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Statement of Frances Kissling, president of Catholics for a Free Choice on the Health Insurance Coverage for Contraceptives Act of 2000

July 20, 2000

Washington, DC– Catholics for a Free Choice welcomes the decision of the House Appropriations Committee to leave the task of crafting an exemption to providing insurance coverage for contraceptives to the D.C. City Council. In order to protect the consciences of the vast majority of the District’s women and men who value responsible parenthood, we call on the City Council and the Mayor to develop a narrow and precisely drawn exemption to allow only bona fide religious institutions to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage, if and only if they arrange an alternative means for employees to receive affordable coverage elsewhere in accordance with the employee’s conscience.

We also note that the original bill (Health Insurance Coverage for Contraceptives Act of 2000) as passed by the City Council without an exemption best protected the right of conscience and choice for the women and men of the District.  As the District reconsiders this measure, we are hopeful that the request by Catholic institutions for an exemption from providing coverage—based on a claim of institutional conscience—will be balanced with the right of those covered by Catholic institutions to have access to contraceptives so they might also act on their consciences. The City Council and others involved in this debate might like to consider the following facts about Catholics and contraception.

Catholics have rejected the church’s ban on contraception. Studies show that 96% of all Catholic women who have ever had sex have used modern contraceptive methods at some point in their lives and 75% of Catholic women of childbearing age who are currently sexually active use a contraceptive method forbidden by the church. Moreover, 87% of Catholics believe that the church should allow Catholics to make up their own minds about whether or not to use birth control.

An April 2000 poll of 1,000 U.S. women by Belden, Russonello & Stewart for CFFC showed that:

  • 88% of women believe that health care should be a right;
  • 83% of women believe that insurance plans that cover prescription drugs should be required to cover birth control;
  • 84% of women would disapprove if a Catholic institution purchased their health plan and discontinued reproductive health coverage;
  • 85% of women believe that any hospital that receives government funds should allow doctors working there to provide any legal, medically sound service.

It is questionable that Catholic institutions need an exemption from providing contraceptive coverage in order to be true to Catholic teachings. There is room within the legitimate interpretation of Catholic teaching for church institutions to provide contraceptive coverage. Many Catholic HMOs throughout the country have found a way to include contraceptive coverage in their plans and contracts.  In Missouri, Mercy Health Plans covers contraception for its enrollees through a third-party contractor, Med Plans 2000, that handles billing for these services.  In Texas, Seton Health Plan works with Planned Parenthood to provide contraceptive coverage for enrollees in its Medicaid HMO.

These HMOs are applying the principle of “legitimate cooperation,” a doctrinally based position that allows Catholic institutions to cooperate with acts they consider immoral if it will prevent a greater harm and they are not immediately involved in the act.  Given the District’s high rate of maternal morbidity and mortality, preventing unintended pregnancy is an important health and moral good.

Since the rules of the Catholic church do not change from location to location, but are universal, it is hard to understand why Catholic institutions in Missouri and Texas have found a way to cover these services and the Archdiocese of Washington cannot find a structural way to protect its conscience while respecting the conscience and health of those it insures.  

–end statement–