong support for the position that contraception is not only permissible but even mandatory in many cases.

The American bishops are at odds with other bishops in the Catholic world, with the vast majority of Catholic theologians and with 98 percent of the Catholic laity who have used contraceptives. They are even at odds with Pope Benedict XVI, who has approved the use of condoms “in the intention of reducing the risk of infection.” That concession logically ended the taboo on condoms since it said health care concerns can require the use of condoms.

The bishops’ claim that their religious freedom is threatened is bogus. The threat is to the religious freedom of their employees and to the conscientious freedom of the diverse public they serve in their tax-supported institutions.

Milwaukee, Jan. 30, 2012

The writer is a professor of theology at Marquette University.


Concord (NH) Monitor

5 February 2012


Bishop is wrong on health rules

This is a big step forward for women

By Rep. Candace Bouchard / For the Monitor

February 4, 2012

Re “Health rules violate our religious rights” (Bishop Peter Libasci, Monitor Forum, Feb. 2):

As a Catholic, I was dismayed to read the bishop’s column opposing the new rule giving women access to reproductive health services without a co-pay. The fact is, contraception is used by a majority of women. According to a study by the Guttmacher Institute, most women, including 98 percent of Catholic women, have used contraception.

And here are some important facts about the law: Churches and other houses of worship will be exempt from the requirement to offer insurance that covers contraception, and no individual health-care provider will be forced to prescribe contraception. For example, no Catholic doctor is forced to write a prescription for contraception.

President Obama has made great strides in women’s heath from stopping insurance companies from discriminating based on gender to making sure women can get access to mammograms and other preventative services, and he has stood up to Republican attacks on reproductive health.

The Catholic bishops need to understand religious freedom is an expansive rather than 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.

Religious institutions like Catholic hospitals and charities are woven into the social contract by virtue of their activities as charitable organizations and service providers, as well as by the tax benefits and other public funds they receive. Religious institutions like Catholic hospitals should play by the rules of society at large, rather than requiring all of society to play by their rules.

This rule is a reasonable step to make sure women have access to the health services they need, and I am disappointed that the bishop does not understand this.

Representative Bouchard works with Catholics for Choice through the Catholics in Public Life project.


NBC’s Meet the Press

5 February 2012

Representative Xavier Becerra (D-CA), a Catholic, supports contraceptive coverage in employer insurance plans at Catholic hospitals and universities.



CNN’s State of the Union

5 February 2012

Governor Martin O’Malley (MD), a Catholic, supports contraceptive coverage, disputes overreaching in the media stories on Catholic reaction.


Letters from Catholics in support of contraceptive coverage under the ACA, and using CFC’s messaging advice, are also appearing in local papers from Alaska to Iowa to Ohio to New Jersey, and in college newspapers, including at Notre Dame University.

In addition to earned media coverage on this issue in the Washington Post and New York Times, CFC has recently been quoted by the Associated Press and in the Nation; in newspapers in California (LA Times), Colorado, Florida, Kentucky, Maryland, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, and Washington, DC; on television in Dallas; in online media at Huffington Post, CNN, USA Today, Media Matters for America, RH Reality Check, Religion Dispatches, and blogs by our colleagues like Americans United for Church and State; and featured on local and syndicated radio programs. You can find more information on our website at

My Employer Shouldn’t Control My Contraception Decisions

by Leila Abolfazli, Counsel at National Women’s Law Center

On Wednesday, the Subcommittee on Health of the Energy & Commerce Committee held a hearing titled “Do New Health Law Mandates Threaten Conscience Rights and Access to Care?” If you are wondering how an HHS Interim Final Rule guaranteeing no cost-sharing coverage of contraceptives threatens access to care, you are not alone. The whole point of the regulation is to dramatically increase women’s access to contraception because it is critical preventive health care for women. In fact, it is not the new health care regulation that threatens access to care but the exemption HHS included in the regulation allowing certain religious employers to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage.

This exemption has no basis under the Affordable Care Act, the Constitution does not require it, and it takes away critical health care for many women. Despite these serious problems with the very existence of an exemption, a minority of people think the exemption does not go far enough. Against this backdrop, the Subcommittee convened the hearing to debate the exemption and proposals for expanding it to include a much larger group of religious employers, like hospitals and universities.

