Panel Recommends Coverage for Contraception

The National Academy of Sciences recommended Tuesday that all health insurance plans be required to cover a wide range of preventive services, including free contraceptives for women, under President Obama’s health care overhaul.

To reduce unintended pregnancies, a 16-member panel from the academy’s Institute of Medicine said that insurers should cover the full range of contraceptive methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration, as well as sterilization procedures and ”œeducation and counseling for all women with reproductive capacity.”

The panel said insurers should be forbidden to charge co-payments for these services because even small charges could deter their use. Defending its recommendation, the panel said that nearly half of all pregnancies in the United States were unintended, and that about 40 percent of unintended pregnancies ended in abortion. Thus, it said, greater use of contraception would reduce the rates of unintended pregnancy, teen pregnancy and abortion.

Moreover, the panel said, ”œcontraception is highly cost-effective,” saving far more than it costs.

The new health care law says insurers must cover ”œpreventive health services,” and cannot charge for them. The Obama administration asked the Institute of Medicine ”” a nonpartisan, nongovernmental organization ”” to help identify the specific services that must be covered for women.

Under the law, the secretary of health and human services, Kathleen Sebelius, will decide what to include in the minimum package of essential health benefits that must be covered by all insurers.

Accepting the report Tuesday, Ms. Sebelius, said: ”œThis report is historic. Before today, guidelines regarding women’s health and preventive care did not exist. These recommendations are based on science and existing literature.”


”œWe are one step closer to saying goodbye to an era when simply being a woman is treated as a pre-existing condition,” Senator Barbara A. Mikulski, Democrat of Maryland. ”œWe are saying hello to an era where decisions about preventive care and screenings are made by a woman and her doctor, not by an insurance company.”


The panel also said the government should require all health plans to cover seven other preventive services for women, including screening to detect domestic violence; screening for H.I.V., the virus that causes AIDS; and counseling to promote breastfeeding. In addition, the panel said that all insurers should be required to cover the cost of rental fees for breast pumps.

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  • .. a sin against God.

    People should only have sex if they intend to produce a child out of that particular event. Having sex without the specific purpose of procreation is a sin.

    Those that promote contraception are tools of the devil.

    (A co-worker told me that once, and he was serious. Same guy that got fired for bringing a gun to work in his toolbox. What are the odds that he is a Tea Partier these days.. like 100%?)

  • ..taught

    I decided to look up the reference below again – and upon repeated reading am struck by the use of the word “vessel” used to describe the wife. Viewing women as merely baby factories is nothing new, I guess.

    St. Augustine [wikipedia] taught (from his book On Concupiscence and Marriage) as follows:

    Chapter 9 [VIII.]— This Disease of Concupiscence in Marriage is Not to Be a Matter of Will, But of Necessity; What Ought to Be the Will of Believers in the Use of Matrimony; Who is to Be Regarded as Using, and Not Succumbing To, the Evil of Concupiscence; How the Holy Fathers of the Old Testament Formerly Used Wives.

    This disease of concupiscence is what the apostle refers to, when, speaking to married believers, he says: “This is the will of God, even your sanctification, that you should abstain from fornication: that every one of you should know how to possess his vessel in sanctification and honour; not in the disease of desire, even as the Gentiles which know not God.” 1 Thessalonians 4:3-5 The married believer, therefore, must not only not use another man’s vessel, which is what they do who lust after others’ wives; but he must know that even his own vessel is not to be possessed in the disease of carnal concupiscence. And this counsel is not to be understood as if the apostle prohibited conjugal— that is to say, lawful and honourable— cohabitation; but so as that that cohabitation (which would have no adjunct of unwholesome lust, were it not that man’s perfect freedom of choice had become by preceding sin so disabled that it has this fatal adjunct) should not be a matter of will, but of necessity, without which, nevertheless, it would be impossible to attain to the fruition of the will itself in the procreation of children. And this wish is not in the marriages of believers determined by the purpose of having such children born as shall pass through life in this present world, but such as shall be born again in Christ, and remain in Him for evermore. Now if this result should come about, the reward of a full felicity will spring from marriage; but if such result be not realized, there will yet ensue to the married pair the peace of their good will. Whosoever possesses his vessel (that is, his wife) with this intention of heart, certainly does not possess her in the “disease of desire,” as the Gentiles which know not God, but in sanctification and honour, as believers who hope in God. A man turns to use the evil of concupiscence, and is not overcome by it, when he bridles and restrains its rage, as it works in inordinate and indecorous motions; and never relaxes his hold upon it except when intent on offspring, and then controls and applies it to the carnal generation of children to be spiritually regenerated, not to the subjection of the spirit to the flesh in a sordid servitude. That the holy fathers of olden times after Abraham, and before him, to whom God gave His testimony that “they pleased Him,” thus used their wives, no one who is a Christian ought to doubt, since it was permitted to certain individuals among them to have a plurality of wives, where the reason was for the multiplication of their offspring, not the desire of varying gratification.

