It’s the much misunderstood contraceptive rule of the HHS mandate, which on January 20 was announced by Secretary Sebelius. I say much misunderstood because I hear pundits everywhere painting a wholly different picture than reality. I recently read that Angelica Huston publicly referred to the news
as a return to the “Dark Ages.”
So allow me to walk you through the issue we’re rallying about today. The mandate states that religious institutions must cover free contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization in their healthcare to employees, even if the religious institutions object to those services in their religious beliefs. After much uproar by Catholic bishops and Catholic laypeople, both liberal and conservative, on February 10 President Obama offered what he called a compromise
, mandating that the health insurance companies pay for these services for the religious institutions’ employees.
But it wasn’t a compromise. Obama didn’t reach that decision after working the issue through with bishops or religious institutions. While some eager Catholic groups quickly responded that this was an acceptable compromise, most haven’t, including the bishops and countless Catholic lay people rallying today.
Why? Because the federal government is still telling religious institutions to provide products and services they find objectionable, and this affront to religious liberty is unconstitutional. According to this compromise, religious institutions still have to pay for something against their conscience—the health insurance that covers free contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilization. Adding one more step between the dealer and the goods doesn’t change the ultimate transaction that’s going on here. This sleight-of-hand maneuver didn’t fool all of us. And for the many rallying around the nation today, it offends us.
Access to contraception abounds in this country and nobody is restricting it! HHS is trying to force objecting employers to foot the bill for contraceptives, but this doesn’t change who can access it. Many people these days have quoted the questionable figure reported by the Guttmacher Institute
that 98 percent of Catholic women in America use contraceptives, suggesting the church should change its views with the times. First of all, that doesn’t change the constitutional right of religious institutions to hold their principles, whether or not everyone agrees with them. But second, as Cathy Ruse has rightly pointed out
, the high number shows exactly that there’s no problem accessing contraception in this country. Women in this country don’t seem to have any trouble paying for their lifestyle choices, and nobody’s getting in their way.
And there are thousands of women who don’t appreciate being pitted in the middle of this religious-liberty debate. Twenty thousand and counting have signed the open letter to President Obama and Secretary Sebelius “Women Speak for Themselves
So why did the administration propose this rule? Why now? Some have suggested the president proposed this now to rally his base of voters on a popular issue, and considering the hype that’s resulted, they may be right.
Whatever the reason, let’s call it what it is. The president and HHS have done nothing to serve women’s health with this mandate, since women still will have the same access to contraception they currently enjoy. What they’ve done is bully religious institutions and believers around the country into being mocked on television and in newspapers for their beliefs on sexual ethics.
This won’t be the first time Christians were mocked and misunderstood. Look at Jesus. It’s really a Lenten moment in our nation. Bullied though we may be, we will not back down. We will not roll over and be trampled for our beliefs.
I am rallying today because I am proud to stand with the Catholic Church and her teachings on sex, marriage, and family life—teachings that don’t include room for contraception. But the church doesn’t impose these beliefs on anyone; she simply proposes them to people who seek them—people like myself, who should be free to seek them and believe them.
The one imposing beliefs here is the government, seeking to tell people what they can and cannot believe. Think about it: The government is mandating that religious institutions pay debilitating fines if they follow their beliefs and not pay for this objectionable coverage.
Not everyone has to agree with these beliefs in question to see the problem here—the government has no right to say what a faith can and cannot believe. Religious liberty and freedom of conscience are protected in the Constitution for a reason.
Dark Ages is right. The administration’s blatant affront to religious liberty, if not overturned, is a return to the very dark times that caused us to found our nation and write our own Constitution. Mary Rose Somarriba is managing editor of Altcatholicah. This piece originally appeared on the Newsweek/Washington Post religion blog, On Faith.