In the News 2012
Legislative Gazette

Catholics for Choice defend Obama health plan


Members of Catholics for Choice say the majority of the millions of Catholics in New York state believe religiously affiliated hospitals and other organizations should provide reproductive health care, including birth control, even if it goes against their religious beliefs.

Catholics for Choice, joined by Concerned Clergy for Choice and Sens. Diane Savino, D-Staten Island; Liz Krueger, D-Manhattan; and Tom Duane, D-Manhattan, expressed support Feb. 7 for President Barack Obama’s recent decision not to expand religious exemptions for insurance coverage of birth control. Under the Affordable Care Act, all employer-based health insurance, including those provided by religiously affiliated organizations, would cover contraception without co-pays. This decision was amended last Friday, allowing religious organizations to deny reproductive health care, but allowing women to receive it from their employer’s insurance provider.

“There are nearly 7.2 million Catholics in New York; the vast majority of those support affordable, ready access to family planning services,” said Sara Hutchinson, Domestic Program Director of Catholics for Choice. “Eliminating obstacles from reproductive health care services isn’t a violation of anyone’s rights, but instead it protects vital, equal access for millions of women across the United States.”

According to Hutchinson, the expansion of no co-pay health insurance simply gives women a way to make health decisions for their own well being, based on their conscience.

“Religious freedom is an expansive rather than a restrictive idea. It has two sides — freedom of religion, and freedom from religion,” Hutchinson said. “It’s not about telling people what they can or cannot believe or practice, but rather about respecting the individuals right to follow his or her own conscience in religious beliefs and practice, as well as during any moral decision making.”

Hutchinson said her goal is to make sure decision makers know that many Catholics support access to reproductive health care.

Savino, an Italian-Irish Catholic said she is asking the Church to recognize that Catholics are finding ways to deal with family planning. She cited her own family as an example. Her great-grandmother had 18 children, with only six surviving into adulthood.

“Somewhere along the line we figured out how to deal with family planning on our own, but it has put us in conflict with our Church that says we aren’t supposed to do that,” Savino said.

“We need the church to recognize that acknowledging that Catholic women are practicing birth control is not a step backwards for the Church. In fact, it’s a step forward,” said Savino. “And that’s where we need to go. Forward. Not backward. Not back to the days when women had 18 children and buried half of them. That is not progress for women.”

According to Savino, “there are far more catholic women like me than [the Church is] willing to acknowledge.”

Savino wants the Church to recognize family planning, for the sake of practicing Catholics. “Millions of Catholic women are dealing with family planning every day,” she said. “And they’d like to be able to do it without feeling like we’re traitors to our own faith.”

Duane said there is room for growth in the Catholic Church. “Even the Pope, and I can’t explain how he does it, but he has some convoluted way where he says condoms are okay,” he said. “So if he can take that step, he can support reproductive health care for women.”

Duane, also a Catholic, supports the inclusion of reproductive health into health care legislation. “I just so strongly believe that reproductive health care is health care, and health care is a right that everyone should have in our country. It should be unquestionable — health care is a right for everyone, and reproductive health care is part of health care.”

The New York State Catholic Conference strongly opposed the Obama Administration’s decision. “We stand with the U.S. Bishops in opposing this ruling,” said Dennis Poust, the organization’s director of communications, “We think it’s unconstitutional.”

Poust said the decision flies in the face of liberty. “This is not about contraception per se, its about the right of a religious organization to have certain teachings and not to have the government intrude.”

According to Poust, Obama took away religious authority to teach, making organizations “provide and pay for something they teach is sinful,” which undermines the lessons.

Potential GOP presidential candidates Mitt Romney and Newt Gingrich, according to AP, accused the president of attacking religion.

The Associated Press reported Sunday that mounting pressure from Catholic groups and bipartisan commentary persuaded Obama to amend his decision 48 hours later.

Hutchinson, however, said the Bishops do not represent the mindset of all Catholics. “The bishops and their allies may be speaking out loudly against contraceptive coverage,” Hutchinson said, “But all the noise can’t hide the fact that the voices of rank and file Catholics are missing in this chorus.”

According to Hutchinson, two-thirds of Catholics believe clinics and hospitals taking taxpayer money should not be able to refuse to provide procedures or medications based on religious beliefs.

“A similar number — 63 percent – also believe that health insurance, whether private or government run, should cover contraception,” Hutchinson said. “We know 98 percent of sexually-active catholic women have used a modern form of birth control, mirroring the rates of the general population.”

Hutchinson closed with her mission statement: “Catholics for Choice is here in Albany to raise the voice of the majority of Catholics in New York, who support access to contraception, not in spite of the Catholic tradition, but because of it.”

This article was originally published in the Legislative Gazette.

Catholics for Choice