Editor's Note: Rev. Debra Haffner is an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, and is the co-founder and Executive Director of The Religious Institute, a multifaith organization advocating for sexuality education, sexual health, and sexual justice in America’s faith communities and society.
By Rev. Debra Haffner, special to Erin Burnett OutFront
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ decision to reject the White House compromise on birth control access in health insurance is further evidence that their concern is not religious liberty, but playing politics with women’s lives. Under the White House plan, Catholic institutions do not have to financially support contraceptive care; no woman has to use it. The Bishops’ cloaking their anti-women’s sexuality view in religious liberty arguments is nothing more than their trying to do with health insurance reform what they have not been able to do from the pulpit: deny women access to modern contraceptives.
Secular leaders on the right, like Penny Nance from Concerned Women for America, distort the debate, incorrectly stating that women have access to birth control without insurance, or that some birth control methods work by causing abortions. Many women are unable to pay for contraceptive care out of pocket and many do without; this is part of the reason why half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended. And no modern method of birth control works by causing women to spontaneously miscarry a pregnancy.
The Roman Catholic Bishops do not speak for religion on contraception; they do not even speak for American Catholics who by in large ignore their teaching on sexuality issues, from premarital sex to contraception to LGBT equality. As of today, twenty-nine major national mainstream religious leaders have endorsed a statement supporting the White House decision that contraceptive services must be covered by insurance policies without deductibles or co-pays, and only purely sectarian organizations – churches, synagogues, mosques, and temples – will be exempt from this requirement. The signers of this letter come from 27 national organizations that represent millions of religious leaders and people of faith across the country.
There is nothing new about religious organizations supporting the provision of contraception and women’s moral agency to decide when, whether, and if to use birth control. More than 20 denominations have policies affirming birth control, passed as early as 1959. More than 4000 religious leaders have endorsed the Religious Declaration, including a faith-based commitment to voluntary contraception.
There is an authentic, historically ground religious Jewish and Christian perspective that supports access to birth control. It is precisely because of the religious belief that life is sacred, that mainstream religious leaders for decades have been committed to assuring access to contraceptive services so that all pregnancies are intended. Religious leaders from distinct traditions affirm that individuals’ must have the moral agency to make decisions about their sexuality and reproductive health without governmental interference or legal restrictions.
Our belief in religious liberty and the separation of church and state means that we understand that no single religious voice should speak for all faith traditions on contraception or any other sexuality issues, and that the government should never take sides on religious differences. Just as Jehovah Witnesses who run secular institutions must cover blood transfusions for their employees, and Christian Scientists who run secular institutions must offer health insurance for their employees, there is no religious conflict for Roman Catholic affiliated hospitals and universities to allow their employees access to health insurance that includes contraception.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of the author.