The Catholic Church Wasn’t on My Ballot: What’s Next for President Obama and Birth Control

The Catholic Church and I have had a bit of a contentious relationship, to say the least. From its longtime suppression of women’s rights to its absurd defense of the Pope’s infallibility, well, it’s hardly the institution I look to for the be all and end all in moral direction. That said, there are things I understand about the Church. I understand that the Church believes abortion to be murder, and to heck with context or extenuating circumstances and what have you. So I understand its 100% pro-life stance, even if I don’t agree with it. What I don’t understand is its belief that one should only have sex if one is ready and willing to bear children. Why is sex some guilty, hidden thing we’re not supposed to engage in outside of the marital bond, outside of the will to have kids? My understanding is that the overwhelming majority of people in the world find sex to be enjoyable and not at all something to feel ashamed or guilty about doing. The Catholic Church clearly disagrees, otherwise it would be handing out condoms left and right. It would also support family planning. It would also not be pressuring the Obama Administration to expand the “conscience clause” to allow even more institutions to refuse no-pay birth control coverage to millions of women. Last August, the Department of Health and Human Services issued a ruling requiring all insurers to cover contraception without a co-pay, starting next year. After which, of course, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops demanded a religious exception for those who believe contraception violates their religious beliefs. You know what violates my religious beliefs? Unjust war. Health insurance that covers Viagra but not abortion. Tax breaks for criminals. Punitive jail sentences for drug addicts who need treatment and counseling. The death penalty. Among many, many other things. But I don’t see anyone calling for me not to have to pay the taxes that pay for any of those things. Since when do people in America think they shouldn’t have to comply with laws that violate their religious beliefs? Run for office. Donate money.  Volunteer on a campaign. Lobby. Organize. Vote. Those are pretty much your options. Declaring that you shouldn’t be held to the same standard to which our society holds everyone else is ridiculous. We’d be in some trouble if we offered exemptions for anyone claiming that obeying the law was against their religious beliefs.  What makes the Catholic establishment so special? And so here we are again. November 30, 2011, and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has decided that despite its ridiculousness the first time around, the religious exemption rule should be expanded. This time, they’d like it to include not only Catholic Church employees, but also religiously-affiliated hospitals, charitable organizations, elementary schools, secondary schools, colleges and universities. Should your health insurance be covered under any of those entities, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops would like them to have the right to refuse to cover birth control without a copay. As was noted in an excellent RHRealityCheck post, 99% of American women have had heterosexual sex and used birth control. Problem is, birth control can be outrageously expensive, and that’s just one reason why half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended. As this post points out,
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.
Obama is more liberal than a lot of people give him credit for, and I think he truly does care about women’s rights and reproductive health. But caring isn’t enough. You have to be willing to take risks for it. You have to be willing to alienate people for it. You have to be willing to sacrifice for it. And now, President Obama has declared that he is open to the possibility of caving on women’s health (yet again) in order to pacify a group of people I find to be unreasonable in the first place. The thing is though, I don't remember voting for the Catholic Church to be President of the United States.  Frankly, I don't even recall seeing them on the ballot. Why am I writing about this now? President Obama’s decision to allow the Catholic establishment to get away with this is expected to come within the next few days. Right here, right now, click this link. Click this link to remind President Obama that women got him elected to office. Women who both have sex and don’t want children right now. Women who represent half of this country’s citizens. Women who deserve the economic capacity to make decisions regarding when and how to have children. This blog post was written as part of the #HERVotes Blog Carnival. We launched this carnival at the very last minute when we heard about President Obama’s pending decision, and now we’re rallying our troops to remind him that access to reproductive health means ACCESS to reproductive health. It doesn’t count if you don’t have access to it. And seeing as how the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops was never democratically voted into elected office, it shouldn’t be making decisions about my reproductive health. Remind President Obama that he works for us, not them. Separation of church and state is still the law of this land.  Last time I checked anyway. * For more thought on the religious aspects of this debate, check out this great post by Frances Kissling on the specific teachings of the Catholic Church with regards to one's conscience.

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  • Tabaqui

    Agree 100 percent. Many Catholics *do not* agree with this position, and using the money and ‘power’ of the church to force this ‘religious belief’ down the throats of citizens is, in my mind, not only illegal but immoral. Take the church’s tax exempt status away if they’re going to lobby and pursue political agendas.

  • Pingback: Losing My Religion: Catholic Bishops Attack Reproductive Rights, Hoping to Undermine Birth Control Coverage | The Opinioness of the World

  • Kate

    Thanks for this piece, Abigail!
    Catholics for Choice has been doing amazing work around this issue too:

  • Donna

    The true Catholic Church believes in the sanctity of human life. The belief is that casual / promiscuous sex can lead to pregnancies that are unwanted. And denigrates a meaningful bond between a married man and woman.

    Sluts running around having sex with anyone they meet do not send a good moral message to teens who would emulate this behavior.

    Providing condoms and other forms of birth control simply condones sexual relations that may lead to the diseases, complications and unwanted pregnancies the church hopes to avoid. This result leads to the traumatic killing of human life which is sickening, desparate and selfish.

  • WTFcsusm

    I love to see how the Catholic church “demands” certain stipulations to various laws that were passed. What happened to the seperation of church and state? What about my rights to say, hey listen, I do not want any religious affiliations in MY government influencing our laws. They can very well keep to their outdated practices, while me and the rest of America progress our ideologies on contraceptives. Thanks for the post!

  • Aedín

    @Donna- I am absolutely disgusted by your reply. It saddens me that not only are women being judged by men, religious groups, the government etc., they are also being judged by other women! You say if the church were to provide condoms and other forms of contraception they would be condoning sex that leads to diseases and unwanted pregnancies. Hello? The entire point of contraception is to prevent STI’s and unwanted pregnancies! Obviously you wouldn’t have sex outside of marriage, and I respect your choice to do with your body what you want- but I think you should grant others the same courtesy. If someone wants to have sex, that’s their decision. It’s so much more important that women are informed about contraception and looking after their health than it is to be shaming them. And as a teen myself, I resent the implication that I would blindly follow whatever sexual trend I see played out in society. I think you need to realise that young women (and young men of course) are smart enough to be able to make their own decisons relating to their own lives and bodies, and you don’t have the right to judge or condemn them for that, nor does anyone else.