Catholic Institutions v Obama Administration


BOB ABERRNETHY, host: In a coordinated effort, 43 Catholic institutions filed federal lawsuits to stop the Obama administration’s plan to require free coverage of contraceptive services. Among the plaintiffs were Catholic dioceses, hospitals, social service agencies, and universities, including Notre Dame. They say the requirement would infringe on their religious freedom. Supporters of the coverage plan say a proposed compromise would avoid religious liberty concerns, but the Catholic bishops reject that compromise. Meanwhile, a new Gallup Poll found that 82 percent of US Catholics believe birth control is morally acceptable. Fifteen percent said it was morally wrong.

Joining me now are Kim Lawton, managing editor of this program, and Kevin Eckstrom, editor-in-chief of Religion News Service. Kevin, Kim, welcome. Kevin, what do you make of this?

Kevin EckstromKEVIN ECKSTROM: Well, the Catholic institutions that filed suit are basically fighting over whether or not they have to provide birth control coverage to their employees in their insurance plans. That’s what the root of this is all about. The fact that they, 43 groups, came together and filed a dozen lawsuits shows that they are trying to come at this with the full weight of the church, to show that this is not just an isolated diocese or a small group, but that the whole range of the church is really upset about this. And it also signals, I think, that they don’t see any other alternative, that they don’t see a political compromise in the works with the White House. They, I think, in a lot of ways, feel like they have no other choice but to go to court.

KIM LAWTON: And they feel that the compromise that the White House has offered which some more progressive, liberal, moderate Catholics say that’s okay— these groups are saying no, it’s not okay. It doesn’t cover us, and for them it’s a matter of religious freedom, and they very clearly said, this is not about contraception, really. It’s about religious freedom and our ability to practice our beliefs and the government not telling us what to do, what we have to do, and the government not also saying who is a religious group that qualifies for an exemption from the policy.

ABERNETHY: And how representative do you think these groups are?

ECKSTROM: Well, they’re representative in that it’s a broad range. I mean, it’s schools, it’s groups, it’s dioceses, it’s big dioceses and small ones. But it’s only a handful of dioceses, I think, you know, less than 12 dioceses out of 200 or so in the country, so the vast majority of local dioceses did not join this suit.

ABERNETHY: But that doesn’t mean that they like, what’s going on.

ECKSTROM: Right. And a lot of them support what the bishops as a whole are trying to do, but there is some dissension in the ranks about what the best legal strategy is, and a lot of people, a lot of bishops, or some bishops think that this was a bit premature.

ABERNETHY: The fury of the opposition and the breadth of it suggest that the administration might have miscalculated when they presented this in the first place. Do you see that?

Kim LawtonLAWTON: Well, the first policy, the first iteration of this policy got very widespread disapproval from a lot of Catholics, and we’ve heard that inside the administration there were people saying, warning the administration that this would not be popular. Now, more people, more Catholics have approved this, the compromise that the Obama administration tried to work out, but there are some suggestions that maybe they weren’t prepared for this and that the religious outreach wasn’t what it should have been in order to figure out how to maneuver this.

ABERNETHY: Quickly, you agree?

ECKSTROM: Yeah, and a lot of Catholic bishops said that they were basically blindsided by this. They were never consulted beforehand and say hey, this is what we’re planning to do, what do you think? Can we find something that works? Instead, they were just handed this and said take it or leave it, and the bishops basically have said no, we’re not going to take it.

ABERNETHY: Right in the middle of an election year.

ECKSTROM: Right. And there is some concern both within the bishops’ conference but also without that the bishops risk appearing to be anti-Obama or perhaps too Republican and that the timing on this needs to be very, very sensitive.

ABERNETHY: Kevin Eckstrom. Kim Lawton. Many thanks.

  • Ken

    To some extent, it’s interesting to hear non-Catholics discuss issues that overlook the key points. But for future reference, let me sum them up
    1. The HHS Mandate includes “abortifacients” (abortion causing drugs and devices). No Catholic can participate in procuring, assisting, or facilitating an abortion.
    2. “Artificial” contraception is considered a “grave evil”. Sadly, many Catholics do not believe, or understand this.
    3. The Catholic Church is not a Democracy, where the “Truth” is determined by popular opinion. Most Americans (including many Catholics) do not understand this.
    4. The First Amendment is quite clear about prohibiting the government from interfering in religious matters.
    “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.”
    To overlook these key points causes one to wonder the purpose of the conversation.

  • Ann M Ellison

    Oh but it IS about contraception. It’s about controlling women even if they don’t admit to or understand that that is the case. When you are running a business and you hire persons to work for you …surely you understand that the position they accept, the salary they accept and the benefits they accept are very important to them and their families. A job, a position, is not something that is easily replaced. Job security, seniority…all sorts of issues come into play here. Now, drop in the Catholic Church. They wish to meddle in the most personal parts of their employees lives. There is simply no excuse for this. Deciding how many children to have, how to space those births and so many other health issues are vital to keeping a woman healthy. It is a basic health issue…BASIC…for women. But, no matter that…it is simply not the business or religious concern what the employees do with their sex lives. The deal is they supply health insurance…PERIOD. Birth Control is a vital part of a woman’s health care…PERIOD. Does the church cover erectile problems for unmarried men? Men whose wives use birth control? This should be a religious problem for the church IF freedom of religion was the problem. But, it isn’t.

