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Vatican rules over health care?

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“The proposals by the Obama Administration would fast-forward the United States all the way into the 20th century in terms of contraceptive and health coverage.”

Who will President Obama side with? Women or Catholic bishops? The bishops are trying to boss Obama around, and it’s time he showed them that the United States already has a secular “boss” — a Constitution that precludes theocratic interference with our government and its citizens.

The Obama Administration did the right thing when it announced interim rules to require all private health insurance plans to cover contraception at no added cost for women. Churches — but not most  religious universities, hospitals and clinics — are exempted under the August proposal announced by Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of Health and Human Services.

The male Roman Catholic celibates aren’t having it, and Obama may be caving. It is dismaying that Obama has already met twice with head celibate, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

In most instances, women workers are paying substantial insurance premiums, yet not getting their money’s worth. When it comes to prescription contraception they essentially are being double-billed, shelling out hundreds of dollars a year in co-pays or more. Insured women denied coverage of contraception may assume as much as $95 a month for needed birth control pill prescriptions.

On Sept. 30, as the Administration’s official comment period for insurance expansion was ending, the bishops announced a new Ad Hoc Committee for Religious Liberty to “defend and promote the God-given gift of religious liberty.” The bishops contend they are victimized: “Christians and people of faith . . . [are] increasingly and in unprecedented ways under assault in America.”

How’s that? The Catholic Conference has been working diligently, ceaselessly to make sure women in the United States receive no better than Stone Age health care, if that. The Catholic Church has never changed its rule that an expectant mother must be sacrificed to preserve fetal life. (You may recall that in 2010, Bishop Thomas Olmsted of Phoenix excommunicated a nun who approved an abortion at St. Joseph’s Hospital to save the life of a critically ill woman who was 11 weeks pregnant.)

The church that openly works to ban not just abortion but birth control for all women is running a campaign it  quaintly calls to “Protect Conscience Rights.” “Right of conscience” translates to the right of the bishops to deny reproductive health care to American women, three-quarters of whom are not Catholic, by the way. Look at the other proposals on the Congressional table, such as the “Protect Life Act,” H.R. 358, to force individuals or states to purchase separate elective abortion insurance coverage under Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

As the Guttmacher Institute and other researchers have long pointed out: “Contraceptive use by Catholics and Evangelicals — including those who attend religious services most frequently — is the norm.” Research shows more than 68% of Catholic women use a high effective method of contraception (i.e., prescriptive). The Catholic Church can’t even persuade its own church members that contraception is wrong.

The proposal by the Obama Administration would fast-forward the United States all the way into the 20th century in terms of contraceptive and health coverage. Access to contraception, as the Institute of Medicine has pointed out, is preventive medicine. The expansion is not only covering contraception but well-woman visits, screening for gestational diabetes, HIV screening and counseling, domestic violence screening, and counseling and breastfeeding support and supplies.

Our planet now numbers seven billion humans, thanks in no part to the role organized religion plays in subjugating women, blinding judgment and denying reproductive freedom. Our government — all governments — should be pulling out the stops to encourage use of birth control, not only because every woman should be mistress of her fate and every child deserves to be born wanted, but for the sake of our children’s future and the survival of our planet.

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