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Catholic Organizations Expose What the Bishops Won’t Tell You about Family Planning

September 26, 2011

Open Letter Asks HHS Secretary Sebelius to Stand up for Workers’ Rights

In an open letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), Catholics for Choice, along with 15 other Catholic organizations, urged Secretary Kathleen Sebelius to uphold access to family planning by rejecting the proposed refusal clause in regulations for coverage of preventive health services under the Affordable Care Act. Unfortunately, the current wording of the proposed HHS guidelines “allows religious institutions that offer insurance to their employees the choice of whether or not to cover contraception services.”

A full copy of the letter may be found here.

Essentially, this offers certain employers the choice to take away their employees’ choice. The women who work for religious institutions, as well as their spouses and dependents who are covered by an employee’s policy, deserve to be included—not excluded—in this important step forward toward affordable healthcare for all.

With the 60-day comment period coming to a close at the end of this month, Catholics for Choice has placed the text of an open letter to Secretary Sebelius in the National Catholic Reporter. The ad’s headline, “What the Bishops Won’t Tell You,” highlights a reality different from what some bishops have claimed: that the contraception coverage amounts to a “serious violation of a basic tenet of the Catholic faith.”

The advertisement throws serious doubt upon this assertion. It is the culmination of a month-long mobilization of organizations and activists across the nonprofit spectrum. Catholics for Choice has enlisted theologians, policymakers and other faith-based groups to raise awareness about the need to maintain access to family planning in order to improve social and economic opportunities for women, as well as prevent unintended pregnancies and the transmission of sexually transmitted diseases. These are values that enjoy broad support in the United States, including among Catholics. It is also widely recognized that we are living in uncertain economic times. As the letter states, with so many people’s budgets stretched thin, it is unconscionable to support a policy that would allow some organizations to opt out and “create an unnecessary burden upon many employees across the country.”

The letter notes that the signatory organizations “cannot and do not presume to tell others how best to listen to their own consciences as they make important decisions about whether or when to have children. We do not support any effort to deny and disrespect the conscience of individuals who seek comprehensive family planning services, and encourage you to reject all policies that do so.”

Catholics for Choice president Jon O’Brien said, “This is an important step. Catholic groups are telling Obama’s Department of Health and Human Services that the bishops should not have a free pass. It is profoundly unjust for an employer to disregard the consciences and rights of workers. Having failed in their attempts to convince Catholics against using contraception, the bishops and those who lobby on their behalf are now trying to deny access to contraception for their employees—regardless of those employees’ religious beliefs. If the Obama administration bends the knee to the bishops and give them this exemption they will be implementing what amounts to state-sanctioned religious discrimination.”