contraception

Robert Patrick 11-30-2012
Junial Enterprises / Shutterstock

Photo: Junial Enterprises / Shutterstock

ST. LOUIS — A federal appeals court on Wednesday temporarily blocked the enforcement of the Obama administration's contraception mandate while a Catholic business owner appeals a lower court's ruling that tossed out his suit.

Opponents of the law said that it was the first time that an appeals court had weighed in on the issue, which has spawned multiple suits across the country, and called it a “significant victory.”

“The order sends a message that the religious beliefs of employers must be respected by the government,” said Francis Manion, senior counsel of the American Center for Law and Justice, one of the lawyers representing Frank O'Brien.

In a two-sentence order issued Wednesday, a three-judge panel of the St. Louis-based 8th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals voted 2-1 to grant O'Brien's company a delay while the appeal is heard.

RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

Cardinal Timothy Dolan of New York, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. RNS photo by Gregory A. Shemitz

BALTIMORE — After sweeping setbacks to the hierarchy’s agenda on Election Day, New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan on Monday told U.S. Catholic bishops that they must now examine their own failings, confess their sins and reform themselves if they hope to impact the wider culture.

“That’s the way we become channels of a truly effective transformation of the world, through our own witness of a repentant heart,” Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told the 250 bishops gathered here for their annual meeting.

“The premier answer to the question ‘What’s wrong with the world?’ is not politics, the economy, secularism, sectarianism, globalization, or global warming … none of these, as significant as they are,” Dolan said, citing many of the issues that have become favorite targets of the hierarchy.

Family planning illustration,  Luba V Nel / Shutterstock.com

Family planning illustration, Luba V Nel / Shutterstock.com

WASHINGTON — A coalition of evangelicals is calling on fellow Christians to support access to family planning across the world, saying it does not conflict with evangelical opposition to abortion.

The centrist New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good released a 15-page document on Monday calling for “common ground” support of family planning and the health of mothers and children.

“We affirm that the use of contraceptives is a responsible and morally acceptable means to greater control over the number and timing of births, and to improve the overall developing and flourishing of women and children,” said the Rev. Jennifer Crumpton, one of the advisers to the evangelical group.

Amanda Abrams 10-15-2012
Cross illustration, file404 / Shutterstock.com

Cross illustration, file404 / Shutterstock.com

About 30 people are gathered in a dark, makeshift sanctuary at St. Anthony of Padua Church as the sun dips into the horizon. The service follows the familiar pattern of a Catholic Mass, but something is different: The worshippers are dressed casually, many in jeans, and the priest speaks directly and informally to his parishioners. Even the words of the liturgy seem slightly off.

This isn’t a typical Roman Catholic Mass. The church is barely a year old, and it’s part of a new independent Catholic movement, the American National Catholic Church, and bills itself as a home for "Contemporary Catholics."

Founded in 2009 by a bishop and a group of priests seeking a more inclusive religious experience but not ready to leave the Catholic tradition completely, the ANCC aims to follow the spirit of reform established by the Second Vatican Council (1962-1965).

While the sacraments and many fundamental beliefs remain identical to those of Roman Catholicism, the ANCC presents a more progressive version of Catholicism: divorced members can take Communion, women and gays can be ordained, and priests can marry.

RNS photo by Chris Lisee

Family Research Council president Tony Perkins speaking at the Family Research Council Headquarters. RNS photo by Chris Lisee

Family Research Council President Tony Perkins said Sept. 12 that conservative Christians are growing more enthusiastic about GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney, and predicted they would show up at the polls in record numbers in November.

"When it comes to the values of family, values of faith, values of freedom, Mitt Romney is a clear choice, I think, for value voters across this country," Perkins said at a National Press Club luncheon two days before his organization kicks off its annual Values Voter Summit in Washington.

Perkins, a Southern Baptist, said evangelical Christians have "significant theological differences" with Romney, a Mormon, but he said the GOP nominee, if elected, would not be asked to head a national church.

