The National Catholic Review

On Feb 10, Mary Ann Glendon, Robert P. George and others signed an open letter titled "Unacceptable" rejecting President Obama's proposed "accommodation" on the HHS contraception mandate. An updated version of the letter, signed by Cardinal Timothy Dolan, was released today and is available here as a pdf. A sample:

The Obama administration has offered what it has styled as an "accommodation" for religious institutions in the dispute over the HHS mandate for coverage (without cost sharing) of abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception. The administration will now require that all insurance plans cover (?cost free?) these same products and services. Once a religiously-affiliated (or believing individual) employer purchases insurance (as it must, by law), the insurance company will then contact the insured employees to advise them that the terms of the policy include coverage for these objectionable things.

This so-called "accommodation" changes nothing of moral substance and fails to remove the assault on religious liberty and the rights of conscience which gave rise to the controversy. It is certainly no compromise. The reason for the original bipartisan uproar was the administration’s insistence that religious employers, be they institutions or individuals, provide insurance that covered services they regard as gravely immoral and unjust. Under the new rule, the government still coerces religious institutions and individuals to purchase insurance policies that include the very same services.

It is no answer to respond that the religious employers are not "paying" for this aspect of the insurance coverage. For one thing, it is unrealistic to suggest that insurance companies will not pass the costs of these additional services on to the purchasers. More importantly, abortion- drugs, sterilizations, and contraceptives are a necessary feature of the policy purchased by the religious institution or believing individual. They will only be made available to those who are insured under such policy, by virtue of the terms of the policy.

It is morally obtuse for the administration to suggest (as it does) that this is a meaningful accommodation of religious liberty because the insurance company will be the one to inform the employee that she is entitled to the embryo-destroying "five day after pill" pursuant to the insurance contract purchased by the religious employer. It does not matter who explains the terms of the policy purchased by the religiously affiliated or observant employer. What matters is what services the policy covers.

Tim Reidy

Show Comments (45)

Comments (hide)

Bill Mazzella | 2/27/2012 - 10:01pm
How primitive do we have to get. Paul Heimann. 95% of Catholic women disagree with you on contraception. But you know better than they. Second, please cite chapter and verse that contraceptives cause death or are you referring to back alley stuff. Martin, contraception is not abortion. Give us a break.

But I do appreciate the fact that a few hear are defending the hierarchy's stand on contraception. Something they rarely do except when it is politically advantageous.

It italy they are now proposing to tax the commercial property of churches because they charge market rates for their rentals. This is driven by the poor economy. Nevertheless it is a good idea. The churches have had it too easy for two long. Maybe they will have more understanding for others when they have to fight the same battles. 
C Walter Mattingly | 2/29/2012 - 10:20am
Michael (#28), 
Thank you for your useful and concise description of issues involved here.
I would take issue with your point #4, in which you describe the issue being whether a religious organization can refuse "medically necessary contraceptive services" based on that institution's political beliefs. That would be true if the only contraceptive services covered by the institution's insurance would be for those women whose life or health would be seriously endangered by a pregnancy, but not for the vast majority of those receiving the benefit. It would be a completely different issue if it were truly limited to medical necessity.

Here's a practical example of where this general ruling would lead. If a Catholic soup kitchen employed only the Catholic homeless and needy to assist in its food service, and if it only served Catholic needy and preceded or ended the prayer with a Catholic prayer, then this group could claim an exemption under the rules the Obama administration outlined. If however they attempt to be catholic in their outreach, not so discriminating, they could make no case for an exemption.

I personally believe that the blanket proscription against contraception in all circumstances by the Church is faulty. No need to go into that here. I also note that on our interstate highway, at least 98% of the traffic routinely travels faster than the speed limit. I believe the limit is set too low and would like to see it changed. If that is not the case, I would like to see the limit largely ignored, which it is. This does not invalidate the right of officials to set rules which most may find unpopular or even wrong, although it might be an example of a specific bad policy.

Vince ( #27),
No Trojan horse (an ironically appropriate selection of diction, that)?
Of course there is. The first, and most immediate, is Obama has slipped into the ruling abortifacients, the ones that work at the earliest stages of conception. Whereas contraception is widely accepted, the same cannot be said about elective abortion, and this is his incremental agenda to advance one of his most treasured agendas: unlimited, government funded abortions for all of American citizens (and their unborn, who then can be terminated courtesy Barack Obama). 

The other "Trojan horse" agenda is perhaps even more troubling. Like you, President Obama has a socialistic orientation, which means consolidating all possible sources of revenue and power in the hands of the federal bureaucracy. This is by and large not popular with the American people as a whole. While unions are aboard as long as they continue to be paid off in various ways, religious organizations are another source of influence that often interferes with this attempt to consolidate power in the hands of the government and out of the hands of the individuals and other non-governmental locales that would dilute federal hegemony. An example of this problem is alternative of a decent education the superior performance of the inner city parochial schools provide to our failed, union- dominated public inner city schools. Unfortunately for the administration, the superior alternatives of parochial and other alternatives to  in the inner cities is becoming increasingly well-known, and Obama's attempt to deny these children the opportunity to access these schools, thereby diminishing the public governmental structure, is a failing rear-guard action. So too so many other areas-Amtrack, the Postal Service, etc. So he saw his opportunity to promote his power grab by selecting a wedge issue in the Church, contraception.