After attending the hearing, I think a better title would have been the question so aptly posed by Representative Schakowsky in her opening remarks, “Why should the conscience of an employer trump a woman’s conscience?” Because that is exactly the position the three witnesses in favor of expanding the exemption took during the hearing. Notably, these witnesses, representing three religiously-affiliated entities including Alliance of Catholic Health Care, Christian Medical Association, and the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., paid no attention to the health benefits of the HHS regulation. Instead, their argument was: we provide all of these services, you should be thanking us, and don’t subject us to this regulation (even though it improves our employees’ health). They also gave veiled threats of all the bad things that would occur if the regulation took effect — like hospitals shutting down and physicians leaving the field in droves. By hiding behind this parade of horribles, the witnesses refused to acknowledge the basic fact that gutting this regulation harms women. They had no answer to Dr. Hathaway’s testimony that contraception improves health. They had no answer to the concrete, well-documented benefits of providing unburdened access to contraception, or Dr. Hathaway’s experiences of treating patients who face significant burdens in accessing contraception. They had no answer to the fact that virtually all women have used contraception at some point in their lives. They had no answer because they were there to represent the religiously-affiliated employers, not the women who are positioned to benefit so greatly from the regulation.

As Mr. O’Brien from Catholics for Choice succinctly stated in his testimony against expanding the exemption for religious employers , “[i]t is incredible to suggest that a hospital or an insurance plan has a conscience.” It is also incredible that all of this energy is being spent to take away one of the most significant gains in women’s access to basic preventive health care. As Representative Schakowsky said, allowing employers to opt out of the regulation “is counterproductive, unfair, and paternalistic.” This is not what the Affordable Care Act set out to do, and this is not what women and their families deserve.

Women’s Basic Health Coverage Is Not For Sale

By Miri Cypers, JWI Senior Policy & Advocacy Specialist

Nearly one week after the defeat of the Mississippi “personhood initiative,” when the state of women’s reproductive rights in our country seemed like it could not be any more threatened, various news outlets have published an incredibly troubling story that requires our immediate attention. This Monday, the New York Times printed a story about the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ renewed fight against abortion, casting it as an issue of “religious liberty” against a government encroaching on the church’s rights.

After meeting with President Obama, Archbishop Timothy Dolan, the president of the Catholics Bishops, indicated that the President might be considering expanding a troubling religious exemption adopted under the new health care law that allows certain religious employers to opt out of the new federal requirement. This federal requirement, to be implemented by the Department of Health and Human Services, acknowledges that birth control is a preventative service and qualifies as basic health care.

According to Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood, in a Huffington Post piece, the expansion of this exemption to include religiously affiliated colleges, universities, medical schools, hospitals, social service organizations, etc. would be “…nothing short of tragic for millions of Americans and their families. Nearly 800,000 people work at Catholic hospitals and there are approximately two million students and workers at universities that have a religious affiliation. This expansion would impact all of these individuals — as well as their dependents, denying them a benefit that finally makes an essential health care service affordable.”

Get ready for another battle. And urge the President to protect women’s  fundamental right to  preventive health care.

The Other 99%: Will Obama Betray Them?

by Carole Joffe, University of California, RHRealityCheck

See all our coverage of the Birth Control Mandate 2011 here.

There is another 99 percent group in our country, distinct from but inextricably entwined with the now more familiar #99Percent, those everyday Americans, who–in such a brilliant framing by the Occupy Wall Street movement–are to varying degrees affected by the vast economic inequality that characterizes American society. I refer to the 99 percent of American women who have ever had sexual intercourse and have used a birth control method at least some of the time. (As per the original Centers for Disease Control report, this statistic only includes contraceptive use reported by women during heterosexual intercourse).

Contraception obviously is a deeply held value by American women. But the fact that in the United States a startling half of all pregnancies are unintended makes clear that birth control is used only sporadically by some. There are a number of reasons why this is so, but a chief one is that so many women cannot afford contraception, especially the most expensive—and most effective–methods, such as birth control pills, and long lasting reversible contraception, for example, the newer (and far safer) models of IUDs (intrauterine devices).  In short, the same economic disparities that pervade every other area of American life manifest here as well: poor women depend on publicly-funded programs for their contraceptive services, but, according to the Guttmacher Institute, only a little more than half of the 17 million women who need these services currently receive them.

This situation of tremendous inadequacy was supposed to improve considerably. In one of the best pieces of news in the otherwise embattled reproductive health world since the battles over health care reform began, the Obama administration announced last August that it would accept the recommendations of a special panel of the Institute of Medicine and include contraception—including all FDA-approved birth control methods—as part of the basic package of preventative health services that health insurance plans must offer, without co-payments.

Predictably, the August announcement has produced a massive campaign from opponents of contraception, especially the Catholic hierarchy. Though churches in fact have been granted an exemption from this requirement, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and its allies are pushing for much broader exemptions, for example  to universities, social service agencies and other institutions with a religious affiliation—even if these institutions receive public funding.  Such a move could potentially affect millions of women, of all religious backgrounds (or none), who work in such institutions.

