Bishops checkmated in contraception fight

by Kenneth Leonard

Remember when archaeologists discovered the secret 11th commandment about how the use of contraceptives was forbidden? Maybe you remember Jesus’ teachings to the assembled masses in Jerusalem regarding the ethical implications of condoms? If not, you may find the Catholic Church’s take on the new health care bill to be unusual.

As part of the health care bill passed in 2010, all American businesses are legally required to provide contraceptive services to their employees. Churches themselves would be exempt from this requirement, but religiously affiliated businesses, such as schools and hospitals, would not. This decision sparked outrage from religious organizations, but none more than the Catholic Church. A recent compromise reached by President Barack Obama and congress Republicans places the burden of paying for contraceptive services on the insurance companies themselves. But will that truly quench the flame of religious conflagration regarding contraception?

Not at all. Catholic authorities have been especially outspoken against contraception since 1968, when Pope Paul VI issued his statement on human life, which declared any process impeding the creation of human life was inherently sinful. Since then, the church has resisted the wave of change of increasing sexual health — despite the fact that 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women do, in fact, use various forms of birth control.

The recent outrage by local church leadership regarding this bill only highlights how laughably outdated, oppressive and draconian the church really is. Bishop Robert H. Brom, the Catholic head honcho of the San Diego Roman Catholic Diocese, said the new law “strikes at the fundamental right to religious liberty for citizens of any faith.”

Brom’s take on this issue was no different from many others leaders of the church: that this bill is yet another example of government oppression of good-natured religious people. Nor was it any less ridiculous. If the church is going to insist on remaining at odds with what the vast majority of citizens believe to be ethically responsible behavior, it must prepare itself to either adapt or become obsolete as an institution.

Interestingly, nobody in the Catholic establishment addressed the issue of free will. This central tenet of Catholicism revolves around the idea that human beings have the ability to accept or reject the teachings of the church regarding moral issues. Sin is a choice, according to Catholic dogma. The church’s position on certain moral issues, such as the health care bill’s requirement of contraception services, was unusual given this universally accepted teaching.

Why would the church rob its adherents of the opportunity to make the decision to reject contraceptive pills when offered as part of a health care package? Is it not reasonable to assume the church would welcome any outlet for exercising God-given free will in rejecting secularized health care practices?

Yet another problem that was never addressed: 14 percent of women use “the pill” for non-contraceptive, legitimate medical reasons. These uses include regulating menstrual cycles, reducing the length and severity of menstrual cramps and treating severe acne, along with a laundry list of other syndromes. The question of what happens to women with these medical issues only makes this notion all the more clear: No institution with an exclusively male executive staff should make decisions regarding the health of women.

Still, many people accept the notion that decisively human men in positions of power are somehow incorruptible because of their status at the helm of religious organizations. The truth is, there is no reasonable moral cause for outrage of Obama’s planned health care overhauls.

Friday’s compromise to the health care bill marks an important and beneficial change to the legislation. Women who want birth control can now bypass their employers and speak directly to their insurance companies, thus removing any rational possibility for objection. Or so it would appear to any rational person. There will always be religious groups protesting Obama’s stubborn insistence on providing contraception to people who want it. But Obama’s use of compromise shows the president’s ability to take the high road — while also guaranteeing the health of women who prioritize health more than religion.


— Kenneth Leonard is an English junior.