    …And more simply from Chapter 5:

    The union, then, of male and female for the purpose of procreation is the natural good of marriage. But he makes a bad use of this good who uses it bestially, so that his intention is on the gratification of lust, instead of the desire of offspring.

    So, no lusting after those wives, Christian gentlemen. Only when actually copulating may you loosen (ever so slightly, and of necessity) the reins of your concupiscence so as to cause your wife to be fruitful. Desire for sex must not be a motivation for anything, even sex! Further, the only aim of such clearly dangerous activity is to create Christian children. We must all cooperate with God in his creative act!

    (Of course any other use of the sexual facility is downright evil!)

    UPDATE: The Church seems to have moderated its stance slightly since then:

    This from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2nd edition (Pope John Paul II, 8 September 1997):

    2351 Lust is disordered desire for or inordinate enjoyment of sexual pleasure. Sexual pleasure is morally disordered when sought for itself, isolated from its procreative and unitive purposes.

    Ha! So, some progress. Sex can be used for unitive purposes, within reason – that is to say, within (straight) Marriage, and not in a disordered or inordinately enjoyable way, while open to the production of children. It’s complicated being Catholic!

    [Edit: on second thought not – Augustine refers above to the “the peace of their good will” that can result from endeavoring with one’s vessel to procreate…]

    Update (2/10/2012) – the earlier influence of Clement of Alexandria: Why is birth control the Catholic Church’s last stand?

    Unlike Paul, who permitted marriage purely as a release of sexual tension, Clement’s rationale for permitting it was to limit sex to reproductive purposes. In this, he was following the prescriptions laid out in Plato’s Laws (which he weirdly believed to be inspired by Moses) for bringing the sexual drives under the control of reason. He believed (or at least said) that there was a real danger of a slippery slope and claimed that there were some Christian sects that allowed a total sexual libertinism, which was throwing the movement into disrepute. Hence the need to limit sexuality to its obvious and natural purpose: reproduction.

    This compromise obviously had its influence in the East as well, but its effects were arguably more intense in the West, where all clergy were eventually required to be celibate. Over the course of the Middle Ages, the stigmatization of non-reproductive sexual activities (including homosexuality) picked up speed, resulting in the invention of the category of sodomy. (Fun fact: Tertullian, a theologian writing at roughly the same time as Clement, argued that the sin of Sodom was indulging in marriage.) Toward the end of the Middle Ages, marriage was ultimately enshrined as a sacrament, cementing the two-tiered system as the basis of day-to-day Catholic experience. The shock of the Reformation, which combatted the requirement of priestly celibacy, only led to a further entrenchment of clerical celibacy during the reactionary period of the Counter-Reformation.

    Should have known to blame the Greeks…

    Update (2/11/2012) – Via a Hullabaloo comment thread: Birth Control: Apostolic Tradition.

    Some nice quotes – and further down this gem:

    Ignoring the mountain of evidence, some maintain that the Church considers the use of contraception a matter for each married couple to decide according to their “individual conscience.” Yet, nothing could be further from the truth. The Church has always maintained the historic Christian teaching that deliberate acts of contraception are always gravely sinful, which means that it is mortally sinful if done with full knowledge and deliberate consent (CCC 1857). This teaching cannot be changed and has been taught by the Church infallibly.

    To the contrary we have this hosted at CUA: Abortion and Catholic Thought: The Little-Told History

    Update, 3/4/12: Frank Schaeffer has collected some nice quotes in his piece: The Bishops’ War on Women .

    Here are a few:

    “It is NOT lawful to demand, to defend, or to grant unconditional freedom of thought, or speech, or writing, or religion, as if these were so many rights given by nature to man.” – Pope Leo XIII (“Libertas”; 1903)

    “CURSED be those who assert liberty of conscience and of worship and such that maintain that the [Roman Catholic] Church may not employ FORCE.” – Pope Pius IX (pope: 1846-1878; “Syllabus Errorum” of December 1864)

    “FASCISM is the regime that CORRESPONDS MOST CLOSELY to the concepts of the CHURCH OF ROME.” – “Civilta Cattolica” (official Jesuit organ)

    Schaeffer continues:

    What irks me is that because Americans don’t know the history of religion we take Dolan and the rest of the bishops seriously at face value instead of just laughing at them for their hubris in claiming for themselves what they have denied others through history.

