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Catholic Politicians and Theologians Speak Out against Bishops

September 28, 2011

Open Letters to HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius Appear as Ads in Political Newspapers

Two open letters—one from Catholic theologians and another from Catholic politicians—have been submitted to Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, asking that she resist pressure from Catholic bishops and cover all women under the proposed regulations regarding preventive health services, including contraception. The 60-day comment period for the new guidelines ends on Friday. Currently, the guidelines incorporate a refusal clause allowing religious organizations to deny coverage for some preventive care, including contraception.

The letters appear as advertisements in Politico and The Hill today.

In their letter, a dozen of the nation’s leading Catholic theologians bring to light the fact that the inclusion of coverage for family planning in the Affordable Care Act aligns very closely with Catholic teachings on social justice. The letter states that the “well-being of women, including their reproductive healthcare, is a Catholic value.” The theologians note that they “see no medical or religious justification for exempting employers from paying for some necessary aspects of women’s healthcare” and argue that, while workers’ rights are a sacred part of the Catholic commitment to social justice, “there is no Catholic teaching to support selective fairness.”

The Catholic policymakers from around the country emphasize the needs of their constituents, asserting that during these difficult times everyone should be covered, “especially those who face economic hardships.” In their letter they explain that the women who work for religious institutions “deserve to be included—not excluded—in this important step forward toward affordable healthcare for all,” and that allowing a refusal clause for coverage of contraceptive options “does not serve the needs of the American women and families [they] represent.”

Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, the organization that coordinated the letters, said, “The bishops and other conservative Catholics have gone to great lengths in their support of discriminatory practices in Catholic institutions. They and their lobbyists have been working every angle to generate support for their attempts to discriminate against women who work for religious organizations. The bishops even placed inserts in Sunday mass bulletins begging Catholics to contact Secretary Sebelius. However, the bishops’ argument against the regulations is not faith based at all. Their claims about family planning are not supported by mainstream theological thought, and their medical arguments are based on medical fiction. Indeed, their claims have been directly contradicted by the Institute of Medicine (IOM). According to the IOM, contraception should be included as a comprehensive preventive healthcare service ‘so that women can better avoid unwanted pregnancies and space their pregnancies to promote optimal birth outcomes.’ I join these Catholic theologians and politicians in urging Secretary Sebelius to resist this pressure from the bishops, support the view of the majority of Catholics in the US and ensure that all women are covered equally.”

The true story of the Catholic debate around modern methods of family planning is told in the publication “Truth & Consequence—A Look behind the Vatican’s Ban on Contraception.”