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/

Image by Brooke Becker/

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.

Lutherans Find Common with Catholics on Obama Mandate

Books image via Shutterstock

Books image via Shutterstock

ST. LOUIS -- Lutherans and Catholics are not historically known for their theological sympathy, but earlier this month the president of the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod told the U.S. House that he will "stand with our friends in the Catholic Church" in opposition to a recent government ruling on contraception.

History aside, the Rev. Matthew Harrison made it clear that the Missouri Synod now has "large consensus with the Roman Catholic Church on moral issues."

"The Christian church is a billion times beyond the Missouri Synod," Harrison said. "Without the Roman Catholic Church in this country, our way would be infinitely more difficult."

Bayer, Knees and Contraception

Photo by Getty Images.

Photo by Getty Images.

I was intrigued by a recent comment from a major political contributor when he suggested using Bayer aspirin was a viable birth control method for women. Mega-contributor Foster Friess was being interviewed by MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell when he referred to bygone days when “the gals put it between their knees, and it wasn’t that costly.”

He later claimed the remark was just a joke, but not before I’d spent a half hour trying it out. I wouldn’t have wasted my time seeing if it was possible which, according to my unscientific test, it’s not. Of course, it could have been the slacks I was wearing, which sometimes gather at the knees, or the angle in which I was sitting. But the darn thing just kept falling out.

News Analysis: Bishops’ Contraception Objections Fail the Church's Own Moral Reasoning


A woman shows condoms with a picture of Pope Benedict XVI, "I said No!" By BORIS HORVAT/AFP/Getty Images

The president's plan meant that religious employers — mainly Catholic universities, hospitals and social service agencies — would not be involved in paying for or administering something they deem sinful: contraception. At the same time, all employees would still have access to the same contraception benefit, no matter whom they work for.

Critics of the president's plan, however, didn't see it that way.

"Dangerous and insulting," a group of leading Catholic bishops wrote to their fellow churchmen. "A cheap accounting trick," Robert P. George, Mary Ann Glendon and several other leading culture warriors complained in an open letter that has generated more than 100 signers.

The "compromise," said New York Times columnist Ross Douthat, "asks the parties involved to compromise their reasoning faculties and play a game of 'let's pretend' instead."

Yet that "game," as Douthat put it, is actually a venerable tradition in Catholic moral theology that for centuries has provided a way for Christians to think about acting virtuously in a fallen world.

New Poll: Public Divided Over Birth Control Insurance Mandate

Info graphic via Pew Research Center.

Info graphic via Pew Research Center.

The American public is closely divided over the federal rule that would require employers, including most religiously-affiliated institutions, to cover birth control as part of their health care benefits, according to the latest survey by the Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life.

On Feb.10, the Obama administration announced it would modify the mandate in response to criticism that the rule would force religious organizations to violate their religious beliefs in providing contraception coverage. The latest Pew survey shows little difference in opinions among people interviewed before the administration’s proposed modification and those interviewed afterward.

The War on Religion is Bad for Religion

War on religion? Image via Wylio,

War on religion? Image via Wylio,

I’m not a fan of calling things wars that aren’t really wars. As soon as something is labeled a “war”, whether it be the “culture wars” or now the “war on religion,” we severely limit the ways we can move forward and solutions available to us. EJ Dionne in his column today at the Washington Post puts it this way:  

Politicized culture wars are debilitating because they almost always require partisans to denigrate the moral legitimacy of their opponents, and sometimes to deny their very humanity. It’s often not enough to defeat a foe. Satisfaction only comes from an adversary’s humiliation.

One other thing about culture wars: One side typically has absolutely no understanding of what the other is trying to say.