    How ironic that Dolan and the bishops are claiming “freedom” to impose their will on women. Thus their argument is “we have the religious right to deny what we’re demanding for ourselves.” And all this is in the service of denying women equality while also trying to destroy an American president.

  • of battling a faith based on stunted sexual/emotional growth with cold, hard facts and logic.

    Good luck with that NAS (again)

    Note: Not that I’m not grateful, it just isn’t going to amount to a hill of beans.

  • Bishops oppose mandatory contraception and sterilization coverage

    CNA / EWTN News, By Kevin J. Jones, July 20

    Washington DC – The U.S. bishops “strongly oppose” a proposal to mandate coverage of surgical sterilization and all FDA-approved birth control in private health insurance plans nationwide. The mandate would undermine the good of women and children and the consciences of heath care providers, one leading bishop said.

    “Pregnancy is not a disease, and fertility is not a pathological condition to be suppressed by any means technically possible,” said Cardinal Daniel DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities.

    The health care legislation passed in 2010 directed the Obama administration to create a list of preventive services for women that all new health care plans must cover without deductibles or co-payments. In response, a committee of the National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine drafted non-binding guidelines in a year-long review conducted at the request of Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius.

    The committee recommended “the full range” of federally approved contraceptives and sterilization procedures.

    Cardinal DiNardo noted that the Institute of Medicine committee said it would have good reason to recommend mandatory coverage for surgical abortions, if such a mandate were not prevented by law.

    “I can only conclude that there is an ideology at work in these recommendations that goes beyond any objective assessment of the health needs of women and children,” he said in a July 19 statement.


    Cardinal DiNardo said the threat to consciences makes it “especially critical” for Congress to pass the Respect for Rights of Conscience Act, which would forbid federal requirements that make health plans require providers to provide items or services which violate religious beliefs or moral convictions.

    Yes, ideology must be avoided at all costs, Cardinale. As should tax-exempt clergy opining upon politics.

    President Obama rescinded conscience clauses earlier this year: Christian groups decry change to medical conscience clause

    One owes respect to the living. To the dead, one owes only the truth.

  • should be treated as enemy combatants, because they seek to undermine the security of the nation by causing the demand for physical resources to exceed the supply.

  • New York Times, By Pam Belluck, July 23

    Steve Owens had always left birth control to his wife, who took the pill. After all, male methods were vasectomy, which he did not want, and condoms, which he described as: “Well, condoms are condoms.”

    Then Mr. Owens volunteered to test potential methods that lowered his sperm count so much that “I was not viably able to produce a child,” he said. His count rebounded weeks after stopping each method, and he fathered a daughter between research studies.


    “Male contraception is a critical area,” said Jenny Sorensen, a foundation spokeswoman. “It doesn’t make sense to not include everyone in the discussion.”

    The most studied approach in the United States uses testosterone and progestin hormones, which send the body signals to stop producing sperm. While effective and safe for most men, they have not worked for everyone, and questions about side effects remain.

    Thankfully, a blogger at First Things tells us use of male contraceptives would create fewer ethical problems. St. Augustine would still not approve, however, so it remains to be seen if the culture war will cool down with the development of effective male contraception.

    One owes respect to the living. To the dead, one owes only the truth.

  • Dirty Girls Ministries is on a crusade against the evils of female masturbation

    Utne Reader/Bust, By Blaire Briody, September/October 2011

    In a small, plainly decorated room in Lenexa, Kansas, 26-year-old Crystal Renaud logs on to a free video-chat site. She sits at her desk and peers over her black-rimmed glasses, which reflect the dull blue glare of the computer monitor. Meanwhile, in homes scattered around the United States, five other women are staring into their webcams as well. As their faces pop up around Renaud on all their screens, they begin the 6th week of a 12-week pornography addiction recovery group for women called No Stones.

    “Does anyone want to share a story where they felt they had some sort of personality disorder? Or something related?” Renaud asks, before her voice temporarily cuts out and the screen freezes. The group is having technical issues tonight. “For me, I found myself really clinging to certain personality types, those opposite of my dad,” she says when she’s back on. The assignment for this week, she tells the women, is to write down their sexual histories. “I know it’s overwhelming, but don’t be defeated by this,” she says. “There’s hope. This is truth. Even though it’s hard and painful, the truth is what sets you free.”

