So yesterday an article by Dan Gilgoff appeared in the U.S. News World Report titled "Bishops Demand Universal Healthcare Without Abortion." Does anyone else see the irony in the U.S. bishops wanting to define universal health care as covering everything except for what they don't support? Under this theory, I suppose women are supposed to wait to see just exactly how the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops comes down on a variety of health care needs to understand what in fact will be considered universal. Since when does universal health care mean denying comprehensive reproductive health care supported by the majority of Americans?
Under a "God & Country" header, Mr. Gilgoff's article reports on the ongoing demands by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to eliminate the legally protected right to abortion from the American health care system, but doesn't bother to mention all the other positions of the U.S. Conference: the bishops agree with Pope Benedict that condoms can worsen the AIDS pandemic in Africa; that contraception should not be covered under most health plans and that it is not basic health care; and argue that emergency contraception will not reduce either the need for abortion or unintended pregnancy. Seems that, if the U.S. Conference had its way, the national health care system would make American women second-class citizens and deny them access to benefits they currently have.
The danger, of course, is not simply that the bishops are pushing to erode decades of legal access to contraception and abortion in America. Their hard-line opposition to women's rights also endangers millions of women around the globe -- where women also need universal health care access. The effort to criminalize access to safe abortion endangers most women in the developing world -- the very women that you would think the bishops would be concerned about. Each year, an estimated 19 million women -- primarily in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean -- resort to unsafe abortions. Globally, an estimated 68,000 women die each year as a consequence, and more than five million each year suffer temporary or permanent disability -- including the inability to have a future healthy pregnancy.
The root cause of unsafe abortion is unintended pregnancy, a result of the lack of affordable and accessible contraception for women. The correlation between higher contraceptive use and lower maternal mortality is well established.
We have an opportunity this year to fundamentally address serious health care issues for women and young people in America, and we stand ready to partner with President Obama and Congress to find solutions to our most pressing health care issues. The United States continues to have some of the highest rates of unintended and teen pregnancy among the world's most developed countries, and now epidemic rates of sexually transmitted infections among our teens. If we did our job right in expanding access to contraception, we'd see a lower abortion rate in America, just like in most other developed nations.
I'd welcome the bishops' commitment to focus on these "universal"' problems, rather than continue to fight to diminish a woman's right to make personal decisions that should be kept between her and her doctor.
We call upon Congress and the White House to continue to stand firmly on the side of women in health care reform. Women are needed to pass health care reform -- and we are not going backwards and we are not going away.