Fortunately, he uncharacteristically overreached and was lambasted by normally quiescent liberal allies. He backed off a bit to mollify them, and probably has a tactical success here. But strategically, his anti-Catholic agenda, here, on vouchers, on attacking Church revenues by limiting charitable deductions, etc, has been outed. Hopefully, enough Catholics remember come November.
Enough can hear the clinking of troops inside that Trojan horse. 
Juan Lino | 2/29/2012 - 9:59am
I just read my latest replies a moment ago and I see that I am on the verge of morphing into Johnny Storm. So, I am going to excuse myself from the discussion.  Peace.
Michael Barberi | 2/28/2012 - 10:33pm

The issue you raise, that Catholics have not been told the whole truth is misleading. Any responsible parent understands the Church's teaching on contraception. That does not mean the every Catholic fully understands the philosophical and theological underpinnings of this teaching, or the exact teaching itself. However, most Catholics do understand what the Church has said about contraception and they don't receive it.
The issue is that the Church has never had a convincing pastoral argument that most Catholics could understand. The many issue raised at the "dinner table" are not adequately addressed by the Church because they have not complelling intelligible answer. With due repect, get real. Look at the big picture and the suffering and moral dilemma that many Catholics are experiencing because of the "moral absolute" of contraception...that no end, intention, or circumstance could make it moral!!  This discards the comtemporary reality of our times and human experience.

A prominent theologian once told me "if only Catholics would read HV and understand it, they would know the truth". That is simply wishful thinking.

I repeat, all teachings not received have been reformed. There is a theology of reception.
Juan Lino | 2/28/2012 - 8:57pm
Vince (#36) - I was obviously unclear because I’m talking about people who have never learned about HV and who’s only moral theology was no higher that the characters in the film “Up in the Air” because they learned it from XXX sites, MTV, etc.  Speaking for myself, I’ve had the pleasure of becoming friends with someone on this site who fits your definition so I know how sincere they can be. But that’s not the population I am taking about (see below). 

Marie (#37) - why do you assume the population I am talking about doesn’t go to “church on the weekend”? I am talking about very religious people who have NOT been told the truth, especially because of the “silent pulpit” Mike talked about.  

Beth (#38) If the woman knows that she’s got a “dog” on her hands, how can she act surprised when he turns out to be a dog (or vice versa)?  It’s like one of the characters in Casablanca saying he is shocked that there’s gambling going on.  But going back to the film “Up in the Air”, George Clooney’s character at one point says - “sell it to me.”  So, sell it to me? But, so that we don’t divert this further from the topic at hand, let’s take the conversation to email.

Mike (#40) - yes we all view the world through our own filters, filters which are sometimes not tied to reality.  When I talked about "mentoring" I wasn't specifically referring to "post-cana conference mentoring about NFP" - which I didn't even mention. I'm talking about about speaking to someone about what marriage is really like!  Pre-Cana, like RCIA, really varies.  In my neighboring diocese the Pre-Cana is done on a long weekend and I ask myself, does someone really think that's going to be successful? Again, drawing from my own experience, after becoming Catholic there were lot's of things never explained to me and a "mentor", for lack of a better term, would have helped.  For example, the first time I went to a "wake" I had no idea what to do.  Or, the first time I went to a Catholic wedding I saw a big candle with two little candles next to it and I said, and I aksed the person next to me in the pew and they had no idea either. Of course, maybe other people had "Catholic friends" but I didn't because I had private instruction.
Michael Barberi | 2/28/2012 - 8:19pm
Many of us tend to rely on our personal experiences when making assertions about life. If we do this, we often miss the larger picture. Any parish can be different from another parish. One's experiences in one parish may or may not be an accurate picture of reality as well. Often our experiences are only narrow view of the total picture, and not representative of the Catholic population as a whole in the U.S. and world-wide.

This is why national and international surveys, conducted by responsible professionals using an unbiased and accurate statistical methodology, provides us with the larger picture on issues that divide us and our Church. The give us a good picture of real life on social, moral, religious and political issues.

It goes repeating that need to be careful and prudent when we make assertions involving women, especially young women, and the morality of their actions, versus men. With due respect to Juan, "if you lie down with dogs, you are going to get flees" is naively narrow when you are referring to girls or boys who are following their homonal instincts, some more responsibly than others. Let us not judge the young or the old on morality where so many factors deserve mercy and understanding: the complexities of our culture, our social location, family values, our religious convictions and our ignorance. We also must not minimize serious issues of fact by comparing the silent pulpit of contraception wiith the "I also have not heard homolies about sweatshops".  Young Catholic adults attend pre-cana conferences because they are obligated to do so. Most of these young couples undertand the Church's teachings on contraception, but do not receive it.  Only the very few would be open to post-cana conference mentoring about NFP. Contraception is the most divisive issue that has torn our Church apart, emphasis-added. No progress has been made in the 44 years of debate. Let's hope we make some progress in the next 44 years.

