Four things to know about Catholics, HHS and contraception

After President Obama announced a policy change shifting the burden from employers to insurers, the bishops conference called the move “a first step in the right direction.”

The Obama administration announced Friday a new opt-out for faith groups protesting the HHS mandates over coverage of birth control, “one that will allow large faith-based hospitals and universities to issue plans that do not directly provide birth control coverage,” Post reporters Michelle Boorstein and Sarah Kliff noted. Here are four items to keep in mind as this story unfolds:

1. The Catholic Church is likely to take more time to study the issue than it did in its scattered public response to the Obama administration’s proposed compromise in February 2012. After President Obama and HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced a policy change shifting the burden from employers to insurers, the bishops conference called the move “a first step in the right direction.” They later issued a stronger statement — in addition to a subsequent religious liberty campaign — raising “serious moral concerns.” CEO of the Catholic Health Association Sister Carol Keehan had initially expressed support for the compromise, but later reversed course, citing “religious liberty concerns.”

On Friday the USCCB issued a brief statement: “We welcome the opportunity to study the proposed regulations closely. We look forward to issuing a more detailed statement later.”

2. Look for language around “cooperation with evil.” At the core of the Catholic Church’s religious liberty concerns on contraception are fundamental questions over how church institutions collaborate with people or policies it finds immoral. (“The term ‘evil’ isn’t as ominous as it sounds, but rather is shorthand used by moral theologians to describe anything sinful,” writes journalist David Gibson). In this case, the church doesn’t want to fund contraception and rejected the administration’s initial mandate that its institutions (hospitals, universities) provide employees with insurance coverage whereby the insurers themselves cover birth control. “It is unreasonable to expect the church to violate its own teachings by facilitating and funding sterilization, abortion-inducing drugs, and contraception,” reads a statement on the USCCB’s Web site. But in a “fallen world,” to use the church’s language, how much cooperation between the church and immorality is okay? It’s a question of intense debate among Catholics themselves — for a primer read Gibson’s explainer on moral theology and Michael Gorman at First Things.

3. The Catholic Church teaches that artificial contraception (any method other than what it calls Natural Family Planning — NFP) is “morally unacceptable.” It teaches that sexual pleasure and openness to reproduction cannot be separated — they are at the heart of marriage (an argument that also shapes its activism against gay marriage). A relatively new church site, Marriage, Unique for a Reason, provides many explanations of church teaching and frames matrimony as “foundational to human existence.” Reads one passage: “Children are at the very heart of marriage. The ‘supreme gift’ of marriage, a child, comes precisely through the mutual, loving self-gift exchanged between husband and wife.” But this contraception-less standard is one that many Catholics wrestle with or reject, which leads us to. . .

4. The vast majority of Catholics who have had sex have used artificial contraception. Last year, many repeated the claim that 98 percent of Catholic women use contraception — a stat that the Post’s Fact Checker noted was not quite correct, as the shorthand version didn’t adequately describe the limits of the group surveyed. What is true? From the Fact Checker:

The church offered a different figure in its survey; finding that “63 percent of all Catholic women of reproductive age are currently using a method of contraception (rather than NFP),” though the report also noted that “it is possible that 99 percent of sexually active Catholic women have used some form of contraception in the past.”

Image courtesy of Nate Grigg.

About

Elizabeth Tenety Elizabeth Tenety is the former editor of On Faith, where she produced "Divine Impulses," On Faith’s video interview series. She studied Theology and Government at Georgetown University and received her master’s degree from Northwestern University’s Medill School of Journalism. A New York native, Elizabeth grew up in the home of Catholic news junkies where, somewhere in between watching the nightly news and participating in parish life, she learned to ponder both the superficial and the sacred.
  • amelia45

    One other point about Catholics and HHS and contraceptives:

    Millions and millions of Catholics don’t have a problem with the way the HHS mandate was written before the current version.

