Supreme Court Deals Double Blow to Religious Liberty
Washington, DC— The US Supreme Court has issued two decisions that corrupt one of our most sacred freedoms.
In Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania (consolidated with Trump v. Pennsylvania), the Court upheld a Trump administration rule allowing broad exemptions to an Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirement that obligated insurers to provide free birth control coverage as part of most health care plans. This decision allows employers to obstruct women’s access to contraceptives on religious or on “moral” grounds.
In Our Lady of Guadalupe School v. Morrissey-Berry (consolidated with St. James School v. Biel), the Court ruled that federal employment discrimination protections do not apply to employees whose duties include “religious instruction” as defined (however broadly) by the employer, creating a huge exception to the nation’s fair employment laws.
Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe, Acting President of Catholics for Choice, issued the following statement, condemning these consequential decisions in a statement below:
“We are dismayed that the Supreme Court has chosen to side with powerful special interests to undercut individual workers’ rights to access reproductive healthcare without barrier and to be protected against discriminatory employment practices based on religious beliefs they may not share. The Court certainly has doubled down on the distortion of religious liberty advocated by the Trump administration in answer to goading by the US Catholic bishops and their allies.
Only the Catholic hierarchy (and their ultraconservative allies) view contraception as controversial. The vast majority of the 70 million Catholics in the United States long ago rejected the Catholic bishops’ authority on this matter. 99% of sexually active Catholics have used a form of birth control proscribed by the bishops. Catholics see access to contraception as a moral good. Attacks on the birth control benefit included in the ACA jeopardize people’s health and safety, particularly the most vulnerable in our society, people of color, young women, those in rural areas and those with lower-incomes—exactly the people Catholic social justice teaching calls us to serve.
The Trump administration—fronting for the US Catholic bishops—would have you believe this case was about religious freedom as they have attempted to redefine it. Through decades of precedent, the Supreme Court has made clear that the free exercise of one’s own rights ends when it infringes on the rights of their neighbor. True religious freedom means letting people make their own health care decisions based on their conscience and free from interference by their employer or their government. People have consciences. Institutions do not.
These decisions endorse an agenda promoted under the guise of protecting religious liberty. In truth, these cases benefit well-established, often politically-powerful institutions meant to serve, employ and educate the general public and large healthcare systems which take in millions of taxpayer dollars to serve the public at large.
The Catholic hierarchy has likewise, again with the administration’s support, managed to pervert religious liberty protections, persuading the Court to expand ministerial exemptions in order to better discriminate against and penalize the employees whose beliefs they eschew. This is anathema to genuine religious freedom, which does not tolerate bigotry masked as liberty.
Let’s be clear—real religious freedom must mean ensuring freedom of religion and freedom from religion.
The Catholic hierarchy has worked tirelessly and systematically to subvert the true meaning of religious liberty, to quash the religious liberty of the students and patients their institutions serve and to ignore the religious liberty of the employees called to provide those services. This is unjust. This is uncatholic. This is wrong.
Catholics across the nation will be sorely disappointed that the Court rejected its time-honored practice of upholding religious liberty for the powerful and powerless, for the religious and non-religious, for Catholics and non-Catholics alike.
CFC Commends the Court’s Common Sense Decision to Vacate Restrictive Louisiana Law
Washington, DC— Catholics for Choice is relieved to see the common sense decision announced today by the US Supreme Court in June Medical v Russo, upholding its own 2016 landmark decision in Whole Woman’s Health v. Hellerstedt. Today, the Court affirmed individual moral agency and access to essential, time-sensitive abortion care for all women, including the most vulnerable.
Catholics for Choice was proud to help lead a coalition of 38 Christian, Jewish, Muslim and interdenominational organizations in a friend-of-the-court brief that highlighted our shared belief regarding an individual’s right to make moral choices based on her own conscience when deciding on reproductive healthcare options. As Catholics, we are called by our faith to follow our conscience in all matters of moral decision-making and to respect another’s right to do the same. When a person exercises their moral agency to seek abortion services, they should be met with affordable, accessible and compassionate care.
Today’s decision rejected anti-abortion efforts to create obstacles for providers and patients in Louisiana, recognizing that such tactics unduly burden women’s ability to exercise their right to choose.
For decades, ultraconservative state policymakers have been working overtime at the bidding of allies like the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) to destroy access to abortion, state by state, law by law. The Louisiana law vacated by today’s decision was one more in a sustained and coordinated effort to overturn Roe v. Wade and make abortion inaccessible to everyone. Despite what the USCCB would like policymakers to believe, the vast majority of Catholics in the United States support access to reproductive healthcare services for those who need them. Six in 10 Catholic voters believe abortion can be a moral choice, and a majority of Catholic voters support access to insurance coverage for abortion—whether through private or government-run plans.
