Cardinal’s Archdiocese Opposes Paying for Contraception Despite Already Paying for Contraception

Cardinal Timothy Dolan is leading the charge against Obama’s HHS Mandate, which requires all employers — even Catholic ones — to provide health plans that cover “preventive health services” for women. Listening to him speak on the subject, you’d think a mandate that businesses must pay for employees’ contraceptives and abortions would utterly and absolutely destroy the Catholic Church — and America! — as we know it.

It’s about religious freedom, he insists, and it’s a slippery slope towards the removal of that freedom:

(Photo by Todd Wiseman)

[T]he Obama administration’s decision to force Catholic and other religious employers to violate their conscience will not stand. Americans will recognize it for the unconstitutional detour that it is, and urge their elected representatives to repeal it. I believe the trigger for this will be a very simple question. Americans will ask themselves: if this, what next? What other constitutionally protected freedoms might an increasingly powerful federal government revoke? What other mandated violations of conscience lie ahead for other groups of American citizens?

It’s a terrifying dystopian vision, enough to strike fear into the heart of all who hear it.

Or it would be, if only it were true.

But for more than a decade, Cardinal Dolan’s own diocese has been paying for health plans that cover contraception and abortion. And the sky has yet to fall.

Dolan has spoken of “the possibility that ministries may yet be forced to fund and facilitate such morally illicit activities,” but that ship sailed before he ascended to the rank of Archbishop. Workers in the Catholic Health Care System, more widely known as ArchCare, receive health coverage through their union membership in 1199 SEIU United Healthcare Workers East.

A few Catholic employees expressed concerns in the plan’s early days, through the latter half of the 1990s, but complaints dwindled by the turn of the century. Bruce McIver, president of the League of Voluntary Hospitals and Homes of New York, recalls that

Eventually the Catholics just said, you know, we are going to ignore the issue and pay into the fund, and people are going to make their own choices about contraception and so forth. During union negotiations, I don’t remember it coming up in the last dozen years or so, ever. In a place like New York, their employees, not all of whom are Catholic, would react pretty badly.

This essentially gets at the core of the issue.

Not everyone employed by a Catholic health care provider will necessarily be Catholic, and those who are Catholic will not necessarily follow the party line on birth control within their own families — the Guttmacher Institute (PDF) says 98% of Catholic women use contraception. Rather than try to impose the employer’s view of contraception on employees, the ArchCare workers have decided to accept that preventive women’s health care is part of health insurance in New York, and that individual employees must decide for themselves how to ethically use the benefits they’ve earned with their hard work.

That’s the way it should be. It’s the only way to be fair.

And contrary to what Cardinal Dolan insists, anything else is a violation of employees’ religious freedom at the expense of a wealthy and powerful Catholic Church.

About Sara Lin Wilde

Sara Lin Wilde is a recovering Catholic (and cat-holic, for that matter - all typographical errors are the responsibility of her feline friends). She lives in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where she is working on writing a novel that she really, really hopes can actually get published.

  • Kengi

    Do as I say, not as I do.

    – The Eleventh Commandment

  • Art_Vandelay

    Here’s a crazy thought, Catholics…how about we try living in a world where people who pay out cash bonuses to their employees for raping kids aren’t granted any moral authority on anything by anyone? What kind of a world would that be…better or worse?

  • Mark W.

    I prefer the equally old church saying, “Don’t infringe on my right to infringe on other peoples rights.”

  • busterggi

    The RCC, like other big businesses, believes rights end on the corporate level, individuals be damned.

  • Reginald Selkirk

    It’s about religious freedom, he insists,

    Why is it that only churches and employers have religious freedom? Why don’t actual people, including employees, have religious freedom?

  • Gus Snarp

    “we are going to ignore the issue and pay into the fund, and people are going to make their own choices about contraception and so forth.”

    And that about wraps it up.

  • Spuddie

    Its that whole conservative ethos that civil liberties are only for organizations and corporations, not individuals.