    And,

    Millions and millions of Catholics want contraceptives covered by health insurance.

    The Catholic hierarchy may speak for the official teaching of the Church but does not speak for the way millions and millions of Catholics want the world to work.

  • E-VERIFY

    Most USA citizen RCs do not fully agree with the RCC view on birth control. Ask them or just look at their family size. Obama administration opt-out is a cop-out for Obamacare. The American people must come first before any tax exempt group that are always in political matters. All business must comply with all civil law.

  • moderatemom

    Bullies force other people to do things–for those of us not catholic, it is not enough that we cannot work in catholic institutions, but further that they decide what we can or cannot do in our personal lives. And this group is tax exempt?

  • Bill Brasky

    what do you mean by “cannot work in Catholic institutions”? and to address the latter part of your post —the Catholic Church imposes nothing, it proposes much

  • Bill Brasky

    that would make the “millions and millions of Catholics” of which you speak protestants not Catholic, oh you’re one of the picker and choosers, I got it… The tough stuff is not for you and “millions and millions of others” where are you getting your stats by the way

  • Bill Brasky

    why, again, should the government or health insurance plan pay for anyone’s birth control? While you’re at it, please explain to me how consuming artificial hormones on a regular basis is good for women’s health? The good ole US, laziness/lack of self discipline is a right and encouraged.

  • VaticanNinjaWarrior

    Hey, the amazing thing about the Catholic Faith is, if you don’y agree with Her teaching, you aren’t a part of the Church. Not even if you are Joe Biden.
    All businesses must comply with the civil law? Is that what businesses forced to pay the Stamp Act in the 18th century do?

  • VaticanNinjaWarrior

    And guess what? According to the religion that those millions say they believe, they are excommunicated.

  • jburnetti

    The Church hierarchy is out of touch with reality. An old, celibate male clergy, living an unnatural life style – forgetting why God gave them those gonads in the first place – and not so slowly excluding the gene for going into the clergy out of the gene pool. Refusing to ordain half the human race, and refusing to ordain most of the other half, because they use the parts God gave them for what God intended them to be used for. The Church hierarchy is irrelevant.

  • VaticanNinjaWarrior

    Give a biblical passage that supports woman priest and they will consider it. See, not knowing what the Sacrament of Holy Orders is or what it is for is why you have this confused notion of entitlement. Guess what? God is pretty exclusive too. He started out with only one nation and when he decided to expand, he was still exclusive. Just because the Church is the only constant Teacher in this world doesn’t mean you have to hate

  • jburnetti

    Give a biblical passage that forbids ordaining women. My wife would make an excellent priest – she is very perceptive about people, their emotions, and things important to them, and very empathetic. Imagine that, a female, married clergy woman. And don’t tell me that Mother Teresa would not have made an outstanding Pope. And near as I can tell, an all powerful, loving God would not favor one tribe of primates over another. That wouldn’t be particularly bright or all-loving, would it?

  • jburnetti

    By the way, did you mean Israel (a primarily Jewish nation)? Or the United States (a mixing bowl)?

  • DemandSider

    NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) —” A freshman congressman running for re-election on a pro-life platform urged his pregnant
    mistress to get an abortion a decade ago, according to a transcript of the recorded conversation.”

    The undated phone recording appears to have been made before Republican Rep. Scott DesJarlais’ divorce from his wife, Susan, was finalized in 2001. According to the transcript, DesJarlais tells the unidentified woman that he is concerned that she hadn’t taken steps toward terminating the pregnancy.

    “You told me you’d have an abortion, and now we’re getting too far along without one,” DesJarlais is quoted as saying. “If we need to go to Atlanta, or whatever, to get this solved and get it over with so we can get on with our lives, then let’s do it.”

  • cricket44

    I strongly suggest you read up on the real risks and tolls of pregnancy and childbirth…from medical journals, not church sites.