While we commend the Court for today’s decision, the fight to protect abortion rights is far from over. Catholics for Choice remains vigilant in our mission to protect every individual’s right to make their own conscience-based decisions and calls upon Congress to pass the Women’s Health Protection Act (WHPA) ensuring access to reproductive health for all who need it no matter their insurance, their income or their zip code.
Catholics for Choice Applauds US Supreme Court’s Decision as a Win for Social Justice
Washington, DC— Catholics for Choice applauds today’s decision of the US Supreme Court on Bostock v. Clayton County, GA and Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda, affirming employees’ protection against discrimination based on their sexual orientation, gender identity and use of reproductive health services under the Title VII of the Civil Rights Act. The economic hardship wrought by the COVID-19 recession, with 40 million unemployed, profoundly illustrates that people, especially the poor and hardest hit, need legal assurances that their livelihood will not be subject to the religious beliefs and prejudices of their employers.
As Catholics, we believe in the inherent dignity of each person, including the poorest of the poor. Our social justice tradition calls us to advocate for policies that protect the least among us: the most vulnerable and marginalized in our society. Our reverence for conscience obligates us to follow our own and to afford others, even those with whom we disagree, that same courtesy.
Unfortunately, the Catholic hierarchy, through its political arm, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has wed itself to the Trump administration in efforts to secure federal policies that broaden the ability to discriminate against women, LGBT people and those seeking reproductive healthcare. The USCCB’s amicus briefs in both these cases claim that protecting the LGBT community “would create serious burdens on religious liberty” and “could affect the ability of health care providers to perform services in accord with their professional judgment as well as their religious and moral convictions.”
The bishops decidedly un-Catholic attempts to impose their prejudices on the entire nation runs counter to the beliefs of a strong majority of Catholics, 74% of whom disagree with the use of our religion as a means to discriminate.
The Court’s decision in favor of equality runs counter to efforts by the administration to roll back access to healthcare. On Friday, June 12, callously on the anniversary of the horrific violence perpetrated against the LGBT community in the 2016 Pulse massacre, Trump administration released a final rule implementing the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) non-discrimination provision (Section 1557) to erase protections for transgender people, immigrants, people who have had abortions and limiting people’s access to healthcare based on the beliefs of their employers. This act of cruelty is sadly, supported by the Catholic bishops as a part of their agenda to redefine religious liberty.
Everyday Catholics know that religious freedom is an expansive rather than restrictive idea: It is not about telling people what they can and cannot believe or practice, but about giving people the space to follow their own conscience in what they believe and practice. Protections for religious freedom do not give license to obstruct or coerce the exercise of another person’s conscience.
The Trump administration bills itself a champion of religious freedom, while in truth it is simply moving the political agenda of the bishops and their ultraconservative allies.
We are all the more pleased, therefore, to congratulate the Supreme Court justices who today ensured that “equal justice under the law” is not just a slogan, but a certainty for all.
Catholics Believe Black Lives Matter.
Catholics for Choice affirms the value and dignity of every person and stands in solidarity with our Black brothers and sisters in the movement for racial justice. As the nation and indeed world grieves the black lives lost to the violence of racism and bigotry, we mourn their lives and say, “No more!” This is a watershed moment in which our faith’s fundamental principle of social justice demands we stand in solidarity with the vulnerable and lift up the voices of the marginalized in our society.
Catholics for Choice’s work is rooted in our core values. Three of these—Commitment, Compassion and Courage—compel us to shout our deep feelings from the rooftops. Two others—Honesty and Respect—call us to step back to honor those most affected by the injustices still present in our society.
As we honor and amplify the authentic voices seeking racial justice, we recognize that reproductive equality without racial equality is no equality at all. Reproductive justice without racial justice is no justice at all.
Informed by our faith’s tradition of social justice and the belief in the dignity of each person, we vow to act justly, show mercy, walk humbly and continue to and affirm: Black Lives Matter.
CFC condemns USAID’s opportunistic efforts to block humanitarian aid for vulnerable populations
Statement by Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe, CFC Acting President
Catholics for choice is proud to join the International Women’s Health Coalition and dozens of other social justice and civil rights organizations as signatories on a letter that defends the work of the United Nations and the World Health Organization against USAID’s zealous, dangerous attacks.
