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Elaine Vilorio Headshot

Catholic Institutions Say WHAT?

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Let's cut to the chase. When I saw the front page of the Huffington Post on Monday, May 21, 2012 while engaging in my daily perusal of the site, I was outraged. First of all, I'm a practicing Catholic, so I'm no stranger to the inner workings of the Catholic Church. However, I'm a Catholic who disagrees with the church's position on gay marriage and birth control, among other things; and so, naturally, I immediately thought it ridiculous that Roman Catholic dioceses, schools and organizations sued President Obama that very day over the federal mandate that requires most employers to include free birth control as part of their health insurance coverage. Impulsively, I tweeted, "So the men of the church oppose this birth control mandate? What do they know about a woman's needs? She should have an affordable choice." But before I allowed myself to become angrier, I read further into the issue.

As it turns out, the Obama administration has ruled that religiously-affiliated employers have to comply with the birth control mandate (even if a religion opposes birth control) or risk eliminating health care coverage for all employees. After learning about this, my position immediately shifted. Employers that are not, in fact, religiously-affiliated should be forced to practice the birth control mandate. However, religiously-affiliated universities, hospitals and general employers (whose religions do not agree with birth control) should not be forced to violate their church's position on contraception. I agree with the central argument of many religious leaders that oppose the birth control mandate: It does violate religious freedom. According to the First Amendment of the much-cited U.S. Constitution, "Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof." By forcing religiously-affiliated institutions (those whose religions oppose birth control) to follow the birth control mandate or face the penalty of health coverage decimation, the government is disallowing the exercise of religious beliefs; in this case, the religious belief is that birth control is not morally justified. The Obama administration is coercing these religiously-affiliated institutions into belittling their moral qualms concerning birth control.

I sympathize with the plight of women and birth control; after all, I am a young woman myself and want birth control to be accessible to me. According to Plannedparenthood.org, birth control pills cost about $15-$50 a month. Believe it or not, many women can't afford birth control pills on top of their economic obligations. Instead of the established mandate, the government should back what many non-religiously-affiliated health centers are doing: charging women for contraception according to their incomes. In that case, if a woman has an incredibly low income and wants contraception, she can receive it for free in a typical health center. Correspondingly, if a woman is able to afford contraception, she can purchase it at a price that agrees with her income. In this way, the government can make contraception available to all women.

If this would have been done, the religious scuffle that we see at present would have been avoided. I would love for the Roman Catholic Church to change their position on contraception, among other things; but, as history has shown, the Church is very resistant to change, so its beliefs on contraception are not going to change tomorrow, or the next day or the next day.

Simply put, the Obama administration needs to rethink its decision.