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Catholic Organizations Call on Secretary Sebelius to Include Contraception as a Preventive Method under Affordable Care Act (ACA)

July 26, 2011

Washington, DC – On the 43rd anniversary of Pope Paul VI’s groundbreaking decision to reaffirm the Vatican’s ban on contraception, a score of progressive Catholic organizations wrote to Kathleen Sebelius, Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, calling on her to “implement the coverage recommendations of the recent Institute of Medicine (IOM) report which include comprehensive contraceptive methods as a preventive benefit.”

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has been active in seeking to allow some entities to opt out of this no-cost coverage for family planning by seeking to create burdensome conscience clause provisions. Citing the Catholic social justice tradition, the organizations requested that Secretary Sebelius reject this demand from the US bishops and not “impose burdensome conscience clauses which seek to limit and indeed eliminate access, and dishonor the conscience of those seeking services.”

Most Catholics use modern contraceptives and believe it is a moral choice. Many of these good Catholics wish the hierarchy would respect their decisions, taken in good conscience, about what is best for themselves, as well as for their relationships, families and children. Sadly, the US bishops do not accept or acknowledge this perspective.

The letter noted that the “vast majority of Catholics in the United States support contraceptive services—98 percent of sexually active Catholic women in the US have used a modern contraceptive method at some point in their lives. When Catholic voters considered healthcare reform in 2009, more than six in ten supported health insurance coverage—whether it is private or government insurance—for contraception and family planning. It is clear that the IOM’s recommendations are strongly supported by Catholics throughout the United States.”

The timing of the letter is particularly opportune because July 25 is the 43rd anniversary of the date in 1968 when Pope Paul VI issued Humanae Vitae. This encyclical, subtitled “On the regulation of birth,” reaffirmed the Vatican’s stance against the use of artificial contraception. The ensuing split between the hierarchy’s instruction and the practice of the faithful, told in the Catholics for Choice publication Truth & Consequence: A Look Behind the Vatican’s Ban on Contraception, reveals much about the hierarchy’s long-standing obsession with contraception.

When the previous pontiff, Pope John XXIII, decided to open a discussion on contraception by appointing a commission to study birth control, many believed the church teaching would change. However, he subsequently removed the Birth Control Commission from the main debates of the Second Vatican Council in an apparent attempt to control its findings. His successor, Pope Paul VI, expanded the Commission to include five (married) women as part of its contingent of 34 lay members. Early reports from the Commission suggested the ban would be ended because the use of contraceptives by married couples was not “intrinsically” evil. When the published document reaffirmed the church’s prohibition on contraception, rejecting the recommendation of the majority of the experts on the Commission, it caused a huge rift in the church.

Today, the vast majority of Catholics have rejected the Vatican’s teaching on contraception, as shown by the wide variety of Catholic organizations that have signed the letter, which concludes: “A large majority of Catholics in the US are committed to ensuring that women and men have access to the full range of reproductive healthcare services. The recommendations from the IOM are an important step in ensuring that all women will have access to family planning services under the ACA and that all Catholics will be able to listen to their consciences and have their consciences honored in turn.”

The organizations that signed on are as follows:

8th Day Center for Justice – Women in Church and Society Committee
Association for Rights in the Catholic Church
Call to Action
Catholics for Choice
Chicago Women-Church
Congregation for Peace with Justice Committee of the Sisters of Providence SMW
Ecumenical Catholic Communion
Faithful of Southern Illinois
Greater Cincinnati Women-Church
National Coalition of American Nuns
New Ways Ministry
San Francisco Bay Area Women-Church
Southeastern Pennsylvania Women’s Ordination Conference
WomenEucharist Boulder
Women-Church Baltimore
Women’s Alliance for Theology, Ethics and Ritual
Women’s Ordination Conference

View the full letter.