Patheos Peeps: Diana Butler Bass (and Others) on the HHS Contraception Mandate

Every Friday, I post a link to a blog post written by one of my fellow bloggers at Patheos, a web portal devoted to religion and spirituality. I encourage my blog readers to click through to read these posts, comment, and if you like what you read, follow these bloggers as well.

A big controversy is playing out in the news as the Catholic Church reacts to the Obama administration’s mandate requiring Catholic institutions that serve the public to include contraception in their employee insurance coverage. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops regards the mandate as a fundamental violation of religious freedom.

Patheos blogger Diana Butler Bass wrote about the controversy this week, arguing that as American citizens, people with various religious convictions must accept that U.S. law will sometimes require them to support ideas and practices in opposition to their faith, such as pacifists who pay taxes knowing that some of that money will support the military.

As a good liberal mainline Protestant like Butler Bass, I am sympathetic to her argument. However, I’ve also read two compelling editorials this week from religious folk who think that the HHS mandate truly does threaten religious freedom, including this editorial in Commonweal, and this column from journalist David Gibson on the Sojourners “God’s Politics” blog.

I’m still not sure what to think. But I do agree with New York Times columnist Gail Collins, who had this to say:

This new rule on contraceptive coverage is part of the health care reform law, which was designed to finally turn the United States into a country where everyone has basic health coverage. In a sane world, the government would be running the whole health care plan, the employers would be off the hook entirely and we would not be having this fight at all. But members of Congress — including many of the very same people who are howling and rending their garments over the bishops’ plight — deemed the current patchwork system untouchable.


About Ellen Painter Dollar

Ellen Painter Dollar is a writer focusing on faith, parenting, family, disability, and ethics. She is the author of No Easy Choice: A Story of Disability, Faith, and Parenthood in an Age of Advanced Reproduction (Westminster John Knox, 2012). Visit her web site at for more on her writing and speaking, and to sign up for a (very) occasional email newsletter.

  • Miriam

    I totally agree with Gail Collins. However, in the meantime, I have to ask, these Catholic institutions, do they receive any public money? Because if they do, than yes, I believe that they should be required to provide insurance that covers birth control for their employees.

    I’ve heard that the Catholic bishops are now talking about allowing any Catholic business owner to not include birth control in their insurance policies for their employees. Where does this all end? They scream about not wanting their religious freedom infringed on, but where does anyone else’s rights begin? Why do their “religious freedoms” take priority over my “religious freedom” to consider women human beings? (Or LGBT folks, for that matter.)

    I’m not nearly as educated about theology as some, but it does strike me as being against birth control because it interferes with “God’s Will” is pretty silly. I mean, really? “God’s Will”? A little condom is going to get in the way of GOD’s WILL?!

    For me all I see is hating on women, and most especially hating on sex. Grow up Catholic Church!

    • Ellen Painter Dollar

      I do not endorse the Catholic view of birth control, at least for myself. But to be fair to them, the Catholic reasons for being against birth control go far beyond a desire to allow God’s will to be done. It has to do with their vision of marriage, and the intertwining of the “unitive” and “procreative” purposes of marriage. Lucky for you, I have a section on this in my book :)

      The question about whether they receive public money is a good one, I think.

  • Casey

    What I feel the USCCB fails to acknowledge is the power of personal choice. Just because the plan would pay for contraception does not mean that all or even any of the plan participants would necessarily use contraception. Would they terminate an employee who purchases contraceptives out of their take home pay? If not, then what’s the difference whether the portion of the compensation package for the employee that is used to fund their contraceptive needs is “wages” or “health insurance”? In either case, the employer is indirectly funding services that they hold to be immoral.

    • Ellen Painter Dollar

      That’s true. I think the difference, though, between the two scenarios is that when Catholic entities are mandated to do something *as an institution* that they see as going against their fundamental religious tenets, it’s more reasonable to argue that this impinges on their religious freedom than if an *individual* in their employ makes choices they would not agree with. Catholic bishops possibly know better than anyone that they cannot control whether individuals follow their lead or not. But they are arguing that their institutions’ identity as part of the Catholic Church requires them to follow Catholic teaching.

  • Miriam

    in the NPR story I heard about this this morning said that some 98% of all Catholic women use birth control at some point during their lives…so I’m guessing that that message of “sex only in marriage, only to make babies” isn’t getting though.

    I am looking forward to reading that part of your book, but I still have a hairy-eye ball feeling that it still comes down to hating on women and hating on sex.