Beth Cioffoletti | 2/28/2012 - 7:28pm
Juan says, (#35)

"IF you can’t see when you are being played, that’s not the guys problem."

Why not?  Men can "play" women all they want?
Vince Killoran | 2/28/2012 - 6:41pm
OK, I’ll bite, what contraceptives would a man ask for other than a condom?

Yes, condoms and vascetomies. My comment was that you (and many) wrote as if the responsibility was entirely that of women.

I've heard/read your comment at #35 many times,i.e.,"We here spend a lot of time debating theological subtleties, and I enjoy that, but on the ground, they’re not even an issue.  I know it's hard to hear this but we need to know.  There’s a lot of work to be done!"

Just to be clear: fully informed Catholic men and women know HUMANAE VITAE etc. full well but they reject it, and for good reasons. This isn't a matter of needing to educate the laity more or more effectively.
Juan Lino | 2/28/2012 - 5:43pm
I agree that the “silent pulpit” has to end and not only on this subject!  (Although this is as good a place as any to start and Pope Benedict is certainly not afraid to speak out.)  For example, I have never heard a homily about “sweatshops” something that still exists.  Or, the enslavement of “maids” with the often concurrent abuse, another big problem! 
Also, I’ve often thought that there should be a kind of mentoring program, where husbands and wives nurture and support the newly married couples – that is, a post-Cana program.  The same is true of the newly baptized – nothing really exists for them in the typical parish.  Many things my friend, many things.
Beth Cioffoletti | 2/28/2012 - 5:39pm
Juan, (#23) - no, I don't think that men should sit down and shut up.
But look at your wording:

"Friends my age just presume women will put out (and they do) and I don’t think they think they see them as “loose” although if the girl tries to scam them into paying for child support I always advise them to get a paternity test!"

Why is a woman who chooses to relate sexually to a man, considered to be "putting out"?  Where is the man's respect for this woman?  Already you are putting her into a category of someone for whom sex is just another diversion (which it may well be).  But where is the man's responsibility in this situation?  Just to take advantage of the "free goods"?

And what is this about a girl trying to "scam" a man into paying for child support?  Wouldn't a man who was involved sexually with a girl want to be a part of the "consequences" of that action?
Michael Barberi | 2/28/2012 - 4:52pm

What is hypocritical is the "silent pulpit". Ask many priest in confidence and they will tell you they fear two things about discussing in homolies, or posting notices in Church vestibules, or issuing special Church bulletins, that (1) they have a weak philosophical, theological and pastoral argument about the immorality of contraception that is not understandable or reasonable to most Catholics adults and responsible parents (emphasis-added), and (2) they fear disenfranchizing many young adults and families from attending weekly Mass if a strong message is communicated regarding confession of contraception and reception of the Eurcharist. The also fear the loss of their finanical contributions.

The Church does issue occasional bulletins about the doctrine of contraception in general terms and some offer NFP programs. The bottom line is that 3% of female married Catholics practice NFP, both in the U.S. and worldwide.

Opinon polls demonstating non-reception of the doctrine of contracetion, does not make a teaching right or wrong. However, neither does a papal encyclical that went against the 75% majority conclusion of Paul VI' Birth Control Commission. This commmission consisted of 72 members inclusive of a world-wide cross section of bishops and cardinals, theologians and laity.

Every Chuch teaching not received has been reformed. There is a theology of reception especially about moral norms that are pronounced as moral absolutes in sexual ethics.


The Guttmacher finding of contraceptive use was restricted to women at risk for unintended pregnancy, whom they defined as those who had sex in the last 3 months prior to the survey and were not pregnant., postpartum or trying to get pregnant.

The findings of the Guttmacher Report are consistent with many Catholic Surveys on the opinions of Catholics on sexual ethical issues. Dean Hoge, now deceased, of the Catholic University of America has been studying and issuing results of surveys for 20-30 years. His recent survey in 2007, found that only 10% of Catholics between the ages of 18-39 believe that using a condom or taking the pill is morally wrong. Also, of all Catholics that attend weekly Mass, 64% believe that you can be a good and Catholic and not follow the Chruch's teaching on contraception.

Juan Lino | 2/28/2012 - 3:34pm
Mike (#28) – I agree with much of what you say in #28 especially this part: “the Catholic Church is making is ''perfectly clear to all'' that contraception is immoral and the Church will not tolerate any compromise. Yet, in contradiction, one rarely hears any communication from the pulpit or bishops that Catholics who do not confess contraception as a sin cannot received the Holy Eucharist, without committing a sacrilege.”  I agree that this must change and that we should hear more homilies about this; perhaps after this we might just hear them!  As we've discussed, this issue must be tackled head on.
However, I do not agree that “hypocrites” are excluded from participating in the first and/or second Spiritual Works of Mercy – i.e, (1) Admonish sinners and (2) Instruct the uninformed, respectively.  (See this link:
So, for example, if I was an adulterer and I found out that my child was an adulterer that doesn’t prevent me from telling my child that what they are doing is wrong, etc., etc.  Yes, I will be called a “hypocrite” but that doesn’t mean that the “objective” wrongness of “adultery” stops being objectively wrong because I can’t live up to it. 
Michael Barberi | 2/28/2012 - 2:35pm
I thoroughly researched contraception for the past 4 years inclusive of most major surveys. Let's get the facts straight as well as framing the issue in its totality.

