Earlier this summer, the Department of Health and Human Services passed a mandate requiring insurers to provide birth control without a co-pay. Now, the Catholic Church is fighting back. The Catholic Church is opposed to contraception on the grounds that it separates sex from the act of procreation, and because the rule requires employers to offer their employees insurance plans that include a range of preventive services, including sterilization, birth control and emergency contraception, the Church is saying that it should not be forced to provide insurance to covers procedures that it finds morally objectionable.
It has yet to be determined whether some religious employers – like the Catholic Church – will be able to opt out of the new regulations. As the end of the comment period on the mandate draws to a close, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops distributed a letter articulating their displeasure with the rule and instructed bishops to show Catholics how to file a written objection. “All bishops were asked to alert parishioners of the need to address the threat to religious liberty found in (the) HHS mandate related to health care reform,” said Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokeswoman for the bishops conference.
Whether Catholics will actually take the steps to dispute the rule is another question. Research conducted by PRRI earlier this summer shows that while the Catholic hierarchy officially condemns birth control, Catholics themselves don’t seem to object to birth control use. We found that 85% of Catholics support expanding access to birth control for women who cannot afford it. That means that not only do an overwhelming majority of Catholics accept birth control use, they are comfortable with their tax dollars being used to subsidize contraceptives for low-income women and families.
In fact, large numbers of Catholic women may themselves be poised to benefit from the new HHS regulations. Earlier this spring, the Alan Guttmacher Institute showed that only 2% of Catholic women who regularly attend church rely on “natural” family planning methods. By contrast, nearly 70% of Catholic women use a “highly effective” form of contraception like the birth control pill, an IUD, or sterilization.
It seems that birth control may be another issue on which many ordinary Catholics believe that their hierarchy is too conservative (as 44% Catholics reported with regard to abortion). Tell us what you think. Are you Catholic? Will you be writing to HHS to ask for a religious exemption for the Catholic Church?