The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) rarely lets the facts get in the way of their story.
In press releases during the past months, in alerts by state Catholic Conferences, in statements that they have made in various media outlets and in their official comments to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the bishops have explained why they oppose the HHS decision supporting access to no-copay contraception. In making their case, they have relied on spurious claims about religious liberty, conscience and science to attempt to mislead policymakers and the public.
The bishops' arguments are italicized. The reality follows.
The mandate does not exempt Catholic charities, schools, universities, or hospitals.
- Schools, universities, hospitals and Catholic charities will have a workaround under which insurers, not employers, must offer employees coverage for contraception when their employers object. Employees at these institutions deserve to benefit from the same access to healthcare as everybody else, and they should not be subject to discrimination just because of where they happen to work. Religious institutions or entities, like houses of worship, including Catholic ones, received an exemption, and do not need to comply with the law.
This is not about contraception; it's about religious freedom.
- The reality is that this debate is about both. It is about whether individuals have the right to follow their own consciences in making their own healthcare decisions, and it is about whether individuals have the right to freedom of and freedom from religion. Individuals have consciences, have healthcare needs and have religious liberty, and deserve to have these rights and needs respected and protected.
- The question that matters in this debate is: Whose religious freedom are we talking about? It is the job of the government to protect both individual rights in healthcare decisions and individual religious liberty, and to protect them both from institutional intrusion. This debate absolutely is about protecting the freedom of an employee, no matter where she works, to exercise her personal beliefs without the bishops imposing theirs upon her.
The mandate forces these institutions and others to pay, against their conscience, for things they consider immoral.
- It is incredible to suggest that an institution has a conscience. Institutions do not have consciences, individuals do. This rule merely evens the playing field by allowing individuals to decide whether or not to utilize contraceptive coverage.
The mandate forces coverage of sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs and devices as well as contraception.
- These regulations require coverage of all FDA-approved methods of contraception, but they do not require coverage of abortion medications, such as RU-486. Emergency contraception (EC), such as Ella or Plan B, does not terminate existing pregnancies -- it prevents a pregnancy from occurring, hence, it is a contraceptive. The bishops themselves have acknowledged that the provision and use of emergency contraception is permissible. Directive 36 of The Ethical and Religious Directives for Health Care Services explicitly allows Catholic-sponsored hospitals to provide emergency contraception to sexual assault survivors. Likewise, in 2010, the Catholic Health Association included a series of journal articles in its flagship publication, Catholic Health World, which dispelled the myths about emergency contraception and reiterated that organization's commitment to providing EC in Catholic hospitals as part of compassionate care for survivors of sexual assault.
- Each of the individuals cited by the USCCB as evidence of "liberal" opposition to the mandate has traditionally opposed contraception and other reproductive healthcare services. There is no diversity of opinion or liberalism in repeating the talking points and toeing the line of the USCCB on this issue, as each of them has done. The majority of Catholics do not look to their bishops for how to vote--in fact, a mere 10 percent consider the bishops to be the sole arbiter in whether one should use contraception.
Many other religious and secular people and groups have spoken out strongly against the mandate.
- Many religious and secular organizations, including Catholic ones, have also spoken out in favor of the regulations. A letter signed by representatives from more than 20 denominations and religiously based organizations supporting the birth control regulations was issued in February.
The federal mandate is much stricter than existing state mandates.
- In those states with refusal provisions similar to those in the HHS regulations, institutions affiliated with the Catholic church, including hospitals and universities, have provided contraception to their employees without having to shutter their doors. Catholic Healthcare West, operating healthcare facilities in California and Arizona, has been providing contraceptive coverage to its employees since 1997 -- two years before the state of California passed legislation requiring employers to cover contraception and well before the California Supreme Court required institutions such as Catholic Charities to do so. Catholic Healthcare West's employees were able to access contraception, and the system certainly didn't shutter its doors. New York and California have refusal clauses identical to that contained in the HHS rule, and the sky has not fallen in either state for hospitals, schools or other institutions -- or for the church.
The "accommodation" from the Obama Administration does not change anything.
- While it is true that the administration did not choose to cave completely to the bishops' demands, the reality is that the compromise announced on Feb. 10, resulted in real changes -- a possibility of loss of some insurance coverage -- for millions of women and for the female dependents of all workers. By opening the door to a workaround for hospitals and schools, and by leaving the door closed to contraceptive coverage for women employed by churches, the final regulations announced by the Department of Health and Human Services allowed the bishops to place one foot over the threshold of denying contraceptive access to everyone.
The second-class-citizen religious institutions that object to coverage but aren't exempted will still have to pay for contraception and violate their beliefs.
- Just as institutions do not have a conscience, they are not citizens. Individuals have a conscience, and they enjoy citizenship. The only "second-class citizens" created by laws allowing employers to refuse coverage for medical services are women workers. It is absolutely discriminatory to allow the beliefs of employers to violate those of employees.
For-profit religious employers, secular employers, insurers and individuals are all stakeholders whose religious freedoms are threatened and who cannot escape from paying for things they don't believe in.
- We recognize the right of individual medical professionals to decline to provide services they consider immoral. However, it goes too far to grant such rights to an entire institution -- such as a hospital or managed-care provider -- or, for that matter, to allow blanket exclusions of coverage for certain healthcare services. The bishops would like to grant these exclusion rights to all institutions -- as a top advisor to the USCCB stated, they will not rest until the owner of a "Taco Bell" can refuse coverage to his or her employees. This is not in keeping with our Catholic understanding of conscience.
The bishops did not pick this fight in an election year -- others did.
- In truth, the bishops were quite strategic about the decision to "pick this fight." On the same day that the Department of Health and Human Services public comment period regarding the then-pending contraceptive coverage rule closed (Sept. 30, 2011), the USCCB announced the creation of their new "Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty." At the top of the list of "concerns" that provided the impetus for that committee's creation was the contraceptive coverage requirement, despite the fact that the final rules had not been established and that public comments were still being processed.
Contraception doesn't decrease unplanned pregnancy or abortion, and it is not cost-neutral.
- Numerous social science studies have demonstrated that contraception does indeed prevent unplanned pregnancy, and therefore abortions. To claim otherwise is patently false.
Ninety-eight percent of Catholic women have not used contraceptives.
- In 2008, the National Survey of Family Growth, a well-respected social science study from the Centers for Disease Control, found that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women had used a modern contraceptive method. This fact was corroborated by the Guttmacher Institute, a similarly well-respected research institution, in 2011.