1. The Guttmacher Institute relied on the 2006-2008 National Survey of Family Growth, designed and administered by the National Center for Health Statistics. Data were collected froim 7,356 women aged 15-44. Anyone who is familiar with statistical studies understand that this sample size is statistical significant.

2. The most compelling and important finding is: only 3% of "U.S. married Catholic women" who do not want to become pregnant rely on Natural Family Planning (periodic continence);72% use higly effective methods including 40% who rely on sterilization.

3. The U.S. statistic (3% of married Catholc women) who rely on NFP to avoid pregnancy is consistent with a UN Report that found 3% of female women world-wide use NFP (periodic continence) to avoid becoming pregnant; 97% use some form of birth regulation condemned by the Vatican as intrinsically evil. This 3% world-wide statistic is the same for total developed and total under-developed countries.

4. The issue at hand is whether a Catholic Institution who employs both Catholic and non-Catholic employess can deny medically necessary contraceptive coverage to their employees based on their religious faith and morals.  If so, then other religious institutions can deny medically necessary coverage to their religious and non-religious employees based on their faith and morals. The issue then becomes the definition of a religious institution and how an religious exemption should be structured without discrimination.

5. The Obama mandate is highly problematic from a number of different perspectives: religious liberty, insurance law, non-discrimination statues, self-insured plans, if mandating "free" coverage is legal (can a goverment define the profit margins of insurance companies and the expenses which they can or cannot charge their clients), the premise of mandating "free coverage" based on the fact that contraceptive coverage reduces total healthcare costs (and its applicability to other products and services that reduce total healthcare cost, but are not free)....the list goes on.

6. Let's not forget that millions of dollars are being spent communicating the gravity of contraception to government agencies and nationally to every American. Thus, the Catholic Church is making is "perfectly clear to all" that contraception is immoral and the Church will not tolerate any compromise. Yet, in contradiction, one rarely hears any communication from the pulpit or bishops that Catholics who do not confess contraception as a sin cannot received the Holy Eurcharist, without committing a sacriledge. The Church wants to deny contraceptive coverage to Catholics and non-Catholics who work for Catholic Institutions, but they do not deny the Eucharist to Catholics who stand in line to receive the Eucharist each week....when they know that most of them practice contraception. What is "perfectly clear to all" in this case is that the Church turns a blind eye and a deaf ear to the so-called moral gravity of the contraceptive practices of Catholics. It is not being disrespectful to say that if the Church wants to take the speck out of the government's eye, they should first take the blank out of their eye. There is someting to be said about the word and the deed.
Vince Killoran | 2/28/2012 - 1:44pm
Juan writes "I have no idea where you live but if you are talking about condoms, where I live any woman can go to PP center and get them free!"  I must remember to send PP a check today.

But why would you assume that only women would seek contraception?  Also, condoms don't begin to cover the range of reproductive services needed. This is no Obama Adms. "Trojan horse" (funny mention of Trojan!)-contraceptive services are  a well-established practice. 
Gabriel Marcella | 2/28/2012 - 1:34pm
I hear you, but why did the Washington Post give the media 2 Pinocchios for saying that 98% of Catholic women have used BC?
John Hayes | 2/28/2012 - 1:15pm
Marie  Rehbein,
Here is the script the interviewer used when asking about birth control methods used:
EA-0. Card 30 lists methods that some people use to prevent pregnancy or to prevent sexually transmitted disease. As I read a method from the list, please tell me if you have ever used it for any reason. Just give me a “yes” or “no” answer. Please answer yes even if you have only used the method once.
EA-1. Have you ever used birth control pills?
? If R volunteers she never used a method, probe to make sure R has read the entire card and is sure of her answer.  (see page 3)
Juan Lino | 2/28/2012 - 1:10pm
Vince (#9) – As I said, the question was passed along to me and I just passed it along. Whether it is clever or not, I guess that’s in the eye of the beholder. “The unfortunate fact is that many Americans don't have health insurance coverage or have grossly inadequate insurance coverage.” Agreed. “I guess you would have them scrounging around to pay for all of their contraception out-of-pocket. But why?” I have no idea where you live but if you are talking about condoms, where I live any woman can go to PP center and get them free! Presuming that pregnancy is a disease (which some seem to think) why is that disease more “worthy” of free medicine than any other? Nevertheless, I think the president is very shrewd and that the “contraception brouhaha” is just a Trojan horse and a diversionary tactic that’s a trial run for his real agenda.

