Health Care and Hysteria

Full Disclosure — I’m a Roman Catholic whose children attend parochial school.  I have struggled mightily with that decision, not the least of which being because of the shameful molestation cover-ups.  But that’s not the only reason.  I think anyone should be allowed to marry, regardless of who they are.  I don’t have a problem with two consenting adults making their own decisions about most everything.  I ardently support a woman’s right to reproductive choice.

I’ve made my peace with this over the years, deciding that no one can define my spirituality for me and knowing that the loudest voices don’t represent everyone.  I like going to church weekly and if I didn’t go, I’d probably never have exposure to the material and point of view I hear at Mass.  But since this contentious election wrapped up, I’m back on the rocks, this time about the posturing over “religious freedom.”

The controversy — On January 20, 2012, the Department of Health and Human Services announced that health care plans have to offer FDA-approved contraceptives free of charge, as well as sterilization procedures.  Religious organizations have been provided an exemption, but not religiously-affiliated organizations that serve the general public.  For example, my parish would be covered by the exemption, but probably not Catholic Hospitals.  Current Catholic teaching is that birth control is wrong and that life begins at conception.  As a matter of historical reference, I’ll point out that it hasn’t always been this way.

Picture source

Now there’s a resurgence of bloviating, brinksmanship, and sore-losering . Circulating around Facebook is a homily by a local priest, saying that if these rules are in force, Catholic institutions will close down rather than comply. Adults are wailing; children are crying; teeth are gnashing. Two things are for sure.  First, if I’d been there, I would have walked out, probably never to return.  Second, this edge of the abyss is all Obama’s fault.

Not so fast on that second one.  This parishioner has a few points to make.

1) The mandate to provide birth control as a part of health insurance has been in effect since 2000, via the EEOC. George Bush made no effort to repeal it in his eight years. Not once did I hear threats and outcries.  To wit:

In order to avoid violating Title VII in the future:

Respondents must cover the expenses of prescription contraceptives to the same extent, and on the same terms, that they cover the expenses of the types of drugs, devices, and preventive care identified above. Respondents must also offer the same coverage for contraception-related outpatient services as are offered for other outpatient services. Where a woman visits her doctor to obtain a prescription for contraceptives, she must be afforded the same coverage that would apply if she, or any other employee, had consulted a doctor for other preventive or health maintenance services. Where, on the other hand, Respondents limit coverage of comparable drugs or services (e.g., by imposing maximum payable benefits), those limits may be applied to contraception as well.

Respondents’ coverage must extend to the full range of prescription contraceptive choices. Because the health needs of women may change — and because different women may need different prescription contraceptives at different times in their lives — Respondents must cover each of the available options for prescription contraception. Moreover, Respondents must include such coverage in each of the health plan choices that it offers to its employees. See 29 C.F.R. part 1604, App. Q&A 24; Arizona Governing Committee v. Norris, 463 U.S. 1073, 1081-82 n.10 (1983).

2) Non-profits associated with the Catholic Church serve and employ people from all — and no — faiths.  There is no religious litmus test.  They don’t make anyone sign a pledge to uphold their current standards of morality as defined by the Catholic hierarchy.  So we can do whatever we want as long as we don’t talk about it?  Yes, “looking the other way” has served the Church so well up to this point.  Here is a coverage summary:

  • Viagra?  Yes, covered, no questions asked.  
  • Condoms?  Nope. 
  • Abortion?  Never, even in cases of rape or incest.  
  • A system to hold men as accountable as women in the cases of unwanted pregnancy?  Come on!  That’s ridiculous. 

3)  There are a multitude of reasons why people take birth control pills – endometriosis, migraine headaches, fibromyalgia to name just three.  Do women who suffer from these and other conditions not deserve a full arsenal of treatments?  Ditto for hysterectomy and oophorectomy 

4)  This is America, land of individual rights.  If the Catholic Church is going to serve and employ people who don’t adhere to their moralistic guidelines, why should they be allowed to offer a discriminatory health care package?  In what way does all this posturing change anything?  There seems to be this underlying idea that if coverage for birth control is available to women, we are going to abandon our morals and start screwing our way to hell.  I am reminded of a bumper sticker that says, If you can’t trust me with a choice, how can you trust me with a child?

5) The picking and choosing of rules to follow by many of my fellow Catholics would be funny if it weren’t so infuriating.  I don’t believe any woman makes any of these decisions lightly and they certainly don’t occur in a vacuum.  There are people who want to make sure that every pregnancy is brought to term, but then offer no support after birth.  In fact, once born, these children just might end up in the 47% of the country dismissed as “moochers.