"We don't want a national church. We want religious freedom," he said. "I think someone who has been a part of a persecuted religion is going to be even more sensitive to the issue of religious freedom."

Shira Schoenberg 08-10-2012

Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney accused Democratic President Barack Obama of launching a “war on religion” in a television ad released on Aug. 9.

“President Obama used his health care plan to declare war on religion, forcing religious institutions to go against their faith,” the ad’s announcer states.

The ad pans to a shot of Romney on his recent visit to Poland saying, "In 1979, a son of Poland, Pope John Paul II, spoke words that would bring down an empire. Be not afraid."

It concludes, “When religious freedom is threatened, who do you want to stand with?”

Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Photo by Jim McIsaac/Getty Images

By tradition, the storied Al Smith Dinner has provided a few hours of comic relief from the angry volleys of the campaign trail – a white-tie charity banquet held in the weeks before Election Day, hosted by the archbishop of New York and featuring speeches by the two presidential candidates on the condition that they lob nothing more than good-natured jibes.

But the Catholic hierarchy’s fierce feud with President Obama, abetted by the increasingly sharp tone of the 2012 elections, is threatening to invade this demilitarized zone and give New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan a case of pre-dinner agita.

Dolan has reportedly extended an offer to Obama (as well as his Republican opponent, Mitt Romney) to attend this year’s dinner at the Waldorf-Astoria, scheduled for Oct. 18, and the president has accepted. That has mobilized abortion opponents, who view Obama as the worst thing since Roe v. Wade and an enemy of religious liberty because of his administration's controversial birth control mandate.

The Rev. Frank Pavone, head of Priests for Life, a leading abortion opponent based in Staten Island, said on Aug. 6 that “the polite putting aside of differences for a while amounts to scandal.”

new poll shows that American Catholics tend to agree with their bishops’ concerns that religious liberties are at risk in the U.S.

Nevertheless, Catholics seem to be warming to President Obama, even as the bishops lambaste his administration in their fight to roll back a federal mandate that requires employers — with some exceptions — to cover birth control in their health plans.

The poll, released on Aug. 1 by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life as the contraception mandate took effect, found that among Catholics who are aware of the bishops' protests, 56 percent say they agree with the bishops’ concerns, as opposed to 36 percent who disagree.

Sandi Villarreal 07-26-2012

A new poll released today shows an overwhelming percentage of black and Hispanic voters favor Barack Obama over Mitt Romney in the upcoming presidential election — 87 percent and 58 percent, respectively. Both groups say the economy is a critical issue in the election.

The Religion, Values, and Experiences: Black and Hispanic American Attitudes on Abortion and Reproductive Issues survey, conducted by the Public Religion Research Institute, also showed that two-thirds of black Americans believe abortion should be legal in all or most cases, while only 46 percent of Hispanic Americans agreed. 

Both black and Hispanic Americans (81 and 79 percent, respectively), say contraception is morally acceptable and support expanding access to it. Further 61 percent of black Americans and 64 percent of Hispanic Americans say religiously affiliated institutions should provide contraception at no cost to their employees. 

For more on the survey, stay tuned to the God's Politics blog for continued coverage. 

Amid a battle with President Obama over a new contraception mandate, the nation's Roman Catholic bishops are promoting natural family planning -- but will their flock take heed?  

When the Obama administration in January announced that employers will have to provide contraception coverage to their employees, U.S. Catholic bishops took the lead in fighting the mandate.

Allied with other denominations, the Catholic hierarchy has organized an energetic, nationwide effort to overturn this new federal rule. The Catholic Church calls birth control a sin, even as many Catholics practice it.

The bishops are hoping to change that with their Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, an annual campaign that begins this Sunday (July 22). It’s the church’s only acceptable form of birth control, even as many sexuality educators consider it relatively unreliable. 

Natural Family Planning Awareness Week, then, may provide a window into a church teaching that is helping to drive the most serious standoff between the church and the federal government in decades.

Blanchard Hall at Wheaton College in Illinois. Photo via Wylio.