Beth (# 17 and #19) – It is definitely true that I will never carry a baby but it seems to me that you are implying that because of that I should just shut-up and sit down. Is that right? You wrote: “The comment (always from a man) that I find most offensive is that a woman wants to take birth control pills so that she can have sex without the consequences. There is the insinuation that she is somehow "loose" (a whore).” Friends my age just presume women will put out (and they do) and I don’t think they think they see them as “loose” although if the girl tries to scam them into paying for child support I always advise them to get a paternity test! But, since you’ve stated that you used/use birth control, I presume you use it to avoid becoming pregnant since you used the magic eraser - “in good conscience”? So, why can’t someone see that as taking birth control to have sex without the consequences and not have to imply that women are “loose”? And yes, I think that Marie’s comment in #21 is right.

Rick (#22) – what are you trying to say when you write: “as opposed to preserving their own conscience”?
Rick Fueyo | 2/28/2012 - 12:17pm
The "Open Letter" lacks much logic in terms of trying to describe the mandate as accomodated as a legitimate infringment on liberty.  The self-insurance issue seems like a more valid grievance.  But the Bishops and those aligned with them seem intent on getting rid of the contraception mandate altogether, as opposed to preserving their own conscience. 

That seems to be a hard argument to make or support
Marie Rehbein | 2/28/2012 - 11:00am
Re: the number of women polled who used birth control

I think that unless we know what exactly they were asked, we cannot know what this statistic means.  It is possible they were asked whether they presently used birth control, or they could have been asked if they had ever used birth control.  Furthermore, depending on the age of the women who happened to be home and had phone numbers that survey takers could reach, how many of those women were out of their childbearing years?  How many were out of their childbearing years before the legalization of birth control?

I would be willing to bet that a huge percentage (99%) of married women in their childbearing years use birth control unless they are trying to get pregnant.  I would bet that most women are not willing to get pregnant by chance, but instead want to be able to prepare their households and their workplaces before they do. 

I think the men who want to determine life choices for women they do not even know would do well to put themselves in these women's shoes.  Getting pregnant can be like getting cancer in terms of the way it affects one's life.  The only difference is that babies are nice and tumors aren't. 

I think men might want women to take birth control so that they (the men) can have sex without consequences.  They never get to a point where they can see a woman's perspective.
Beth Cioffoletti | 2/28/2012 - 8:47am
I don't know about men being "more sure of themselves" than women, or even more argumentative, come to think of it.

But this is a question that affects women intimately, and with which virtually every woman of child-bearing age must face personally.  Much more so than men.  It is the woman who physically carries the child, whose life must be profoundly adjusted to accomodate for its nourishment and care. 

The comment (always from a man) that I find most offensive is that a woman wants to to take birth control pills so that she can have sex without the consequences.  There is the insinuation that she is somehow "loose" (a whore).

I think that Amy said it before, and much better than I can, that women know it is fruitless to try to explain the need for birth control to a man.  Where are the Catholic women's voices, demanding that birth control be taken away from them?
Beth Cioffoletti | 2/28/2012 - 6:37am
With the exception of on comment (#2) every other comment in this thread is written by a man.  What's up with this? I've seen this imbalance on other sites discussing the birth control HHS issue.  Why are men more passionate to respond than women?

I am a Catholic woman and I consider myself theologically conservative.  I have, in good conscience, used birth control.  The 99% number sounds right to me.
Vince Killoran | 2/27/2012 - 11:59pm
Could you provide the page number on which you found that conclusion Martin?  I can't find it.  I did find the NYT article when the news broke and it doesn't support your  conclusions (

Thanks in advance for giving me a break and the advice about the sand.

p.s. The NYT article reports that more than 25,000  U.S. women become preganant each year after being sexually assaulted.

Vince Killoran | 2/27/2012 - 10:37pm
I appreciate Gabriel providing the link because I went to the site and discovered that his synopsis of the article was "faulty"-that's the most charitable word I can use to describe a completely inaccurate report on what the WP published.

I encourage others to read the WP piece.  Here's what they conclude:  “Data shows that 98 percent of sexually experienced women of child-bearing age and who identify themselves as Catholic have used a method of contraception other than natural family planning at some point in their lives.” The confusion was over the difference between "sexually active" and "sexually experienced." and that they only polled women ages 15-44. This correction seems fairly minor given that the whole point is that women of child bearing years have broken with official chhurch teaching at least once. The WP did acknowledge that older women-i.e., those older than 44-were polled in earlier decades and researchers found that a high percentage also used artificial birth control.

Still, the WP article isn't clear that the 11% of women not using birth control are currently trying to get pregnant!

BTW, the WP also found that only a couple of percent of Catholic women actually use natural family planning and that the overall national birth control figures differed little according to religious denomination or beliefs.

No comfort in any of this for the conservatives.
Paul Heimann | 2/27/2012 - 9:41pm
Let's not forget that contraceptives are not healthcare.  Far from promoting health, they actually cause illness and death.

