Contraception, the bishops and the HHS

Recently, as part of the implementation of the new health care reform legislation, the Department of Health and Human Services issued guidelines that require insurance companies to offer women a whole range of services without co-payments. (You can hear the voices of women cheering these developments across the country!)

These services include several diverse items like well woman visits, breast feeding support, domestic violence counseling and FDA-approved contraceptive methods and counseling.

The Catholic bishops immediately zeroed in on "contraceptive methods and counseling." They are apparently concerned about including contraceptive coverage in health insurance policies for church employees. Although the policy includes exemptions for religious institutions that have problems with contraception, the bishops apparently don't believe they are adequate.

But I'll bet that most of the women who work in church institutions are thrilled with the new policies. After all, most have been claiming their own form of "religious freedom" (or "right to conscience") on this issue for decades.

In fact, I never cease to be amazed that contraception is even raised by the hierarchy anymore. The "sense of the faithful" has, in real terms, settled this issue for people in the pews for a long time now.

Any examination of polling over the last several decades provides evidence. Whopping percentages of sexually active Catholic women (more than 90 percent) have used some form of contraception banned by the Vatican. In fact, polling over the years shows that Catholic women look like women of most other faith traditions in their use of artificial contraception. Fewer than 2 percent of sexually active Catholic women use Vatican-approved methods as their primary form of family planning.

And of course, many people who are interested in lowering the incidence of abortion often point out that the use of contraception is one effective way to do that.

The bishops would better use their time and resources addressing issues like jobs, poverty, the wealth gap or the Pentagon budget with the same vigor that they approach sexual issues. At least then, they would be in the same ballpark as the laity.

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