  • Chris_Lisi

    “…the Guttmacher Institute (PDF) says 98% of Catholic women use contraception…”

    Not quite true. There’s a difference between “use” and “have ever used.” I sense that your general intent was to convey that contraceptive use doesn’t vary much between American Catholics and non-Catholics, and this is true. Still, I think it behooves journalists and bloggers to strive for accuracy in their reporting.

    Page 4 of that study notes that 98% of American Catholic women who have ever been sexually active have _ever_ in their _lifetime_ used ‘some other form of contraception than ‘natural family planning’*, which is similar to the 99% of all American women in that category.

    The same study found (see page 8) that about 68% of American Catholic women of reproductive age (15-44) who are ‘at risk of unintended pregnancy’** have used an effective form of contraception in the past month, which is little different from the 69% of all American women in the same category. (** sexually active women who are not pregnant, postpartum or trying to get pregnant)

    The study also found that only 2% of the American Catholic women in this category have used, in the past month, what the Catholic Church calls ‘natural family planning’* (* NFP – Using biological measurements to track fertility and not having penis-in-vagina sex when fertile.)

    (FYI: The Roman Catholic Church (RCC) teaches that the only non-sinful orgasm for either men or women is during penis-in-vagina sex between a married man and woman, so the Church doesn’t allow alternative mutual or self sex during these fertile periods nor at any other time. However, since 1917, some mutual alternative non-orgasmic foreplay is allowed for RCs and, since 1931, couples who discover one or both partner is infertile or becomes infertile are allowed to continue having sex. Who says the RCC isn’t modernizing? Not that all Catholics accept or adhere to these teachings, but it seems likely that some portion of these 2% do.)

  • Chris_Lisi

    As a separate point, and perhaps this is more significant, your central issue has nothing to do with what kind of contraceptives Catholic women use. Even if 0% of American Catholic women had ever used anything but NFP, it wouldn’t matter.

    The issue is the rights of employees versus the rights of employers.

    The issue here is not religious freedom, as the Catholics would like people to think of it. The issue is religious primacy. In a conflict, whose religious beliefs are primary?

    The courts have generally decided that a church is allowed to restrict the contraceptive options and the private morality of employees who are ministers or who work in a primarily ministerial function/capacity or educators who are primarily educators of religion. But a church-owned business such as a hospital or school, courts have generally ruled, is not allowed to discriminate in hiring and other employment practices on the basis of religion, gender, etc., for non-religious functions.

    If the Catholic Church in the US wants to NOT provide contraceptives as part of their health insurance plans to non-ministerial employees, it can do so by selling all its hospitals and schools to companies that are willing to respect the religious rights of their employees.

  • Anna

    That’s one of the creepiest things about the Catholic church. They far surpass any fundamentalist group when it comes to their bizarre fixation with married couples’ orgasms.

  • JMM

    Take you’re cross and shove it, it ain’t workin her no more

  • baal

    The other point that underlines the fundamental hypocrisy of the OP is that the RCC and other churches didn’t decide they were being religiously repressed until the Republican Party came out with it as an anti-obamacare talking point.

  • griffox

    Exactly. The conservatives will throw an outright hissy fit over anything Obama supports. There are legitimate reasons to oppose Obamacare, but those reasons don’t allow the religious right to pretend they are victims while simultaneously subjugating womens’ reproductive rights. I suspected that many of these religious organizations were already paying for healthcare plans that provide contraception. Suspicions confirmed.

  • OverlappingMagisteria

    98% of Catholic women use contraception.

    This number gets mis-reported everywhere. The study did not ask how many Catholics currently or consistently use contraception. It only asked if they had used contraception once in their lifetime. This does not mean 98% actively use contraception, or that 98% find contraception morally acceptable.

    If you look further down in the study in the appendix, it shows current use. 11% of Catholic women do not use contraception and 2% use the church-approved Natural Family Planning. So doing the math that means that 87% of sexually active Catholic women were currently breaking the silly Catholic contraception rules.

    That number is still high. There is no need to twist the facts when the truth is more or less the same.