It's amazing that so many people accept the idea that women must be drugged for most of their lives.  But then, healthy women, with fertility intact, just can't be used as easily as women who have their fertility poisoned.  Contraception is all about rejecting women as persons.  It doesn't get much more anti-woman than that. 
Gabriel Marcella | 2/27/2012 - 9:37pm
Juan and Vince:

The media and Pelosi are not telling the full story. For a clearer picture see Glenn Kessler, "The Claim that 98 percent of Catholic women use contraception: media foul," Washington Post , February 17, 2012 (

The figure may be as low as 68%, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Moreover, only 7356 women between the ages of 15 to 44 were polled. It also included women who had used artificial contraception only once. Kessler awards 2 Pinocchios to the media for their effort. Does a poll of 7356 women adequately cover the behavior of tens of millions of Catholic women? Doubtful.

The larger point here is that much of the debate has been based on faulty statistics, aside from faulty logic. The White House, Pelosi, assorted critics of the bishops, and even many Catholics automatically grabbed the 98% without doing a critical analysis. Finally, should we base our judgment on whether artificial contraception is morally acceptable on percentages and polls? If we do are we embarking on a slippery slope of some sort?

Juan Lino | 2/27/2012 - 7:37pm
A friend emailed an interesting question to me and I'd like to share it with the America community:

If the Catholic Church and Catholic-run entities like hospitals, schools, charities and for that matter, private businesses, have been “discriminating against women” and “denying essential care” all these years, how is it that “99%” (the administration’s figure) of women have been able to use contraception - without the mandate being in effect?
ed gleason | 2/27/2012 - 3:39pm
The USCCB positions would give everyone a religious exemption citing any old excuse.. Rush Limbaugh sides with the bishops... he is married four times with no children,,
Chris Sullivan | 2/27/2012 - 2:50pm
This statement lost me right at the start when it asserted that the mandate requires coverage of

abortion-inducing drugs

The drugs concerned don't actually seem to be abortion inducing.  Abortion inducing drugs like RU486 are not covered under the mandate.  What is covered are emergency contraceptives.  Some, like Plan B, are almost certainly not abortion inducing and there is insufficient scientific evidence that others like Ella induce abortions.

The problem with exagerated claims is that they undermine one's position when their lack of solid scientific basis becomes widely known.

God Bless
Marie Rehbein | 2/27/2012 - 2:45pm
Where will it end?  Pretty soon Jewish rabbis and Muslim imams wil be demanding that no one be allowed to eat pork.  Hindus object to the killing of cows, so no more beef. 

The military will only be able to provide Kosher vegetarian meals because an accomodation to people with different dietary beliefs is no accomodation, either.  This will make the question of the religious butcher having to offer insurance that provides birth control moot, I would say.

I wonder what Taco Bell franchisees will do?  I bet the Taco Bell parent organization wouldn't be too comfortable being associated with religion.  They aren't Dominos Pizza, after all.

Michael Barberi | 2/29/2012 - 4:42pm

Thank you for your wise comments. Blogging is not a very good medium for communications and it can never take the place of direct face-to-face discussion. My reference to "medically necessary" is a definition that most, if not all insurance companies use in health benefit plans. If the product or service is ordered by a physician, and is given a diagnosis and justification, it is preliminarily judged to be "medically necessary". One's life does not have to be endangered. However, a product or service can be denied by an insurance company because of insufficient information or a suspicion that the service or product is experimental or not justified by the informaion provided. In this case, it can be appealed by the physician with the employee's permission. In these cases, most appeals are approved after more information is provided followed by a discussion between the employee's physician and the insurance company's consulting physican. Sometimes, the product or service, after appeal, is denied. Then, there are other avenues to persue.

My point: if contraceptive services are deemed medically necessary by the employee's physican, they are usually covered by the health benefits plan administered by an insurance company.

My other point: I have not issue with a government granting a religious exemption to religious institutions as long as the exemption is applied in a non-discriminatory manner. As mentioned, the issue is this case would be the "definition of a religious institution" and the "premise for such exemption" which would not violate existing laws or be unconstitutional. As also mentioned, this overall issue is complex and multi-dimensional. It will likely be challanged in a court of law or new legislation would be enacted to permit the Obama type of exemption. However, I continue to believe that Obama's exemption is problematic. The government can impose rules, however, those rules may not be right, they may be unconstiutional, they may violate other laws, they may be discriminatory, etc.


Your characterization of theologians who disagreed with HV as "creating their own magisterium" is falsely misleading. In this regard I call your attention to the fact that many "Conferences of Bishops" throughout the world, most priests, theologians and laity, disagreed with HV.

The USCCB and the Bishops of Holland, Belgium and Germany (among others) issued a letter to all Catholics stating that this HV was not infallible and that Catholics can rely of their informed conscious in making moral decisions regarding birth control in marriage. There is a definition of "an informed conscious" that the Church rarely communicates. They never discuss the role of conscious in moral decisions (specifically sexual ethical dilemmas) for fear that it will lead to individualism and relativism, or be mis-understood. I don't disagree that some Catholics may not follow the rules as precisely as they are formulated, but this does not make their judgments immoral if the Church does not adequately communicate the rules and the role of conscious. 

Further, theologians did not pass their disagreements and arguments along with a "wink" as you suggest. Far from it. If you followed the theological debate for the past 44 years, you would never have made such a fallacious remark. The larger debate on sexual ethics is alive and well (and respectful) and it has been envolving so that the whole Church (laity, theologians and the hierarchy) can better understand what is truth. 