    The No Stones recovery group is part of an organization called Dirty Girls Ministries that Renaud launched in 2009 after suffering from her own self-described pornography addiction. She says she wanted to help other women recover from their X-rated fixations by connecting with them online and holding meetings at her local church. But her use of the terms porn and addiction may be misleading. The growing group of 100-plus members who participate in the forums say that they masturbate or view porn—which they define as including erotica and romance novels—twice a week or less. For most of us, that would hardly be considered excessive. But to Renaud, it indicates an epidemic of addiction, one that can be treated by helping women stay “clean” of masturbation.

    In addition to the online ministry, she speaks regularly at various evangelical churches in Kansas and has written a book called Dirty Girls Come Clean. “Whether you believe it or not, women are addicted to porn,” Renaud preached in a recent sermon. “You’d be surprised at how many women—women in your own lives—are hiding this deep, dark, and dirty secret.”

    While many of the women she counsels report turning to pornography as a form of escape—from traumas like sexual abuse, infidelity, and even prostitution—Renaud compares their masturbation to alcoholism, saying that “like drugs and alcohol, so many things that feel good in a short amount of time can end up hurting you.”

    Renaud’s advocacy is labeled antipornography, but it aims to treat all masturbation, whether it involves porn or not. When you peel back the layers, the core of her crusade is against sexual thought—even within marriage—unless those thoughts are about your husband while you are engaging in intercourse with him.

    Abstinence advocates rarely address masturbation publicly and tend to cluster it into the issue of pornography addiction, as Renaud does. But certain leaders within this Christian movement have made it clear that masturbation is most definitely included in their efforts. Craig Gross, the founder of, one of the first online communities for Christian porn addicts, says, “Our view of sex is that God designed sex for a man and a woman, not a man and himself.”

    Dirty Girls Ministries had such a nice ring to it, too. Tragic.

    Update (2012-04-15): Young Catholic women try to give Church’s position on birth control new sheen.

  • Both Sides Expect Obama to Side with Bishops on Contraception Coverage

    Religion Dispatches, By Sarah Posner, November 21

    Democrats for Life, which lost most of the members of its caucus in the Blue Dog wipeout of the 2010 midterms, is out with a statement about the Obama Administration’s impending decision on whether to expand the exemption from birth control coverage for employer-sponsored insurance plans. If the Administration does the Bishops’ bidding, employers could choose to exclude from insurance coverage the free contraception, mandated by HHS guidelines issued under the Affordable Care Act, based on “religious conscience,” even if the employer isn’t a church.

    DFL executive director Kristen Day issued a statement predicting that the administration would indeed decide to expand the exemption, so that even nominally religious employers could refuse to cover contraceptives. Note the confidence, from her statement:

    The Administration has no intention of forcing Catholic institutions to provide insurance coverage for services that are directly in opposition to their moral beliefs. It does not make any sense from a public policy perspective and it certainly is not smart politically to alienate Catholic voters.

    Remarkably, DFL offers not one sitting member of Congress for comment on this issue. Instead, it offers former Congresswoman Kathy Dahlkemper (who was defeated in 2010) and former Congressman Bart Stupak, author of the notorious Stupak amendment, who chose not to run again in 2010. Presumably these two are offered to testify to what they believed they were voting for in the ACA (“conscience” protections), but it certainly is telling that there isn’t an actual sitting member of Congress offered to comment on DFL’s behalf.

    Via Hullabaloo: So it’s not about birth control, huh?

  • Obama admin: birth control mandate is final; bishops vow to fight

    LifeSiteNews, By Kathleen Gilbert, January 20

    WASHINGTON – After being deluged with complaints from outraged religious groups, Obama’s health department has dug in its heels, saying its decision to force employers to provide abortifacient birth control drugs will continue as planned – although faith-based groups will be given a year reprieve. In response, U.S. Catholic bishops have not minced words, vowing to fight the order as “literally unconscionable.”

    Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius announced Friday that faith-based entities like hospitals and universities will have until August 1, 2013 to provide employees with free birth control as part of their insurance packages. The mandate will also force such groups to pay for sterilizations and, because the FDA has approved abortifacient drugs such as Ella as “contraception.”

    The mandate is being implemented as part of the new health care legislation that was passed in March 2010 despite vigorous opposition from U.S. Catholic bishops, who called it dangerously open to being used as a means of spreading abortion.


    But Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic bishops, indicated that the Catholic Church would not go down without a fight.

    “In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” said Dolan.

    “To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable,” he continued. “It is as much an attack on access to health care as on religious freedom. Historically this represents a challenge and a compromise of our religious liberty.”