For nearly 50 years, CFC has lived out these social justice principles by condemning efforts to block access to sexual and reproductive healthcare services among vulnerable populations. Acting USAID Administrator John Barsa’s letter to the United Nations is particularly contemptuous in its gross opportunism. It is further evidence that extremists will exploit any crisis, including this catastrophic global health pandemic, to advance their ultraconservative agenda, no matter the cost or harm done. And it represents yet another example of the Trump administration kowtowing to its ultraconservative masters on the religious right.
The fact remains that this pandemic only underscores the need for access to reproductive health services. Now more than ever, as the world confronts enormous fear and uncertainty, individuals must be free to exercise their choices and plan their families. The economic fallout amid COVID-19 alone creates greater, not lesser, need to access contraception, abortion, and HIV/AIDS treatment and prevention, particularly in developing economies.
Taking advantage of a global health crisis to endanger the health and safety of the poor and marginalized is not leadership, it’s not scientific, and it’s not Catholic.
A recent New York Times piece highlighted the difficulties Texas women are experiencing attempting to access reproductive healthcare as a result of the governor and attorney general exploiting the COVID-19 pandemic to restrict access to abortion services.
In the NewsLetters & Op-Eds
Our Catholic faith’s teachings demand that we respect the conscience-based decisions people make, including the right to continue or end a pregnancy. Texas ideologues and ultraconservatives on the federal bench are violating freedom of conscience and preying on many of the state’s most vulnerable citizens.
Catholics for Choice will continue to fight for access to abortion services in Texas, and across the United States. We, the majority of Catholics in the US, stand with those in Texas who need access to care and those providing it, because our faith calls us to ensure respect for conscience and social justice is true for all, no matter their zip code or station. The majority of Texans and the majority of Catholics in Texas think abortion access is important.
Click here to see our 2013 ad showing Catholic support.
CFC continues to stand with Texas women and urge you to add your voice at https://www.facebook.com/CatholicsforChoice/
Conservatives privilege ideology over expertise in this global health crisis
Medical professionals across the country are on the front lines of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, putting their own health and well-being at risk every single day. Shame on Fr. Frank Pavone for attacking any group of dedicated health care providers at such a time as this in the name of imposing his ultraorthodox, ultraconservative politics on Americans and for his misleading claim to speak for all Catholics.
And shame on states like Ohio, Texas and Louisiana for exploiting this medical crisis to advance their politics at the expense of women exercising their moral agency in seeking the full range of reproductive health care services.
Read the full op-ed in The Hill.
Kansas is home to more than 400,000 Catholics, making up 14% of the state’s population. Decades of polling tells us that a solid majority of Catholics believe that abortion should be legal in the United States and six in 10 Catholics believe abortion can be a moral choice. And the Catholics in Kansas agree.
We respectfully submit this testimony in opposition to HCR 5019 and SCR 1613. These measures are a violation of the core principles our Catholic faith teaches, namely the primacy of conscience, the imperative for social justice and the respect for religious freedom.
National Religious Freedom Day Statement by Acting President Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe, January 16, 2020
National Religious Freedom Day commemorates the 1786 adoption of the Virginia Statute for Religious Freedom, drafted by Thomas Jefferson. In this landmark legislation, which inspired the First Amendment to the US Constitution, Jefferson asserts that efforts to coerce the faith or conscience of others “tend only to beget habits of hypocrisy and meanness.”
It is just this sort of hypocrisy and meanness that we have seen from the Trump administration for the last three years. Time after time, we have seen President Trump advance his own interests by pandering to his ultraconservative cronies like the US Conference of Catholic Bishops by championing their anti-woman and anti-LGBT agenda to control the lives and moral decision making of Americans regardless of their faith. From the ongoing work of the HHS’s so-called Conscience and Religious Freedom Division to the drive to reverse decades of civil rights and religious freedom protections to the most recent expansion of regulations that allow conservative faith-based organizations to deny the basic liberties of individuals, Trump and his extremist allies pervert the language of liberty and freedom to promote dangerous and discriminatory policies.
True religious freedom respects the rights of all—regardless of religious affiliation—and allows a multitude of beliefs to flourish. Our shared principle of religious liberty must include both the freedom of and the freedom from religion—the ability to believe and practice according to one’s conscience, as well as the freedom not to have another’s beliefs forced upon us. This fundamental value stands at the heart of our nation. It inspired the words of Thomas Jefferson—the words we remember today—and has continued to inspire Americans for more than two centuries.