Truths of faith are based on revelation; moral truth is based on reason and experience. The papal magisterium does not merely possess the truth, it must seek it out. Too often the issue is discussed from two perspectives: the magisterium versus theologians, and, the magisterium versus the faithful. However, the moral truth if found with the special assistance of the Holy Spirit along with the hierarchy magisterium, the Christian faithful and theologians. Unfortunately, while Guadiam et specs, and JP II, acknowledged that the "Church" is the laity, theologians and the hierarchy, there deeds do not show it. The current magisterium does not accept this pluaralism of Church in seeking the moral truth. The hierarchy firmly adheres to one philosophical and theological school of thought, without a true communion with all bishops, but to Vatical hierarchy and papal encyclicals. They do not recognize the limits of this moral school of authority. The hierarchy has never admitted to any change in doctrine or continuous teaching. When confronted with the facts that the Church has changed it teachings that were taught for centuries they nuance history and offer weak arguments to the changes of their teachings on: Slavery, Usury, Religious Freedom, the Torture of Heritics and the Ends of Marriage. If contraception and other sexual ethical teachings are not received by the faithful, most theologians and many clergy, what will how likely occur, an ephiphany of the faithful or an ephiphany of the magisterium, and the reform of many sexual ethical doctrines?
Vince Killoran | 2/29/2012 - 2:06pm
"[H]is most treasured agenda. . . abortion."  Jeez, give me a break!

Before the Hyde Amendment there was government funding for abortion so there's history behind this. (Many states picked up on coverage after the amendment went into effect.) The majority of employer-private health plans do cover abortion.

In what way is what the administration doing a "Trojan Horse"?  You know about it, I know about it, and so does the press et al.  Please stop trying to present the Obama Adminstration as engaged in covert health insurance schemes.

BTW, I'm glad to note that you see contraception as an accepted part of standard health insurance. 
Amy Ho-Ohn | 2/29/2012 - 5:39am
beth asked (#17) "With the exception of one comment (#2) every other comment in this thread is written by a man.  What's up with this?"

This is because this issue (the ACA birth control mandate, not the contagion of fleas among dogs who lie down with each other) overwhelmingly affects working-class women. Upper middle-class women who comment on Catholic blogs don't really care. The top 30% already have birth control in their health insurance; the bottom 10% have it through Medicaid; the women who stand to gain are mostly young and insecurely employed and many are single mothers. In short, one of the least powerful and most easily demonized segments of the electorate.

This is why the religious right picked this fight, i.e., why they think they can win it. Because as soon as the male venom, scorn and vituperation rise to an obnoxious level, professional class women bug out. "Ugh, why bother," they all think, "It won't help me and it won't affect my daughters." (The ACA allows their children to remain on their insurance until they're twenty-six.) And professional class men, who are usually willing to go to bat for their daughters' interests, are as indifferent as their wives. It's a wonderful opportunity for professional class Catholics of both sexes to stand in solidarity with the Church without suffering any adverse consequences at all.

Can't you hear the undercurrent of threat and bribe? "If the mandate is removed, everybody can still buy their own birth control just like now" they say. And, "The only reason those women want this is so they can have even more consequence-free sex," and "How stupid that those women think it's about birth control; we educated people know it's about 'religious liberty'" and "Contraceptives are dangerous carcinogens; those women need us educated people to tell them how to do it or they'll get hurt."

"Don't worry," the bishops whisper, "Nobody is going to preach about contraception in your cozy little upper-middle-class suburban parish; the homilies will be all about our 'religious liberty.' Birth control is such an unladylike subject."

Only the most obdurate ("radical") feminist would stick herself out for those women against her own social class.
Juan Lino | 2/28/2012 - 11:49pm
Michael - we're clearly never going agree on this but I admire how you keep beating your pet drum - contraception! Many (not all) of the Catholics I hang with were taught one Golden rule - "don't mess up your life by getting pregant or getting a girl pregnant." I'm sure that's what St. Paul had in mind when he said that we should put on the mind of Christ.

Perhaps there are some responsible parents that understood or were aware of the Church's teaching on the prohibition against using artificial contraception (wasn't there a big tempest about that after HV when some theologians decided to create their own Magisterium?), but from what I've experienced they passed it along using a "wink" transmission.  Now some might consder that a "whole truth" transmission, but I certainly don't. Kind of like the "fatherly advice" a priest once gave me in confession: "well, if you love the person, and you're monogamous, it's OK." 

Marie Rehbein | 2/28/2012 - 6:51pm
The circles in which Juan runs are different from the population that shows up in church on the weekend.  There is a disconnect between this promiscuous population and the population that wants their birth control to be covered by their insurance premiums.  I'm willing to bet the population to which Juan refers as being typical does not even have insurance, or they have Medicaid, in which case, the reason they don't contracept is because they don't want to.  In certain cultures reproduction is a source of pride.
Juan Lino | 2/28/2012 - 6:12pm
Beth – in my neighborhood, “hooking up” (now an old-school term) is no biggie.  Sure, lots of people may not like that, but that’s the way it is.  And everyone knows who the dogs are and, to quote an old expression, “if you lie down with dogs you’re going to get fleas.” 

