In stark contrast to most mainstream Christian leaders, especially those of the Roman Catholic Church in the U.S., a coalition of 22 Christian, Jewish and Muslim institutions has emerged expressing support for President Barack Obama's controversial contraception mandate that affects many faith-based institutions.
Catholics for Choice, Episcopal Divinity School, Jewish Women International, Methodist Federation for Social Action, Muslims for Progressive Values, the Planned Parenthood Clergy Advisory Board, and several others said in a Wednesday statement that the Obama administration was correct in requiring institutions that do not have purely sectarian goals to offer comprehensive preventive health care.
National leaders have the responsibility to "help improve the health of women, their children, and families," the groups wrote in the joint statement. "Hospitals and universities across the religious spectrum have an obligation to assure that individuals' conscience and decisions are respected and that their students and employees have access to this basic health care service.
"We respect individuals' moral agency to make decisions about their sexuality and reproductive health without governmental interference or legal restrictions. We believe that women and men have the right to decide whether or not to apply the principles of their faith to family planning decisions, and to do so they must have access to services."
"We do not believe that specific religious doctrine belongs in health care reform – as we value our nation's commitment to church-state separation," the group emphasized, joining some other voices that claim that regulating employee benefits is not a religious issue. Some claim the new rules do not concern the church directly, but are an issue of employee benefits.
"No Catholic hospital is going to be required to write a prescription or provide a pack of pills," an expert told Reuters recently.
Catholics for Choice is a pressure group that disagrees with some aspects of Vatican laws, while claiming it belongs to the Catholic community. The organization's president, Jon O'Brien, told CP recently that the group chooses to base its policy on another pillar of Catholic faith – conscience.
"Catholics for Choice believes in a world where everyone has equal access to the full range of reproductive health-care services-including access to safe and legal abortion services and affordable and reliable forms of contraception," organization's statement on the website reads.
According to statistics from various research groups, assembled by O'Brien's organization, sexually active Catholic women older than 18 are just as likely to have used some form of contraception banned by the Vatican as women in the general population – 98 percent in the former group, as compared to 99 in the latter. Even among those who attend church once a week or more, 83 percent of sexually active Catholic women use a form of contraception that is banned by the Vatican, the organization says, referencing the 2008 National Survey of Family Growth (NSFG).
"Clearly the Catholic people are very much in favor of the decision to make contraceptives covered by their health insurance and welcome the idea that workers and institutions like schools, universities, hospitals and charities will have this benefit," O'Brien told CP Thursday. "The Catholic hierarchy are only part of the Catholic church, and on this issue they don't speak for the Catholic people."
The Jan. 20 announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) that contraceptive services must be covered by most insurance policies without deductibles or co-pays and that only purely sectarian organizations are exempt from this requirement, caused outrage among faith-based nonprofits as well as among the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). Anthony Picarello, general counsel of the USCCB, told the Los Angeles Times last week that the bishops would "pursue every legal avenue available to them to bring an end to this mandate."
The contraception mandate is part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. The Obama administration reaffirmed the mandate with only one year of an exemption for faith-based institutions. Facing severe criticism from the Catholic community and conservative Christians, the administration attempted to alleviate the situation earlier this week. A White House spokesperson said Tuesday that the administration is willing to work with Catholic organizations to "see if the implementation of the policy can be done in a way that allays some of those concerns."
But the USCCB continuously claims that the administration is "forcing individuals and institutions, including religious employers, to sponsor and subsidize what they consider immoral."
The argument involves the question of religious freedom across denominations, many opponents of the law claim.
"While all of us may not share the Catholic view of contraception, all true Christians believe that the taking of human life in utero, whether surgically or by abortifacient drugs, violates the basic human right to life," evangelical speaker and author Chuck Colson wrote in a recent column.
Twenty-eight U.S. states already require health insurers to cover contraception, according to Reuters.