We are deeply troubled by the thought that some might be persuaded to discard the core principles of our republic. Yet, we are inspired by the many people of faith who stand up for true religious liberty in our nation. Today, we celebrate all those who daily commit to fight for the rights and freedoms others—neighbors and strangers alike.
Statement by Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe, CFC Acting President, on the Trump Administration’s new final rule mandating separate premiums: “This is yet another of the Trump administration’s blatant attempts to move abortion out of reach for any and all who need it. The onerous rules will force insurers to stop offering coverage for abortions services in many if not all of the private insurance plans. Not only does this places an additional financial burden on some of the most marginalized in our society, it represents yet another attack on American’s ideal of religious freedom by imposing one narrow set of religious views into public law.
“Religious freedom is an expansive, rather than a restrictive idea. It involves freedom of religion and freedom from religious as expressed in the Constitution. The protections the Founders put in place to preserve religious freedom do not—and should not—be considered to permit religious institutions or the federal government itself to obstruct or coerce the exercise of one’s conscience.
“The administration continues to project its narrow views and those of its ultraconservative allies and continues to undermine the conscience choice of people of faith and people who espouse no faith with whom they happen to disagree.”
A Message from Acting President Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe
For more than 45 years, CFC has worked to engage, educate and embolden prochoice Catholics in the US and abroad. With all that we have to face, there has never been a more important time to lift those voices, bolster our community, strengthen and support prochoice Catholic elected officials, and equip advocates and allies with tools to confront the continued onslaught of antichoice policies around the world. That is why I am excited to take up the mantle as Acting President of Catholics for Choice and lead our organization into the future of faith-based advocacy for reproductive health, rights and religious liberty for all, both at home and abroad.
After a successful 24 years at CFC, Jon O’Brien had decided to move on to pursue other career opportunities. Jon will continue to work with us through the end of the year to help with our transition. As we begin a new chapter in our organization’s history, I think it important to recognize all we have accomplished together. Since Jon became president 12 years ago, CFC has:
- Conducted our unique and dynamic trainings in 33 countries in Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, Europe, and the United States, helping more than 4,200 activists, partners, providers, thought leaders, and policymakers to hone their skills and ready their tools to fight for reproductive freedom for every individual;
- Engaged and empowered prochoice Catholics across all 50 US states and the District of Columbia to send more than 40,000 messages supporting prochoice policy to their elected representatives, , including our network of prochoice policymakers;
- Played a critical role to help push for abortion law reform in Chile, Ireland and (hopefully soon) in Argentina;
- Worked to help make possible contraceptive law reform in the Philippines;
- Hosted in person screenings of CFC films and videos for more 3,500 activists, partners and policymakers and allowed countless more to watch, share and engage online; and
- Made the case for prochoice Catholic thought and opinion with US and international audiences through well over 800 news media interviews, mentions and original opinion pieces in outlets including the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal, Ms. Magazine, The Irish Times (Ireland), El Mundo (Spain), National Catholic Reporter, Agence France Presse, Religion News Service, PBS Newshour, National Public Radio (NPR), Time Magazine, Fox News, The Hill, MSNBC and CNN en Espanol.
I’m proud to say I have spent 10 of these past 12 years working closely with Jon to help make these achievements possible. My decade at CFC has been more rewarding than I can truly say. Those who know me have often heard me say this is my dream job, allowing me to marry my faith and my political experience with a deep sense of commitment to a cause near and dear to my heart. I’m ready to take on the opportunities and challenges ahead and am committed to continue raising the bar for CFC’s future work.
Most of all, I am awed by the renowned history of this important organization I am now privileged to lead. I stand on the shoulders of the dynamic leaders who have come before me. Together with our CFC team of staff, activists, and supporters, I know we will carry our work to new heights and I look forward to what’s next!
What is life? When and how does it begin? How do we know it’s present? Can we end it? And, if so, under what circumstances?
Around the world people are debating, discussing, arguing and advocating about when human life begins and when it begins to have a moral value. At the very center of the abortion wars is a fundamental difference of opinion about the importance that people assign to life in the womb.
The Value of Life: Scientific and Moral Reflections on Abortion, the new film from Catholics for Choice, explores these critical questions for our age. We brought together experts from science, psychology, medicine and theology to wrestle with questions about the value of life in the womb.
Watch the full film above, or check out each lecture from our experts below.
