The Bishops’ Failed Fortnight for Freedom
The record heat wave reaching most of the country this summer is best contemplated from behind an ice cold glass of lemonade. But the rising opposition on the reproductive rights front has offered less respite for those seeking to access reproductive healthcare services, as well as those of us who sweat over how to protect every individual’s right to live according to their conscience.
That’s why the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ so-called “Fortnight for Freedom” was all the more notable—as a very tepid spot among the heat. The event was meant to highlight the bishops’ permanent state of upset over employer coverage of contraception as well as same-sex marriage, but these are issues that have already been settled in the hearts and minds of ordinary Catholics, who will go on using contraception in large numbers and cherishing their family and friends who are gay or lesbian. In comparison with the sacredness of these conscience-based choices, the Fortnight’s “Fish Fry for Freedom” promoting the bishops’ peculiar view of religious freedom was a little tasteless.
Ironies abounded this summer, including the series of classes on “voting Catholic” in Corpus Christi—while thousands of women and men, including Catholics, rallied at the Texas statehouse in opposition to antichoice legislation. And then there was the startling contrast between the North Carolina bishops who dragged their feet in supporting Moral Mondays—an ecumenical effort protesting cuts in programs serving the poor—while Bishop Michael F. Burbidge of Raleigh was quick on the draw in sending his statement supporting abortion restrictions that were attached to a motorcycle safety bill. Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance this was not.
There have been hits on the later abortion front, including the ban on abortions after 20 weeks that made it through the House of Representatives without wiser heads prevailing. Then there are the ongoing lawsuits from private for-profit companies claiming a “religious exemption” to the contraception ruling, which show a resolve to keep nickel-and-diming the implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive policy—a presumptuous attempt to save women money on the choices they were already making.
But it’s helpful to remember that there are similar contests going on outside the reproductive rights world. In an embattled America, the fate of many immigrant families is subject to a roll of the dice in Congress, and the program serving people who rely on food stamps has been slashed by those who see their hungry fellow citizens as somebody else’s business.
Because there are so many important things at stake in our country today, it is essential to call out the bishops on the sleight of hand they use to direct attention away from real people and real problems. The bishops prefer to offer us a litany of complaints about supposed wrongs suffered because of the separation of church and state that is one of our society’s greatest challenges and achievements. Whatever their intentions with this approach, the bishops’ crusade has driven many Catholics our way.
Catholics for Choice has always maintained a fiercely loyal group of supporters who donate, take action and speak up throughout the US. But we have never before experienced the level of support that we have seen since the bishops attempted to ignite opposition to birth control. Our Facebook page was inundated with support, and over 10,000 grassroots activists from all 50 states and in every single congressional district wrote to their representatives to show their support for our campaigns.
Probably even more American than apple pie are the heated political discussions that occur at every dinner table across the country. It’s safe to say that everyone thinks things could be a little better, but that belief starts in a vision of what could be—what should be, with a little effort from the grassroots on up to Congress. Catholics are used to grave differences of opinion in our church family, which is why our organization has been honored to provide a safe place for Catholics to speak out and to be heard. People have shared deeply personal stories and reasons for supporting access to reproductive health services. We have received phone calls from those who, fed up with the bishops’ campaigns, have sought out Catholics for Choice looking for ways to make their views known. This passion is what helps us keep doing what we do, which is why Catholics for Choice is never afraid of taking a little heat.
Jon O’Brien is the president of Catholics for Choice.
Read the November 2016 message from Jon O'Brien: Religious Freedom in the Crosshairs
Read the November 2016 message from Jon O'Brien: Pope Francis’ Announcement on Abortion Is About Bridging the Deep Chasm Between the Church Hierarchy and the Reality of Everyday Catholics
Read the December 2012 messge from Jon O'Brien: The Secret History of Sex, Choice and Catholics
Read the October 2012 message from Jon O'Brien: Nobody Gets to Say Who Is and Who Is Not Catholic
Read the July 2012 message from Jon O'Brien: Let’s Celebrate Real Religious Freedom