The Catholic Church forbids all forms of birth control; therefore, Catholic hospitals don’t distribute any. That doesn’t seem like a particularly controversial principle. After all, birth control is plentiful in the United States. In fact, federal law requires that virtually all insurance providers are required to pay for it. Patients simply may not be able to procure it from a Catholic healthcare provider.
As it happens, that’s actually quite a politically charged claim.
his past June, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) caught whiff that private practitioners leasing office-space in some Catholic hospitals were violating Church teaching by prescribing contraceptives. So,the bishops published new directives to ensure that no one affiliated with a Catholic facility would “manage, carry out, assist in carrying out, make its facilities available for, make referrals for, or benefit from the revenue generated by immoral procedures.”
By many accounts, the doctors associated with Catholic hospitals knew they were breaking the rules by helping patients contracept. Dr Suzy Lipinski, an OB-GYN in Iowa, admitted as much to the pro-abortion webszine Rewire.News. “We all knew we were violating Catholic hospital guidelines,” she said, “but we believed we were giving good health care”. Yet she was still outraged when representatives of the local bishop and the hospital’s (Catholic) parent-company, MercyOne, took measures to enforce the USCCB’s directives.
“I don’t want to be in a state where I have to worry: what new rule are they going to impose that prevents me from taking good care of my patients?” Dr Lipinski added.
Of course, her beef isn’t actually with the state but the diocese. Archbishop Michael Jackels of Dubuque has faithfully implemented the USCCB’s directives and he’s caught more than his share of flak for it. The stress may have contributed to the heart attack the archbishop suffered on May 5.
The Catholic Herald asked the USCCB to clarify how prevalent were Catholic hospitals that illicitly offer contraception. As we went to press, there was no reply. Nevertheless, it remains to be seen how many bishops step up to help Catholic-owned healthcare companies hold their employees and tenants to the USCCB’s standards. Opposition of the so-called “reproductive health” movement – for instance, opposition to abortion – may already earn one pariah status.
The contraception issue is even more fraught, given that the Catholic Church is virtually alone in prohibiting it. That means we can’t expect much (if any) support from the Evangelical Protestants and other socially conservative allies with defending traditional sexual mores. It also means the many American bishops who are reluctant to associate themselves with the so-called Christian right will be even less likely to curtail access to contraceptives.
Catholic activists have achieved some success by framing the contraception issue as a matter of religious liberty. For instance, the Little Sisters of the Poor received an outpouring of public support when they challenged Obamacare’s contraception mandate. Yet social progressives have reframed this as a women’s rights issue, arguing that access to contraception – and, often, abortion – trumps freedom of religion.
The American left has given every indication that it will continue fighting to force Catholic hospitals, religious orders and other private entities to comply with their idea of “reproductive rights”. Conservative activists will certainly try to nip this unwelcome trend in the bud. Many Catholics in the pews would no doubt be embarrassed to find that, once again, it’s Evangelical Protestants who rise to defend their religious liberties – not the bishops.
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