  • E-VERIFY

    Ninja, of all the RCC beliefs and teachings you will find out that all RCs do not 100% agree with them . Who are you to tell one what religion one is or is not. If the pope told you to jump Ninja, would you ask how high? Open your mind.

  • E-VERIFY

    Ninja, who do you think you are with such a close minded false comment?

  • E-VERIFY

    Ninja, a male life of celibacy is not only unnatural but a real source of trouble. Was not Mary Magdalene on many of Christ walk abouts, the last supper, at the cross at the time of death and first to see the risen Christ? A very special lady in Christ’s eye would you not say? The painting of the last supper, was the painter try to tell us someting of the person to the right of Christ? Are women equal to man? Think.

  • jay2drummer

    Actually, unless someone has excommunicated them, no, they are not at all excommunicated.

  • question1

    The church “hierarchy” continues to confuse, and frankly anger me. Jesus spoke of divorce – the church pays lip service. Jesus spoke of those who cause children harm or sin – we already know about the church’s actions over decades.

    Jesus never asked a single person that He healed, forgave, fed or raised from the dead whether they were gay, straight, married, divorced, celibate, religious, clean, thrifty or honest. But He had plenty to say to the religious leaders of His day & none of it was pleasant.

    Jesus taught that we should love & feed & visit & care for one another. Not focus on each other’s sex & reproductive lives. And the church says…

  • question1

    @VaticanNinjaWarrior: IMO, you’re looking throught the wrong end of the telescope. Nowhere, in any of the gospels, does Jesus disparage any woman, for any reason. In many parables He uses woman as examples of His message. In all the years of His ministry, He never forbade women from an active role in His ministry & He included several women in the creation of His church after His resurrection.

  • abbyandmollycats

    A single-payer health plan would remove the employer from the health care equation and resolve the issue of whose freedom matters most, the employer paying for health care as part of employee compensation, or the freedom of the employee to make health care decisions based on medical advice and the employee’s own beliefs. I cannot understand why the Roman Catholic hierarchy failed to view the public option as something strongly to their advantage. Surely they did not hope to bring all to a viewpoint not shared by a significant number of their own adherents.

  • Susann 4

    If a Catholic is living and practicing what is not part of Catholic (Christian ) Canon Law or what is written in the Chatechism he is indeed in fact living in a state of excommunication. If the matter is serious enough the person must not only change their activity and confess there transgression but they must be reenstated by the local Bishop in order to recieve The Eucharist and any other sacraments.The Church will only declare someone publically excommunicated if they are scandalizithe rest of the faithful as well as society at large with their contradictory behavior.
    For instance , if a Catholic was married in the Church sacramentally but divorces and remarries and continues to recieve communion every Sunday the parish priest when discovering this action will inform the person of their inability to recieve the sacraments. If the person continues to go to communion the priest may publically for the sake of the community make it known tht that person in fact is excommunicated for his blatant persistance. Should this person recieve a church sanctioned annullment he may have his new marriage blessed and accepted and after confessing he may then recieve the sacraments as before. This is simplified to almost oblivion but it is in fact the truth of how the Church works. The Church is far more merciful than most ourside her structure can comprehend.

  • blakely1

    There is no other drug related item that is so readily available to people in all
    walks of life, except perhaps Viagra, than contraceptives. The poor can easily get it free. so there is no need to require companies to carry it for their employees.
    THIS IS JUST ANOTHER WAY TO ATTACK CATHOLICS & OTHER RELIGIONS..Obama seems to find our BILL OF RIGHTS AN INCONVENIENCE..
    Obamacare will add 21 taxes, attack the obese, smokers,& it won’t be long beforeit will control everything, along with 1/6th of the economy.

  • solsticebelle

    The Catholic Church wants as many poor, starving, sick children in the world as possible. I always thought Mother Theresa was an evil egomaniac who illustrates the Catholic Church’s attitude toward reproduction perfectly.

  • solsticebelle

    There is nothing about the Catholic Church that is not hypocritical.

