contraception

Catholic Bishops to Scrutinize Girl Scouts

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.

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

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.

Contraception Debate Overlooks the Obvious

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.

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.

Bishops Face Internal Challenges in Contraception Battle

(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."

White House Insists Contraception Talks are on Track

Image by Brooke Becker/Shutterstock.com

Image by Brooke Becker/Shutterstock.com

The Obama administration is rejecting charges by the nation's top Catholic bishop that talks to modify a controversial birth control mandate are "going nowhere" because of alleged White House intransigence and efforts to diminish the central role of the bishops.

"The White House has put nearly every issue requested by the bishops on the table for discussion and has sought the views of bishops on resolving difficult policy problems, only to be rebuffed," an administration official close to the negotiations said Tuesday (March 6).

The official was not authorized to speak publicly on the negotiations and requested anonymity to speak candidly about the sensitive talks.

Contraception and Common Decency

(Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

Rush Limbaugh at a Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers game in November. (Photo by George Gojkovich/Getty Images)

I was raised half-Catholic and half-Southern Baptist in Texas, so Rush Limbaugh made an auditory appearance now and again in my car growing up. One of my early memories was discovering a new term: “feminazis.”

These dangerous women were unkempt, outspoken, and downright ungodly, if you believed Limbaugh. Then I reached about age 14. I was actually going to be a woman and maaaaybe this was kind of insulting. I realized that Limbaugh was often self-admittedly absurd—a shock-jock. I stopped taking him seriously.

So when he spit out his latest attack on women and outrage followed, I wondered whether I should even be surprised. What came out of his mouth was disgusting, but this is a man who doesn’t believe in the existence of sexual harassment.

Senate Rejects Conscience Clause Change to Contraception Rule

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., at a news conference Thursday in the Capitol. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

The Senate on Thursday defeated a Republican-led bid to insert a broad religious exemption into a federal mandate that requires most employers and health insurance companies to provide free contraception coverage.

The largely party-line vote was 51-48 in favor of tabling an amendment that Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., had offered to a federal transportation bill.

Blunt and other Republicans had argued that the measure would protect the religious liberty of institutions such as Catholic charities and hospitals that object to contraception on moral grounds.

"It's not just the Catholic Church," Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, said during the floor debate on Thursday. "It's a moral and religious issue that should not be interfered with by the federal government."

Court: Pharmacists Can’t Be Forced to Dispense Morning-after Pill

A federal court has struck down a Washington state rule that requires pharmacists to dispense the morning-after pill even if it violates their religious beliefs.

Religious liberty advocates cheered the decision. They have decried the 2007 state regulation as a violation of pharmacists' First Amendment rights, which guarantee freedom of religion.

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