  • Channah

    I personally know of no Catholic who supports the far out radical ideas of the Catholic church.

    But, the Catholic church is on it’s way out—-at least, as to the contol of its members. People are becoming more educated and worldly wise, that they will not let the Catholic church control them any longer.

    This is one of its last cries to keep from loosing that control. Yes, there are some radicals that adhere to the power of the church———-but, then, the orthodox of any religion is a henderance, not a help, to the people as a whole.

  • Bob B

    The reports and rumors of disagreement among the Catholic Bishops are completely false. The one bishop
    cited in news reports publicly corrected the misquote. Naturally, the national (liberal) media did not
    report this. In reality, every bishop joined in condemning the regulation, based on its violation of religious freedom (assured by the Constitution), the immorality of the regulation (which includes paying for abortifacients and sterilization) as well as a “new” and unprecedented definition of religious organizations.

    And contrary to Mr. Abernethy’s statement, the Church, including the Bishops, has repeatedly explained and emphasized that birth control is NOT the root of the question, although it was obvious that Obama and his strategists were hoping it would be seen this way. Initially even the liberal press correctly reported the regulation as threatening religious liberty. But then, I suspect, they got the message that the Administration was intending it to be SEEN as:simply covereing a generally used method of avoiding pregnancy, which most laymen accept.. The truth, of course, was seen immediately by most religions: that is, clearly aimed at forcing Catholic institutions to either

    (1) violate their own moral convictions and teachings on the sanctity of human life, (since abortifacients are included) and sterilization, which the regulation would force nearly all Catholic institutions to offer
    (2) give up their works of chariity, education, and health care, because they are offered to all, regardless of religion, and employ staff regtardless of religion. The key is the regulation’s new definition of “religious institution” which is restricted to only those organiztions which refuse to hire members (a) outside their religion, and (b) whicfh offer services only to those belonging to the religion.. Such a definition has never been used in any other laws. This would greatly hurt thousands of people, especially those who are poor and needy.

    Finally, the Bishops have made it very clear that their position has nothing to do with politics. The policy would be equally objectionable if proposed by a non-Democrat. They also objected strongly to other individual issues backed by Republicans. I doubt that any of those, however, would have violated the Constitution, and the established cooperative relationship of religion and governmen.

  • Yani

    Don’t employees EARN their benefits packages – including their healthcare benefits? Unless they’re part-time or temp employees, an employee who is paid with a benefit package has the benefit package as PART of their earnings. This means that the employee EARNS her healthcare, and pays into the healthcare package, and should NOT be denied coverage for her medications, including birth control AND abortion, if needed. Why doesn’t anyone ever bring up THIS aspect of the situation? They all keep repeating, over and over, that employers shouldn’t be forced to pay for birth control, but the EMPLOYEE is WORKING and EARNING the pay package/benefits! This frustrates me. Thanks for letting me get it off my chest here.

  • Channah

    The Cathoic church demands too much of its members, and also tries to force pthers to follow their rules, too.

    People are being more open in discussions, more educated, and mor willing to think for themselves. The power of the church is quickly falling————–a good thing for all/

  • Jim

    The Bishops won the first battle by phrasing their response to Obama’s first proposal as an afront to Religious Freedom.
    They now seem prepared to lose the war by rejecting a resonable compromise offered by the Obama Administration.
    The Bishops would be far better off to push for further compromises in the proposal then for an all out rejection of it and entering into a law suit.

    I find it interesting, if not hiprocritical, that the church is playing the Religious Freedom card with the Obama Administration when it is restricting the freedom of Religous Women’s Communites and investagating the Girl Scouts of America because they are exercising there freedom of association and free speech.

  • JDE

    @Bob B: “The truth, of course, was seen immediately by most religions: that is, clearly aimed at forcing Catholic institutions to either.. violate their own moral convictions and teachings on the sanctity of human life, … or… give up their works of chariity, education, and health care, because they are offered to all, regardless of religion, and employ staff regtardless of religion.”

    Um, no. Medical benefits are part of an employee’s compensation. If Catholic institutions are offended, let them pay their employees the cash equivalent, so they can purchase these services independently – unless you’re suggesting that these institutions can dictate how employees are allowed to spend their salaries (for which I strongly suspect you would advocate).

  • Maria

    Why do people think that when the bishops don’t want to compromise the beliefs of their faith that they are telling women how many children to have? Their is little logical connection. If you want to work for a Catholic organization yet want to purchase birth control you are free to do so. And most importanly – it is as if noone in this debate has noticed – swallowing dangerous pillls is not the only way to avoid pregnancy and isn’t the most effective either.