cry wolf

I love protests, and have taken part in many of them. My first was picketing in front of a San Francisco Safeway, urging shoppers to support California farm workers by boycotting grapes.

But there are real protests and phony protests. And one of the phoniest ever is Catholic bishops’ opposition to the Obama administration’s new rules on contraception.

Judging from the cries of outrage coming from the Catholic hierarchy, you’d think President Obama had shut down Catholic churches, defrocked all priests and dropped an atomic bomb on the Vatican. Bishops accuse him of trampling on religious liberty.

Nonsense. Here’s the truth. On Jan. 20, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen SebeliusKathleen SebeliusMr. President, let markets help save Medicare IRS Tax Day glitch exposes antiquated tech infrastructure Trump administration's reforms could make welfare work again MORE issued a new ruling that insurance policies must offer contraceptive services with no deductible or co-pay. An exception was made for 335,000 churches, missions or other places of worship. 

On Feb. 10, Obama amended that policy by also exempting Catholic universities and hospitals. Employees in those institutions would still have access to birth control, but insurance companies, not the religious employers, would pick up the cost.

Note: As modified, the new ruling does not require Catholic hospitals or clinics to provide birth control. It does not force Catholics to practice contraception. It does not interfere with anyone’s religion. It simply guarantees all women access to the same health protection. It’s up to the individual woman to decide whether to use birth control or not. 

Yet Catholic bishops oppose even the modified policy. Why? Because they’re against contraception, period. They think it’s immoral, and they’re fighting a losing battle. Today, defying official opposition of the church, 98 percent of Catholic women practice some form of birth control. So by demanding that government deny women contraception coverage, bishops are simply trying to get Obama to deliver where they have failed. But that’s not his job. His job is to protect women’s health, not to enforce some outdated, unrealistic policy of an out-of-touch, celibate Catholic hierarchy.

And that’s the real issue. Not religious liberty. But women’s health. Fifty-eight percent of women who use birth control do so not just to prevent pregnancy, but for other important health reasons, such as reducing the risk of ovarian cancer or treating uterine fibroid tumors and anemia. 

As a former Catholic seminarian, what I don’t understand is the bishops’ obsession with sex. Yes, the church is (wrongly) against contraception. But the church is also against the death penalty. Why don’t the bishops raise a stink about that? The church was opposed to the Iraq war. Why didn’t they condemn George W. Bush for bombing a country that did not attack us first? Why do they only get their episcopal panties in a twist when it comes to sex?

No, this is not a case of the president interfering with religious freedom. This is a case of Catholic bishops trying to force their narrow views about sex on everybody else.

Press is host of the nationally syndicated “Bill Press Show.”