  • solsticebelle

    Why should it pay for the result of sex., i.e., a baby, then? I mean if people want to get it on, let ‘em pay for it themselves!

    Right??

  • jay2drummer

    And if they can’t afford birth control or an abortion? Much less the cost of raising that child? It’s the hypocricy of the “pro-life” movement, demanding the child be born, but not actually caring about the quality of it’s life. Birth control and abortions cost far less than welfare. And it’s certainly far cheaper than putting the child in prison later. And statistics show the fetuses that would’ve been aborted are the ones most likely to be born into the family situations that are more likely to lead to lives of crime.

  • ThomasBaum

    VaticanNinjaWarrior

    You wrote, “God is pretty exclusive too. He started out with only one nation and when he decided to expand, he was still exclusive.”

    If you are speaking of the Chosen People, the Jews, than you are wrong, God not only chose the Jews but God formed them and the Jews were not a nation but one person, Abraham.

    Concerning, as you put it “when he decided to expand”, just how was God “exclusive”?

  • rb-freedom-for-all

    Because the Institute of Medicine recommended that contraception be covered under the Affordable Care Act, that is why it should be covered.

    Consuming artifical hormones helps some women get their menstrual cycles and flow under control, allowing them to function much better than without. Does that explain? Also, since unintended pregnancy is the number one cause of abortion, making contraception widely available allows a woman to avoid unintended pregnancies and reduce the number of abortions. Since society pays a lot for children who grow up in poverty, society saves money by paying for a woman’s contraception.

  • rb-freedom-for-all

    So are all the “catholic” women using contraceptives living in a state of excommunication? Why don’t the parish priests enforce the laws so that those women can know they are in a state of excommunication? Is it because the parish priests want their financial contributions more than they want to enforce Canon Law? This is what critics mean when they call the church hypocritical.

  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous
  • Anonymous

Read More Articles

colbert
Top 10 Reasons We’re Glad A Catholic Colbert Is Taking Over Letterman’s “Late Show”

How might we love Stephen Colbert as the “Late Show” host? Let us count the ways.

emptytomb
God’s Not Dead? Why the Good News Is Better than That

The resurrection of Jesus is not a matter of private faith — it’s a proclamation for the whole world.

noplaceonearth
An Untold Story of Bondage to Freedom: Passover 1943

How a foxhole that led to a 77-mile cave system saved the lives of 38 Ukrainian Jews during the Holocaust.

shutterstock_148333673
Friend or Foe? Learning from Judas About Friendship with Jesus

We call Judas a betrayer. Jesus called him “friend.”

shutterstock_53190298
Fundamentalist Arguments Against Fundamentalism

The all-or-nothing approach to the Bible used by skeptics and fundamentalists alike is flawed.

shutterstock_178468880
Mary Magdalene, the Closest Friend of Jesus

She’s been ignored, dismissed, and misunderstood. But the story of Easter makes it clear that Mary was Jesus’ most faithful friend.

shutterstock_186795503
The Three Most Surprising Things Jesus Said

Think you know Jesus? Some of his sayings may surprise you.

shutterstock_185995553
How to Debate Christians: Five Ways to Behave and Ten Questions to Answer

Advice for atheists taking on Christian critics.

HIFR
Heaven Hits the Big Screen

How “Heaven is for Real” went from being an unsellable idea to a bestselling book and the inspiration for a Hollywood movie.

shutterstock_186364295
This God’s For You: Jesus and the Good News of Beer

How Jesus partied with a purpose.

egg.jpg
Jesus, Bunnies, and Colored Eggs: An Explanation of Holy Week and Easter

So, Easter is a one-day celebration of Jesus rising from the dead and turning into a bunny, right? Not exactly.

SONY DSC
Dear Evangelicals, Please Reconsider Your Fight Against Gay Rights

A journalist and longtime observer of American religious culture offers some advice to his evangelical friends.