Blanchard Hall at Wheaton College in Illinois. Photo via Wylio http://www.wylio.com/credits/Flickr/5978664560

Wheaton College, Billy Graham’s alma mater and a top evangelical school, joined Catholic groups in a lawsuit against the Obama administration’s contraception mandate even as a federal judge’s ruling clouded prospects for such actions.

Wheaton, located west of Chicago, filed the suit Wednesday in the U.S. District Court of Washington, D.C., joining Catholic University of America, which launched its suit two months ago. The University of Notre Dame and dozens of other religious organizations, mainly Catholic, have also filed suits in federal courts around the country to overturn the mandate. 

Wheaton is represented by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a legal advocacy group that has spearheaded many of the challenges to the policy, which will require most employer health insurance plans to provide birth control coverage.

The mandate, issued by the Health and Human Services Department, goes into effect on Aug. 1, but most religious organizations have a year’s grace period while they try to work out an acceptable accommodation with the administration.

the Web Editors 07-14-2012

EDITOR'S NOTE: Melinda Gates talks to the Guardian (UK) newspaper about reconciling her Catholic faith  — the wife of Microsoft chairman Bill Gates says she attends mass regularly — with her work promoting family planning. Gates was in London this week to discuss promoting contraception in the developing world with UK government representatives. The Gates Foundation hopes to encourage donor pledges that will enable 120 million women to have access to contraceptives by 2020.

Rachel Marie Stone 06-08-2012
Crib image by photomak / Shutterstock.

Crib image by photomak / Shutterstock.

I find myself thinking a lot about maternal mortality (and the issues that surround it, like access to contraception) lately, partly because I’ll soon be moving to a country with one of the world’s most dismal maternal mortality rates, and partly because my husband and I aren’t planning to have more biological children, which means that we’re contracepting for the duration.

Also, Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn’s Half the Sky movement is gaining even more visibility — PBS’s Independent Lens is creating a series of short films and some longer features on issues raised in their bestselling, well-worth-reading book even as birth control reemerges again and again as a point of contention between Catholic bishops and nuns, between government policy and religious conviction, and even, as Amy Frykholm as suggested, among evangelicals.

Recently I’ve become aware that unwanted pregnancies are nothing new — certainly not the product of a culture that’s “anti-life” or anti-children, as the new-ish evangelical suspicion of birth control has it. In the 1850s, Mathilde Shillock, a German immigrant settled on the Minnesota frontier wrote,

“God has entrusted us with a son...it seems that his father is happy over it, I myself do not wish for any more children, as I look upon life as a heavy burden. [...] pity is all I can offer [this child]. Pity and a feeling of duty towards him to lighten his blameless fate.”

Helen Alvare 05-22-2012

Image by brandonht / shutterstock.

Pundits and politicians who opine about the so-called war on women ought to take note of the lawsuits filed Monday against the Department of Health and Human Services contraception mandate by 43 religious groups, including several Catholic dioceses and colleges.

The suits object to the requirement that religious institutions provide their employees with insurance coverage for contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.

In the propaganda surrounding the mandate, HHS seems to suggest that women’s only stake in the matter is “free” contraception. This is a shallow – and frankly demeaning – view of women, who, equally with men, have an important stake in the preservation of religious freedom in the United States.

scouts photo, sagasan / Shutterstock.com

scouts photo, sagasan / Shutterstock.com

The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops are reviewing the church’s long-standing ties to the Girl Scouts of the USA after complaints that some of that venerable organization’s programs might contradict church teachings on contraception and abortion.

The inquiry by the Catholic bishops has been ongoing for two years and was prompted by persistent reports, circulated on the Internet and by some social conservatives, that the Girl Scouts of the USA has ties to Planned Parenthood or, for example, endorses material on sexuality that the church would not approve.

RNS photo courtesy Pete Souza / The White House.

President Barack Obama talks with HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius. RNS photo courtesy Pete Souza / The White House.

The Obama administration is offering to expand the number of faith-based groups that can be exempt from the controversial contraception mandate, and proposing that third-party companies administer coverage for self-insured faith-based groups at no cost.

