Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Reason for the Debate on Oral Contraceptives

Some politicians have tried to win points with religious conservatives by trying to frame this issue of employer mandated coverage of oral contraceptives as an Obama administration war against people of faith.   This is an incredible distortion of reality.  Shame on them.  I’m not sure why politicians making such assertions haven’t experienced tremendous, rapid growth of their olfactory organs.

Let’s call a spade a spade.  I’ve listened to the debate carefully, and I have not yet identified any religious group other than the Roman Catholic Church that objects to the provision of oral contraceptives as part of an employer provided health plan.  Despite following the debate carefully, I have never heard of any other Christian denomination or any other non-Christian religion opposed to the secular law in question.  If there is another faith group who is also opposed, please let me know.

Perhaps it is politically incorrect, but the media doesn’t seem to be noting the reality of the debate’s genesis.  That failure subtly implies that many people of faith—many Christians, for example—also are opposed to birth control.  That couldn’t be farther from the truth.  The current debate centers around an issue of Catholic teaching that is now having secular policy implications. 

And let’s be clear about who in the Catholic Church is opposing this employer mandate.  Strangely, that is not getting much media attention either.  It is the hierarchy, not the members of the Church, who are opposing the employer mandate in question.  This is an extremely significant point, but members of other Christian denominations and other religions may not immediately recognize why. 

Unlike many religious institutions, the Roman Catholic Church is monarchical and undemocratic in terms of its decision-making structure.  This is not a criticism, it is a fact.  What I mean in using these adjectives is that Catholics in the pews don’t vote to determine the bishop of their diocese, or the members of the College of Cardinals or other Church groups that set policy.  Those decisions are made by the Pope in Vatican City.  But he also is not elected by the Catholics in the pews. 

As women are banned from the priesthood in the Roman Catholic Church, women’s voices are simply not present when policy is decided by Church leaders.  Moreover, women’s voices are not even indirectly heard because the decision-makers are men who are barred from marriage.  Thus, the decision-makers do not even have the benefit of insight from a wife (or daughter).

These facts are important to recognize because when the Church hierarchy speaks out against the employer mandate in question, it is very unlikely that they are speaking for many American Catholic lay people.  There are several reasons to have such doubt.

First, despite some cruel accusations to the contrary, the Catholic Church is not a cult.  As I have mentioned previously, I was a Catholic most of my Christian walk.  My fellow parishioners and I did not just blindly follow what the priests and other ordained leaders told us.  We had minds of our own and we used them.

Second, it has been well-documented that the overwhelming majority of American Catholics reject the Church’s teaching on birth control.  For example, the link below takes you to a report indicating that 98% of sexually active American Catholic women have used contraceptives that the Church hierarchy has deemed to be incompatible with Church teaching.

Such data certainly is consistent with my own experience as a devout Catholic.  I have had countless Catholic friends who just shake their heads in disbelief at that teaching and ignore it without a second thought.  Significantly, these have been friends who agree with and follow the Church’s teachings on other issues.  For example, these friends tend to be very strongly against induced abortions.  (Perhaps because they are so strongly opposed to abortion, they take the prevention of pregnancy very seriously.)

I was particularly struck by this disconnect between the Church hierarchy and its parishioners many years ago when my husband and I were in pre-marriage classes at our home parish to prepare for a sacramental wedding.  The class met for several weeks to discuss various topics of great importance to a strong marriage (e.g., finances, child rearing, division of household chores).  During the last class of the series, the topic for our discussion was the role of sex in marriage.  That topic was part of the official curriculum for the course.

The course my then-fiancĂ© and I took was taught by a long-married couple.  They were pillars of the parish and active in a variety of ministries.  They were close to the church’s pastor.  The wife was even a teacher at the parish school.

Though this couple had been leaders in the parish’s pre-marriage education program for a long time and had prepared countless couples for sacramental marriage, I was stunned when they began the last class by admitting they had never understood the Church’s teaching on contraception.  Indeed, they even strongly insinuated they had used artificial family planning to space their children’s births. 

The couple teaching the class asked if anyone else could explain the Church’s teaching on contraception.  In a group of over thirty people, I was the only one who raised her hand.  I had actually studied the Church’s teaching and tried to explain it neutrally to the group.  It was almost comical because people just stared blankly at the explanation.  No one expressed any reaction.  Though we had openly discussed a number of personal subjects with the group, and many of us had shared very personal struggles, no one wanted to try to discuss the Church’s teaching on contraceptives.  After hearing the Church’s rationale for prohibiting artificial family planning, I got the strong sense everyone was just thinking: “That’s nuts.”  Everyone was polite and quiet until someone changed the subject to a less awkward topic.

Matthew 5:5

Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.

Acts 10:38

You know of Jesus of Nazareth, how God anointed Him with the Holy Spirit and with power, and how He went about doing good and healing all who were oppressed by the devil, for God was with Him.


  1. I have never observed of any other Religious denomination or any other non-Christian belief compared to the luxurious law in concern.

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  2. It is not only Catholic leadership who object to the insurance mandate, but a broad array of Christians who have studied the Bible and understand the implications of abortifacient "birth control" pharmaceuticals and devices. You might familiarize yourself with the teachings of conservative Christian fellowships including Amish, Mennonite, Hutterite, Reformed Baptist, Quiverfull movement, etc.