Not only do the majority of American Catholics believe that birth control should be covered, but also the majority voted to reelect President Obama.  The extreme views expressed by the American bishops are out of step with the flock, and in danger of further alienating people like me who were already hanging by a thread.  Not that the Church has to change based on social standards, but if they want to be effective, they need to stay at least a little bit relevant.


6)  This all could have been avoided if we have single-payer health care, like a whole bunch of the rest of the first world.  But nooooo… that would have been SOCIALISM.    (except when it’s not, vis a vis Medicare).  True universal health care was a non-starter of an issue because of opposition from the same law makers now screaming about employer mandates. If people had access to equitable health care decoupled from their employers, we wouldn’t be having this discussion.

People (namely — male, unmarried men religious) who never have to suffer the consequences continue to try to make the rules. And now I’m teetering on the brink of walking away without looking back, wondering how long it will take before the American Catholic Church collapses from irrelevance.

While we’re on the topic of moochers, a closing note about personal responsibility.  You hear about that pretty often from the right side of society.  But, if Catholic social welfare organizations close their doors, that’s going to be President Obama’s fault.


If these organizations cease operations, it’s because they CHOOSE to close their doors over this issue, not because they were shuttered by the government.  If they close a single social services agency, it will be because they chose stridency over this issue OVER their commitment to social services.

Personal responsibility.  A virtue that applies only to others?               

2 thoughts on “Health Care and Hysteria”

  1. Thanks, Katie, for yet another cogent discussion. I went to Catholic schools for twelve years, grammar through high school, and graduated in 1972, when Roe v. Wade was about to be considered by the Supreme Court. I will never forget an indicent that occurred one Sunday morning around 1970, when my parents and I were going to mass. My mother was a woman who referred to her reproductive parts as ‘down there,’ uttered in hushed tones. However, on this particular Sunday morning, we walked into the church vestibule,to find a table full of anti-choice folks giving out anti-choice literature. My mother, a woman who’d always wanted more children but had a heart-breaking history of miscarriages, took one look at the pamphlets they were handing out and saw red. She proceeded, to the open-mouthed astonishment of me, my dad, and the folks at this table, to take them apart. With high dudgeon and righteous rage, she told them in no uncertain terms that they had no business handing out political literature in a church, that they had no business poking their noses into the private decisions of others, that they had no business telling any woman what she could or could not do with her own body. She even went so far as to dress down our pastor after mass for allowing it at all. The table never appeared again in our church. I don’t know what my dad thought about the issues involved, but we were both very proud of her for speaking up. My mom. Who’d a thunk it? Taught me a lot.

    It boggles my mind how many folks are using Obama and the Affordable Care Act as an excuse for all manner of behaviors for which they don’t want to be held accountable.

  2. Katie,
    This is an awesome post. I’ll actually read it again because there’s so much here and you’ve given me so much to think about.

    The Catholic Church was the invisible, third parent in the room for many of us growing up. My father was a lapsed Catholic. My sister went to a parochial high school, which not supringly, was stellar. The theology itself is rich — I’ve heard this across the board from many Catholics. Certainly that is reflected in literature as well (thinking of Flannery O’Connor, the unapologetic ambassador for Catholicism).

    That said the church is also its own political ship. It has placed itself squarely in these issues and the point you raise about a discriminary health care package — is terrific. I suppose a labor lawyer (how many could they afford) would argue that if someone doesn’t like their health care package they could move elsewhere…..but that is NOT SATISFYING.

    The only way the Church is going to “hear” anything – as was seen with the molestation cases – is 1) in its pocket book and 2) collective, growing outrage about these ridiculous practices.

    What if a petition…..WE USE BIRTH CONTROL AND ARE CATHOLIC….were circulated and sent to the local bishop and up the chain of command? Just a thought.

    That’s just a few thoughts on one paragaph…..there’s so much more.

    Because what we see with these practices? The Church renders its members powerless. They aren’t listening. They act as tho their logic IS indeed God’s word, when in fact, it is the Church interpretation and serves only to support the institution of the Church itself…science shows time and time again, that an uncontrolled population is not sustainable. No mother – I don’t care how little education she has – wants to bring children in the world only to watch them starve. Yet to control how many children she has is a sin? Having that choice and acting on it is sinful? So much baloney.

    …oh, I’m getting carried away. Yes, one of these days, we will come into a universal health system where reproductive choice (and Viagra is covered? REALLY?) is respected. Because until it is – other rights remain at stake.

    Keep stirring up the pot. I hope that other Catholics engage in this conversation. It is an essential one


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