Life, Abortion and Psychology
Associate Professor in Psychology
National University of Singapore
Life, Abortion and Science
Progress Educational Trust
Life, Abortion and Medical Care
Life, Abortion and Patient Care
British Pregnancy Advisory Service (BPAS)
Life, Abortion and Religious Ethics
Associate Professor of Religion
University of Southern California
November 22, 2019
Catholics for Choice and 25 faith groups today urged members of the Senate Appropriations Committee to block the Trump administration’s implementation of the Title X rule and restore integrity to the program.
The signers “are united in our alarm that family planning providers are caught between meeting the needs of their patients and being forced to follow an unethical policy that robs clinicians of their ability to properly care for their patients.”
“As organizations and communities committed to the protection of religious freedom for every individual, we both expect respect for our own sincerely held beliefs and believe it is wrong to impose those beliefs on others. We are deeply troubled by the Trump administration’s deliberate misinterpretation of the foundational principle of religious liberty as that which protects only the expression of one narrow set of religious beliefs. We strongly believe, as people of faith, that it is wrong to allow the imposition of one set of beliefs on society as a whole at the behest of a powerful few. The religious freedom guaranteed by our Constitution encompasses both freedom of religion and the freedom from any one set of religious beliefs being encoded into public law.”
Put Patients First!
Read the whole letter here.
The practice of abortion—the termination of a pregnancy—exists throughout recorded history. Various methods have been used to perform or attempt an abortion, including the administration of abortifacient herbs, the use of sharpened implements, the application of abdominal pressure and other techniques. The sole mention of the practice in the Bible is, in fact, an herbal recipe for inducing abortion.
In 19th-century England, after it was found that a spike in miscarriages was the result of lead poisoning caused by the metal pipes that fed the water supply, women began using diachylon, a substance with a high concentration of lead, to induce miscarriage. Despite bans on both sides of the Atlantic, women found ways to end unwanted pregnancies. The 20th century saw technological advances, such as manual vacuum aspiration, allowing even the most modest facilities to provide safe abortion care. In this issue of Conscience, we take a look at what’s next for abortion care in the decades ahead.
In the News
Mimicking the Global Gag Rule that prevents overseas health-care providers from presenting their patients a full set of reproductive health options, the administration has enacted what amounts to a domestic gag rule that restricts free speech and freedom of choice within our own country. Clinics receiving family planning grants to provide contraception, STD tests and other much-needed services to low-income patients will have to stop providing abortion referrals or lose their funding.
Catholics in particular should be especially angered by people trampling the rights of the already downtrodden. Like the overwhelming majority of Americans, Catholics use birth control and Catholics also access Title X services.
Ninety-eight percent of sexually active Catholic women have used a form of birth control banned by the Vatican. Though our own church hierarchy has labored to prevent Catholics in the pews from using birth control and historically overridden rights, choice and conscience, they failed.
Read the full op-ed at The Hill.
On Sunday June 23, 2019, Catholics for Choice published a full-page ad, running throughout the Chicago area, which addresses these timely issues around the proper role for church and state when it comes to matters of public policy.
Click here to see the full ad.
Letters & Op-Eds
Alabama’s HB 314 is an immoral, extremist action by anti-abortion zealot’s hell bent on taking America backwards and is a slap in the face to core American values of freedom and liberty. Having failed time and time again to persuade the majority of Americans to embrace their anti-freedom agenda, abortion opponents are using the legislative process to put safe medical care out of reach.
The grotesque irony is that the 25 men who voted for this despicable measure will never have to face the realities of unsafe abortion. Insulated by privilege and power, the rich can circumvent any restriction with their pocket books — it is the poor who suffer when choice is denied.
Of course, these legislators freely admit that their extremist bill is just a play to trigger a Supreme Court battle over Roe v Wade. Drunk on the reckless rhetoric of a president beholden to them, these anti-abortion fundamentalists are spoiling for a fight. They want to play their political game and if that means sacrificing the health, safety and freedom of women and girls in Alabama, so be it.
It is a dark day for freedom in America.
Click here to read the rest.
Letters & Op-Eds
Re “The War of Words on Abortion” (Op-Ed, Jan. 10):
Charles C. Camosy is wrong in throwing up a smokescreen to pretend that the abortion debate is a struggle over language.
Pro-choice victories in Ireland, Chile and likely soon in Argentina clearly demonstrate that increasingly, on a global scale, people in Catholic-majority countries are taking a stand for the values, morals and ethics of defending a woman’s right to choose.
Those who favor women’s rights are not running away from fundamental principles like conscience; they are embracing the reality that women’s rights are human rights. They understand the challenges to women’s health and well-being when we deny their right to make free choices over their bodies.
This letter was originally published in the New York Times.