by Imani Gandy
June 18, 2012
Many of the religions practiced in the United States support a woman’s right to access reproductive health care, including abortion and contraception, as a matter of free exercise of conscience. The Catholic Church is the one of the few, if not the only religion that is fundamentally antithetical to any notion of women’s reproductive health, freedom, and justice. Unfortunately, the Catholic Church as represented by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, more than any other, directly influences American politics.
Take, for example, the controversy that has been raging for the past four months about President Obama’s contraception mandate. After Republicans lost their collective mind about access to contraception, whinging that President Obama was destroying the Constitution and the very fabric of society as we know it by daring to include women’s reproductive health under the rubric of the Affordability Care Act, President Obama offered an accommodation to religiously-affiliated employers that protested being required to offer birth control coverage as part of their insurance plans. The accommodation will allow such religiously-affiliated employers not to offer birth control; instead, insurance companies for those employers will have to reach out directly to employees and offer contraception coverage for free, without going through the employer. Writing about the accommodation, Amanda Marcotte noted that Obama had punked the GOP: “Obama just pulled a fast one on Republicans. He drew this out for two weeks, letting Republicans work themselves into a frenzy of anti-contraception rhetoric, all thinly disguised as concern for religious liberty, and then created a compromise that addressed their purported concerns but without actually reducing women’s access to contraception.”
In February – when Obama announced the accommodation – two entities on opposite sides of the birth control issue (Planned Parenthood and the Catholic Health Association) were satisfied. Sister Carol Keehan, the president and CEO of the Catholic Health Association (“CHA”), noted, “The Catholic Health Association is very pleased with the White House announcement that a resolution has been reached that protects the religious liberty and conscience rights of Catholic institutions.” She further noted that the accommodation adequately responded to the concerns of the CHA: “The framework developed has responded to the issues we identified that needed to be fixed. We are pleased and grateful that the religious liberty and conscience protection needs of so many ministries that serve our country were appreciated enough that an early resolution of this issue was accomplished. The unity of Catholic organizations in addressing this concern was a sign of its importance. This difference has at times been uncomfortable but it has helped our country sort through an issue that has been important throughout the history of our great democracy.”
Four months later, however, the CHA has reversed its position in what can only be described as a flip-flop of epic proportions. On Friday, the CHA sent a five-page letter to the Department of Health and Human Services stating that the accommodation no longer “adequately meet the religious liberty concerns.” Odd — that wasn’t CHA’s position four months ago.