Amid Political Battle, Catholic Bishops Promote Natural Family Planning

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.

Wheaton College Joins Lawsuit Against Obama's Contraception Mandate

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

Blanchard Hall at Wheaton College in Illinois. Photo via Wylio

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.

Melinda Gates: 'I'm a Catholic, But Women Need Access to Contraceptives'

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.

Maternal Mortality, Birth Control, and What God Desires

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 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.”

HHS Doesn’t Speak For Me, or Many Women

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.

Catholic Bishops to Scrutinize Girl Scouts

scouts photo, sagasan /

scouts photo, sagasan /

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.

White House Proposal Gives Religious Groups More Say in Birth Control Mandate

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.

Bishops ‘Dubious’ on White House Contraception Compromise


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.

Contraception Debate Overlooks the Obvious

Birth control photo, Melissa King,

Birth control photo, Melissa King,

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.

Disagreeing Wthout Being Disagreeable

(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.