Last week when the Catholic Leadership came out against the mandate requiring all health insurance providers to offer coverage for prescribed birth control, tempers went from zero to hysterical in about a minute. Critics launched accusations of a “war on religion” and “intrusions on faith.” Philadelphia Archbishop Charles J. Chaput referred to the mandate as “dangerous” and damaging to the First Amendment.
If requiring secular insurance companies to cover legal and voluntary birth control for any women who choose to take it is now defined as a “war on religion” in this world, then Hallelujah! We’ve come a long way from the burnings and drownings and stonings and exiling, haven’t we? (Somebody should probably update the Coptic Christians and Muslims in Egypt on this new development in religious persecution.)
I respect religion. I am religious. But I do not buy this tack from the Catholic church.
Amid the media mayhem, it might have been lost on some people that among Catholics surveyed about this mandate, more than half approved of the idea. And in our current world, with its immense problems and injustices and inequalities—and considering the problems the Church itself faces—the leadership’s decision to go to the mat over allowing its employees an insurance plan that includes coverage of voluntary birth control (birth control, which 98 percent of Catholic women have used) is not only akin to fiddling while Rome burns, it’s also borderline hypocritical.
Do Catholics not oppose the death penalty? And yet we all pay taxes toward the penal system that institutes it. Does anyone see paying income tax as facilitating death by electric chair? An even more relevant question: Aren’t vasectomies covered by most insurers? Where is the weeping and gnashing of teeth over that?
That leads me to the most alarming point. What we are talking about here is not, as some would frame it, a war against religion. Not by a longshot. What we’re dealing with is a war on women—women’s choice, women’s health, women’s right to use our own brains and our own moral compasses to make our own decisions. As the Inky’s Karen Heller noted this morning: “Why are we always fighting about women’s bodies and never those of men?”
It is simply weak for a largely male-run organization to worry that the insured coverage of birth control ends up being tantamount to an endorsement for said birth control. If some women oppose the covered birth control, then they retain the freedom to not take it. To write editorials about why they’re not taking it. To pray for those who do take it. To sign honor codes or ask others to sign honor codes about not taking it.
But if some women—Catholic or not—use the coverage to help them afford birth control they want to take, then it is a decision between themselves, their pharmacists and their God. We don’t need men, even holy men, to protect us from our brains and our uteruses. We just need the freedom to make decisions with informed conscience … to borrow a phrase from the Church.