At its heart, the newest offering from the White House would allow religious groups -- dioceses, denominations and others -- to decide which affiliated institutions are "religious" and therefore exempt from the new requirement that employers offer free contraception coverage as part of employee insurance plans.

The proposals are an effort by the administration to blunt criticisms of the controversial regulation, especially by the nation's Catholic bishops, who have been at loggerheads with the White House since President Obama announced the contraception mandate in January.

JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

President Barack Obama announcing original compromise in February.(JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images)

The nation's Catholic bishops have again voiced doubts about the Obama administration's plans to modify a mandate for employers to provide free birth control coverage, vowing to press a new campaign to rally Americans to defend religious freedom.

Despite their skepticism, a statement issued Wednesday (March 14) by leading bishops at the end of a closed-door meeting in Washington was notable for lacking the "war on religion" rhetoric that has characterized many of the hierarchy's broadsides against the White House.

While the bishops called the proposal unveiled by President Obama on Feb. 10 "an unspecified and dubious future 'accommodation,'" they also stressed that they are willing to "accept any invitation to dialogue" with the White House.

the Web Editors 03-13-2012
Birth control photo, Melissa King, Shutterstock.com

Birth control photo, Melissa King, Shutterstock.com

Since Rush Limbaugh’s tirade, calling Sandra Fluke a “slut” for testifying for free access to birth control, the actual subject of debate seems like a distant memory. What were we talking about again? Paying for sex? Wait …

As religion journalist Nicole Neroulias points out in a recent piece, “I Was a Virgin on Birth Control,” and as others have attempted to testify, doctors prescribe birth control to remedy a number of real, physical ailments. These include ovarian cysts (think kidney stone-style pain, guys), endometriosis(which can lead to infertility) and a variety of other conditions that we know all-male panels probably don’t want to hear details about.

James Calvin Davis 03-13-2012
(Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

Rush Limbaugh speaks during a news conference for judges at the Planet Hollywood. (Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images)

In an apparent bid to add an erudite contribution to our public discourse, Rush Limbaugh called a Georgetown law student a "slut" and a "prostitute" for testifying before Congress in favor of the Obama administration's mandate that employers cover contraception in their health insurance plans.

After a considerable public outcry, a number of sponsors have abandoned Limbaugh, causing him to issue what resembled a public apology. But Limbaugh also heard more than a few "amens" from people who considered difference of opinion a sufficient justification for publicly defaming the young woman.

Maybe I'm expecting way too much from talk radio, but don't we deserve better from our public discourse?

At the heart of this debate over contraception is a conflict between religious rights and social obligation -- one we've had to navigate numerous times in our nation's history.

It's never been easy for us to determine the boundaries between individual right to unencumbered belief and competing responsibility to civic need. But it certainly doesn't help us work through the difficulties when pundits resort to name-calling and complexities are dissolved into bumper-sticker sound bites.

To talk carefully about this tough issue requires that we take seriously the claim from some Catholics that a requirement to finance contraception represents a fundamental violation of convictions about when life begins and what makes sex a moral good. Yet we also need to take just as seriously the moral value that others place on the right of access to basic health services, and the public good that comes from including contraception in our definition of basic health care.

(Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

Cardinal Timothy Dolan, Archbishop of New York attends a mass held by pope Benedict XVI.(Photo by Franco Origlia/Getty Images)

In the weeks since President Obama proposed a compromise on his plan to mandate free contraception coverage, the nation's Catholic bishops have appeared unified and galvanized in their thorough rejection of the accommodation.

For the hierarchy, it's been an invigorating change after years of playing defense during the clergy sexual abuse crisis.

"What (Obama) offered was next to nothing," a confident New York Cardinal Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, told Catholic News Service.

Other prominent churchmen were even more derisive. They blasted Obama's olive branch of having insurers -- rather than employers like Catholic hospitals and universities -- pay for birth control coverage under a separate policy as an "accounting gimmick."

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