Responsibility is a two-way street, isn’t it?  And yes, some girls (single or married) scam guys and there’s no sense in letting yourself be played (another old-school expression.)  And that goes for women too!  IF you can’t see when you are being played, that’s not the guys problem.

Yeah, morality on the street is not even close to what the Church is teaching.  In fact, you should hear what they say about “Catholic girls”!

We here spend a lot of time debating theological subtleties, and I enjoy that, but on the ground, they’re not even an issue.  I know it's hard to hear this but we need to know.  There’s a lot of work to be done!  And I am learning about how big the problem is because I've been helping a friend who works with young people - wow, what an education!
Juan Lino | 2/28/2012 - 3:12pm
Vince (#27) – I had no doubt that you would get the play on words – bravo!
OK, I’ll bite, what contraceptives would a man ask for other than a condom?  I know that men can get a vasectomy (although I am not sure one would classify that as a contraceptive) but I pretty sure PP doesn’t do those. 
Hi Michael (#28) – I was wondering when you’d join in.
Marie Rehbein | 2/28/2012 - 2:37pm

The Washington Post gave them 2 Pinocchios because the women surveyed were only Catholic women between 15 and 44 who had had sex at least once in their lives, not all Catholic women.

In other words, the number of Catholic women who are between 15 and 44 who have never had sex might actually be more women than those who have (but we don't know that at all). If this were the case, the figure for birth control use would drop precipitously.


Thank you for the info. I'm still not sure if we are looking at the same questionnaire that came up with 7000+ women who were polled to derive the 68% use rate. We don't know if those women were within the 15 to 44 age range and sexually experienced or if they were just a random set of women who identified themselves as Catholic at some point in the survey. Again, any elderly women such a questionnaire would not be representative because during some of their reproductive years birth control was illegal.
John Hayes | 2/28/2012 - 1:29pm
Rick Fueyo, 

Seld-insured plans that existed on March  23, 2010 were grandfathered and do not have to provide coverage of ontraception. 

If no other solution is found, the administration could simply move that date to sometime in 2012 and new plans created since the March 23, 2010 date by non- profit organizations with religious objections to providing contraception coverage would also be exempted.

There is probably some more ingenious scheme than that, but I point it out only to indicate that it is a solvable program.  
David Cruz-Uribe | 2/28/2012 - 10:26am

"Does a poll of 7356 women adequately cover the behavior of tens of millions of Catholic women? Doubtful."

Actually, statistically, this is a very reliable survey.  Assuming that there is no sample bias (and the Guttmacher Institute is well-respected for its studies, and if I recall correctly, the analysis was done on government collected data), the margin of error in this study at the 95% confidence level is about 1%.   In other words, if the poll showed 68% of women sampled used contraception, then we are 95% confident that the actual percentage of women in the population who use contraception is between 67% and 69%. 
Martin Gallagher | 2/27/2012 - 10:47pm
Bill, did you read my link?  Do you disagree with their conclusions?  Per the manufacturer, Ella prevents the embryo from implanting in the uterus.  This kills the embryo.  I'll give you a break, but please get your head of the sand.
Martin Gallagher | 2/27/2012 - 9:39pm
The letter makes sense to me.  I imagine most of those who disagree wtih the Church here would be just as upset as Cardinal Dolan is here if a future conservative administration would require them to directly fund something that was morally objectionable to them.  Could a future administration require busineses to provide coverage for reparative therapy for SSA?  I think most people here (including me) would object to that.  Do you really want to let this prescedent stand?  The only constitutional solutions are to either eliminate the mandate, or provide for religious exemptions.

Second, please do not misrepresent the abortifacient effects of IUDs and medications such as Ella.  Because they prevent implantation of the embryo, they are causing the destruction of a human being.  Per the manufacturer's Committee for Medicinal Products application, Ella has "several different mechanisms of action"

Vince Killoran | 2/27/2012 - 9:10pm
That's not that clever of a question Juan.

In fact, some Catholic institutions' health insurance plans HAVE covered contraception etc. But the 99% figure is of all Catholic adult women-not those employed by Catholic institutions.  The unfortunate fact is that many Americans don't have health insurance coverage or have grossly indequate insurance coverage. I guess you would have them scrounging around to pay for all of their contraception out-of-pocket. But why?

ed gleason | 2/27/2012 - 4:30pm
Talking about " you have to explode a bomb in their faces to get their attention'
The Philadelphia Catholics just found out what you mean. Different subject but a real bomb . 
Vince Killoran | 2/27/2012 - 1:50pm
"a religiously-affiliated (or believing individual) employer"  There it is: a new demand that all Catholic employers be able to opt-out (i.e., the USCCB's "Taco Bell" employer's exemption). A unwise and unworkable demand.

As for the rest, the statement's authors do not represent the HHS compromise correctly.  But it's not really about coming to a workable or ethical fit in our complex and pluralistic society where contraception etc. are understood as a part of routine health care, is it?  This is pure politics by conservative Catholics.