November 19th 2011

Willful Ignorance or Mindless Cruelty?

By MarieAlena Castle
[Letter to the Minneapolis Star Tribune]

It is with a cold chill that I read Stephen Heaney’s defense (“Freedom of conscience is under assault,” Nov. 19) of the Catholic Bishops’ campaign claiming they are the victims of religious discrimination because the new health care reform regulations require all of the insurance plans to cover contraceptives with no co-pays, as well as sterilization. They see no reason why coverage should be mandated to deal with something that is not a disease but a “natural condition.”

Are they so deep into misogyny or so willfully ignorant that they do not see the mindless cruelty their “freedom of conscience” inflicts on women? For the government to grant religious facilities a “conscience clause” is to deny their non-Catholic women employees and health care or welfare recipients a service for which they have a right and a critical need. Pregnancy may be a natural condition and not a disease, but it is far from harmless. It is inherently life threatening. Without good medical care 1 in 16 women die from its complications. Obstetrics/gynecology is not only a medical specialty but has the highest medical malpractice insurance fees because of the many things that can go wrong with this “natural condition.” Ob-gyn doctors, as a routine precaution, consider the onset of labor as a disaster waiting to happen.

There is also such a thing as coerced pregnancy from rape and incest and psychological abuse. Religious institutions often provide social welfare services for these women under contract with the government. If the Catholic bishops have their way, there will be government-funded denial of contraceptives to prevent a coerced pregnancy, as well as the “morning after” pill following such coercion and, of course, denial of an abortion, even in serious life-threatening circumstances. Yet, according to the Catholic bishops, it is their religious freedom to brutalize women that is under attack. This is not a freedom any government should support.

Women need contraceptives to protect their health and wellbeing, as well as the wellbeing of their families. Without them, they have no effective way to control their lives. This is legitimate health care that cannot rationally be rejected for insurance coverage by government – certainly not as a preferential favor for religion. If religious facilities choose to reject such coverage for doctrinal reasons, they should also reject any government funding that supports their other social services.

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