Catholics Bishops, Religious Freedom, and Contraceptive Health Coverage.

We are by now accustomed to the yawning gulf in opinion between Catholics and their bishops on marriage equality, and sexual ethics generally. Some bishops are treating the possibility of justice for sexual minorities as the greatest threat to the country and the Church, but a clear majority of ordinary Catholics disagree: most support legal recognition of all (civil) marriages on a basis free of discrimination, and believe that homoerotic relationships are not a matter of morality at all. Vatican doctrine insists that artificial contraception is verboten,  and opposes abortion in all cases. Most Catholics reject the prohibition on contraception out of hand, and believe that there are some circumstances where abortion should be condoned.

At the intersection of ethics and public policy, two recent polls show that Catholics disagree with their bishops’ opposition to  the new regulation that will require health plans to provide coverage for contraception. Sarah Posner discusses these in two posts at Religion Dispatches:

Hot off the presses is a Public Religion Research Institute poll, which finds that a plurality of Americans (49%) think that religiously affiliated colleges and hospitals should have to provide co-pay-free contraception coverage to their employees, while 46% say they should not have to.

Note: a majority of Catholics also believe these institutions should have to provide this coverage (52%). 

-Religion Dispatches, Feb 7th

In a second post on results of a quite separate poll by Public Policy Polling, she writes

 The PPP poll finds that “a 53 percent majority of Catholic voters, who were oversampled as part of this poll, favor the benefit, including fully 62 percent of Catholics who identify themselves as independents.”

The poll also found 57% of all voters (and a 53% majority of Catholics) “think that women employed by Catholic hospitals and universities should have the same rights to contraceptive coverage as other women.”

- Religion Dispatches

The bishops’ argument is that the regulation impinges on religious freedom of conscience. This completely ignores the fact that refusing coverage denies freedom of conscience to the plan’s clients, and that providing coverage does not force anybody to use contraception. Once again, as in their bizarre claims that provision of same sex civil marriage is an assault on religious freedom, the bishops’ argument is not really about their own freedom of choice, but one of denying that freedom to others who disagree with them – including that of Catholics, for whom the primacy of conscience is an important part of established Catholic teaching.


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4 comments for “Catholics Bishops, Religious Freedom, and Contraceptive Health Coverage.

  1. Advocatus Diaboli
    February 10, 2012 at 4:54 am

    No. I disagree. Forcing someone to provide a ‘service’ that is against the doctrine of a religion is a clear violation of separation of church and state. Separation of church and state actually has nothing to do with ‘protecting people from unwanted religion’. It is solely about protecting religion from being dictated to by the government. Forcing people to provide free contraception when it is against their religion  just because you think it is a good thing is the definition of government dictating to religion. Most of the claims of religious freedom violations recently have been largely false, but this one is not. Try passing a law that says that all muslim and jewish owned food services have to offer pork and non-kosher foods so that their cliental can ‘have a choice’. This is no different than San Francisco trying to make it a jail-able offense if you have your children circumcised for any reason (yes, Jews were forbidden to practice a major part of their religion under the bill). Luckily someone realized that it was a VIOLATION of church and state and struck it down.

    • Advocatus Diaboli
      February 10, 2012 at 4:56 am

      personally i do not believe that contraceptive should be ‘free’ anyways. In this age of massive debt, the government nor insurance agencies do not need to be paying for non-essentials (humans have lived for thousands of years without it, so clearly it is not essential to someone’s health).

    • Bart
      February 10, 2012 at 7:10 am

      I think you’ve missed the point of the argument. No one is being forced to provide a service that is against the doctrine of a religion. What is being argued here is whether or not employees in, for example, a Catholic school have a right to have health coverage that includes contraception. As has been pointed out elsewhere on the internet, employees in various “Catholic” (I am placing the term between inverted commas because such institutions may not be doing an overtly pastoral role) organisations have already a health and insurance package that covers such a service, albeit provided by private insurance. Why didn’t the Church authorities object then to such schemes, schemes that are in force in a MAJORITY of the states in the US? Why raise objections now? And whose freedom of conscience is being attacked? It is a known fact that a MAJORITY of Catholics are in favour of contraceptive use, and that a number of employees in “Catholic” institutions are NOT Catholic. Should these persons have the right to have access to such health insurance schemes? What about the freedom of THEIR conscience?

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