My young friends who have been involved in the Occupy movement tell me that issues of reproductive justice have been muted, if evident at all, at the various Occupy sites. But as the occupiers put forward their vision of a just society, the old feminist dictum bears repeating: women cannot be full participants in any society unless they can control their fertility. The New York Times quotes the president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, reporting on a meeting with President Obama, as saying the latter “was very open to the sensitivities of the Catholic community.”  President Obama, please be open as well to the tremendous struggles of women–members of both 99 Percent groups–who are desperate to control their childbearing in very harsh times.



These groups urge you to take action:

Catholics for Choice

National Women’s Law Center

Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health

Feminist Majority Foundation

Emily’s List

Planned Parenthood Federation of America

NARAL Pro-Choice America

Physicians for Reproductive Choice and Health



A Message about Birth Control from the 71%


Growing up a New Yorker, I was fortunate enough to live in a state that mandated insurance plans cover birth control. Growing up the daughter of a nurse who was employed by a Catholic hospital, I was not fortunate enough to ever actually reap the benefits of this policy. My mother is not a Catholic woman, and neither are the great majority of nurses, doctors and support staff she works with. However, New York state law also provided her Catholic employer the right exclude birth control coverage for their employees and families of diverse backgrounds based on the principal of religious freedom.

This summer, our country took strides toward gender equality beyond the New York law when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued guidelines under the Affordable Care Act requiring private insurance plans to cover a comprehensive range of women’s preventive carewithout a co-pay. But, as we have seen over and over this year, there are people in this country who are afraid that women’s equality will jeopardize their profits and the status quo that they benefit from.

Leading this charge is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Health Association who are currently arguing to expand the religious exemption to include all religious institutions. Currently, the exemption would only include non-profit religious organizations that primarily employ and serve persons following those same religious tenets.

Being covered under my mother’s insurance for most of my life, our lack of coverage forced my mother and I to instead pay full price for contraception to keep me healthy. We paid an average of $60 a month, and it’s worthwhile to note that my mother was graced with three daughters. That’s four women unable to access basic preventive health care, at a cost of about $240 per month. My mother worked extremely hard and was committed to enabling us all to control our reproductive lives, which is why I was fortunate enough to never have experienced an unplanned pregnancy.

But millions of women who work for faith-based organizations do not necessarily have the resources to provide the help that my m0ther did. The intention of the Affordable Care Act is to allow individuals and families to access the care they need – as determined by their doctor’s advice and their own personal beliefs – regardless of their employment status or “pre-existing condition.” It can also easily be argued that denying coverage based upon a single religious belief is in fact a greater violation of religious freedom than allowing individuals to make those decisions for themselves.

It is dangerous and unfair to exclude millions of women and families from this care because of the beliefs of a powerful few at the top. Our values as Americans reflect this; not only do 71% of American voters support birth control coverage without co-pay, and that number goes up among Catholic women with 77% of Catholic women voters in support of the policy.

Tell our leaders to make the right choice. Birth control at no cost for ALL WOMEN.

Cross posted from Feminist Campus

Is Obama Caving to Bishops out of Misplaced “Gratitude”?


According to an inside scoop from RHReality Check, President Obama is leaning toward bowing to pressure from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to exempt religiously affiliated organizations from mandatory birth control coverage. This would mean that organizations that aren’t actual churches–such as colleges, universities and hospitals–would get out of covering birth control in insurance plans for their students and employees. (This despite the fact that many, if not most, of those students and employees aren’t Catholic. And that HHS has deemed birth control essential preventive care. And that 77 percent of Catholic women want their birth control covered.)

Jodi Jacobson of RH Reality Check has received an unconfirmed tip that the President is tempted to side with the Bishops out of “gratitude” for their help in passing the Affordable Care Act. Jacobson rightly points out that if the president should be grateful this Thanksgiving to anyone for the passage of health care reform, it’s women:

[G]roups representing many millions of women throughout the country worked tirelessly–exhaustively–for well over a year to support the President’s health reform initiative.  They did this even when women lost benefits in the process, supporting the President and able in the end to point at least to gains in coverage of fundamental preventive care such as birth control without a co-pay as a victory.

However, Sarah Posner of Religion Dispatches reports that, according to her sources, no decision has yet been made.

We’re guessing the decision may announced on Friday–aka “take out the trash day“–in order to avoid blowback from both sides.

Let the White House know what you think while there’s still time: Birth control is preventive care and should be covered with no copay by all insurance plans, including those administered by people of faith.

Photo from Flickr user Aflcio under Creative Commons 2.0.

Cross posted from the Ms. Magazine blog