Foes of birth control mandate deny Americans care
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On May 4, President Trump stood in the Rose Garden with a select group of ultraconservative religious figures who have entered into a marriage of convenience with his administration to carve out religious exemptions in federal law so that they can discriminate against and deny people care.

In their editorial on this matter, Alveda King and Father Frank Pavone argued that they are fighting to protect their religious freedoms. Chief among their battles is their desire to lift the contraception mandate — guaranteeing contraceptive coverage for all Americans —  for not only religious organizations, but any corporation that “morally” objects to it.

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What they forget to consider is the religious freedoms of all other Americans who want and need contraceptive coverage to make their own responsible and ethical decisions about when, how and whether to have a family. The decision to deny coverage hurts real people — with diverse faith views — who find themselves at the mercy of their employer to afford healthcare.

This failed consideration is hardly surprising as Father Frank Pavone’s Priests for Life organization has a history of taking extremist positions on religious freedoms that are not supported by most Catholics. 

His extremist views on abortion and end-of-life cases such as that of Terri Schiavo have come up against indifference and even disapproval from other priests and the Catholic hierarchy.

After finding himself on the fringes of the church, Father Pavone sought refuge for his ultraconservative organization in the remote mission diocese of Amarillo, where he’s trying to mold a few young priests to take up more extremist views.    

Father Pavone simply does not represent the majority of Catholics who believe in freedom of religion as well as freedom from religion. He does not even represent the majority of priests who have not joined his organization. Approximately 79 percent of Catholics believe contraceptive coverage should be required in insurance plans and 99 percent of sexually active Catholic women use contraception that the bishops do not approve. 

He has called the use of contraception an “intrinsically evil act.”  

In their piece, Ms. King and Father Pavone intimate that the Trump administration is taking measured steps to lift the contraceptive mandate so as to avoid “lawsuits from the left.”

What they do not say is why such lawsuits might happen. Because real people get hurt when we let one conservative religious group reign over all Americans. And we know it is poor people and people of color in particular who will be hurt by this denial of insurance coverage — as the rich will always have the power and resources to take control of their fertility.
Real people will be hurt, like Rachel Field who ended up with a ruptured cyst after falling out of her birth control routine when a nurse refused to administer Depo Provera shots at the Catholic Fordham University health center. Or the young women who come across the border fleeing sexual violence and are then denied emergency contraceptives and other family planning by Catholic charities that receive federal funds to assist them.

The majority of Americans know that this is who gets hurt when we privilege one set of religious beliefs — especially minority conservative views like those of Father Pavone — that do not represent most Americans. Let’s hope this administration listens to the voices of all Americans and abandons this reckless move to strip women of the healthcare coverage they need to live empowered lives.

Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe is vice president of the domestic program at Catholics for Choice, where she develops and implements U.S. activities, including policymaker education, legislative analysis, advocacy, outreach and relationships with collegial organizations. Catholics for Choice was founded in 1973 to serve as a voice for Catholics who believe that the Catholic tradition supports a woman’s moral and legal right to follow her conscience in matters of sexuality and reproductive health.

Marcela Howell is the founder and executive director of In Our Own Voice: National Black Women's Reproductive Justice Agenda. She has over 40 years of experience advocating for women’s rights, reproductive health and justice and women’s empowerment. In Our Own Voice is a policy initiative in partnership with Black Women for Wellness, Black Women’s Health Imperative, New Voices for Reproductive Justice, SisterLove, Inc. SisterReach, SPARK Reproductive Justice Now, The Afiya Center, and Women With A Vision, that supports abortion rights and access, contraceptive equity and comprehensive sex education.


The views expressed by contributors are their own and not the views of The Hill.