  • Stev84

    Because “businesses are people”. At least according the Supreme Court and Mitt Romney.

  • coffeecat

    Wilde took too much of her information from those opposing the contraception mandate . It doesn’t require coverage of abortion ( unless you believe that a woman who isn’t pregnant can have an abortion-like by using an IUD or plan B. Unfortunately, Obamacare actually makes abortion coverage less likely by requiring payment for abortion coverage be made separately from the other payment for health insurance.

  • Miss_Beara

    Dolan, who paid out sexually abusive priests, shouldn’t be worrying about “violations of conscience”. He lost that ability a long long time ago.

    Dolan has spoken of “the possibility that ministries may yet be forced to fund and facilitate such morally illicit activities”

    He personally funded actual “morally illicit activities” by giving sexually abusive priests thousands of dollars.

    This scum doesn’t care about children, women, non catholics, catholics that don’t follow his archaic rules, and especially LGBT. He craves money, power and control.

  • Miss_Beara

    I don’t know how anyone can listen to him and take him seriously. Do people not know of his despicable actions or do they just not care?

  • d

    the catholic university where i work is the same way – they were talking about bringing a lawsuit against the federal government because of the mandate (in it’s early days, before some of the additional religious exemptions). my impression was that it was more about “establishing their catholic identity” on the national stage rather than the issue at hand, since our insurance policy at the time (and to the present) includes coverage for contraceptives/vasectomies/etc.


  • Hat Stealer

    It is an issue of religous freedom. The employers are not allowed to dictate what employees can and cannot do based on the employers religion. Freedom of and from religion is a private thing, it does not allow you to extend your religion to other people, lest you infringe upon their religion or lack thereof. We´re pretty much saying the same thing, but I just wanted to point out that it´s about religous freedom as well as religous primacy.

  • ImRike

    If their opinion is that as Catholics their money must not be used to support things that go against their beliefs, then as an Atheist, my opinion is likewise: I do not want my money (taxes) to support what goes against my beliefs!

  • Anna

    I’m actually shocked that the percentage of Catholic women eschewing birth control would be as high as 13%.

    This would be an interesting population to study. I know there are fundamentalist Catholics all over Patheos, but I’ve never met one in real life. Where do they all live? Are they concentrated in some states more than others? Do they belong to regular parishes, or do they gravitate more towards uber-conservative ones?

    I have numerous Catholic relatives and even attended a Catholic university, and I never came across anyone who claimed to be waiting until marriage to have sex or opposed to birth control. All of the Catholics I know lived with their partners before getting married. All of them have only one or two children.

  • Chris_Lisi

    I agree that we’re pretty much in agreement. My point is that it may be more _useful_ to use the phrase “religious primacy.” It’s a marketing/psychology thing.

    Example: It’s easier for someone to say, “I’m not in favor of same-sex marriage” than to say “I’m not in favor of marriage equality.” This is why there was a push to use the phrase “marriage equality.”

    In the same way, it’s easier for people to say, “I think employers have a right to religious freedom” than to say “I think an employer’s religious rights are primary — they trump all her employees’ religious rights.”

    This is why I believe it will be helpful to use the phrase “religious primacy” — in order to keep attention focused on the _conflict_ between the religious freedoms of multiple parties. That is, we don’t want to be in the awkward position of saying, “Employers have no religious freedom” or “Employers shouldn’t have religious freedom.” We’re saying, “On this issue, there is a _conflict_ and the employees’ rights are/should-be _primary_.”

  • Derrik Pates

    That reminds me of Rick Santorum’s tweet about how the government can’t force us to spend money on things we’re morally opposed to – and a woman’s response along the lines of “I’m sure I’ll see a refund for all my tax dollars that went to pay for the Iraq War any day now”.

  • Pofarmer

    They don’t care. The excuse is “we’re all sinners,” which devout catholics use as a get out of jail free card.

  • Guest

    I don’t see this as a freedom of religion issue. This is the new improved more conservative church flexing it’s political muscles. It yearns for the good old days it thankfully never had in the U.S.