    The National Association of Evangelicals (NAE) said it was “deeply disappointed” in the decision. “The HHS rules trample on our most cherished freedoms and set a dangerous precedent,” said Galen Carey, NAE Vice President for Government Relations.

    HHS Secretary Sebelius: Church Groups Must Provide Contraception

    ‘We have a year to figure out how to violate our conscience,’ says Cardinal-designate Dolan. All options on the table.

    WASHINGTON — Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services, confirmed today that church-affiliated hospitals, agencies and universities will be required to provide contraception and sterilization in the health insurance they provide employees.

    However, nonprofit religious institutions will receive an additional year to accommodate this controversial regulation covered under the new health bill, with an extended deadline of August 2013.

    In a blow to the U.S. bishops and Catholic institutions that had lobbied for a broader exemption for church-affiliated organizations, the HHS secretary released a statement Jan. 20 approving the final rule for mandated preventive services for women. Houses of worship are exempted from the rule.

    “I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services,” Sebelius said. “The administration remains fully committed to its partnerships with faith-based organizations, which promote healthy communities and serve the common good. And this final rule will have no impact on the protections that existing conscience laws and regulations give to health-care providers.”

    The secretary’s judgment was broadly contested by a range of Catholic leaders and religious-freedom advocates.

    I think that waiting until January 22 to release this news would have resulted in a better whack-the-hornets’-nest effect.

  • More Catholics support contraception coverage than other Americans

    NY Daily News:Feds may bend rule on church and birth control

    Raw Story, By David Edwards, February 7

    Catholics in the U.S. are more likely that other Americans say that employers should be required to provide insurance that covers free contraception, according to a recent poll.

    A survey released by the Public Religion Research Institute on Tuesday found that 58 percent of Catholics think businesses should be required to provide health plans with free birth control, compared with 55 percent of all Americans who agreed with the requirement. At 38 percent, white evangelical protestants were the least likely to agree free contraception should be provided by employers.

    Religiously unaffiliated Americans, at 68 percent, were the most likely say that company health plans should cover birth control for free.

    Among political parties, 73 percent of Democrats and 51 percent of independents said health insurance should include free birth control. But only 36 percent of Republicans agreed with that point of view.

    The poll also uncovered a significant gender gap. Overall, 62 percent of women said contraception should be provided at no cost, while only 47 percent of men thought it should be a requirement.

  • Catholics’ Enraged Response to Obama Birth-Control Policy Is Misplaced

    From all the hysteria over the administration’s insistence that Catholic institutions provide insurance that covers birth control, you’d think it was a big change—but 28 states already have such laws on the books.

    The Daily Beast, By Michelle Goldberg, February 8

    Mitt Romney has been railing against the Obama administration’s refusal to exempt Catholic-affiliated institutions like hospitals and universities from its mandate that health insurance cover contraception. “Such rules don’t belong in the America that I believe in,” he writes in a Washington Examiner op-ed. Perhaps no one told him that such rules were in place in Massachusetts the entire time he was governor, because as far as I’ve been able to tell, he never raised a word of objection then.

    From the enraged response to Obama’s policy, one would think it represented some sort of radical break with the status quo. In The Daily Beast, Kirsten Powers suggests the administration is threatening to put Catholic institutions out of business. “One thing we can be sure of: the Catholic Church will shut down before it violates its faith,” she writes.

    But many Catholic institutions are already operating in states that require contraceptive coverage, such as New York and California. Such laws are on the books in 28 states, and only eight of them exempt Catholic hospitals and universities. Nowhere has the Catholic Church shut down in response.

  • Their bluff has been called, will the bishops know when to fold ‘em?

    Slacktivist, By Fred Clark, February 10

    Well, I didn’t expect this. [Not the Spanish Inquisition!]

    The U.S. Catholic bishops have spent the week denying that they’re simply trying to prohibit health insurance from covering contraception. It’s not about that, they insisted, but about religious liberty.

    Today, President Barack Obama called their bluff, carving out an “accomodation” that removes any grounds for a complaint about “freedom conscience” or “religious liberty,” while firmly insisting that the law is still the law, and that the law rightly prohibits discrimination against women in preventive health insurance.


    Under this plan, every insurance company will be obligated to provide contraceptive coverage. Administration officials stated that a woman’s insurance company “will be required to reach out directly and offer her contraceptive care free of charge. The religious institutions will not have to pay for it.”

    Moreover, women will not have to opt in or out; contraceptive care will be part of the basic package of benefits offered to everyone. Contraceptive care will simply be “part of the bundle of services that all insurance companies are required to offer,” said a White House official.

    “We are actually more comfortable having the insurance industry offer and market this to women than religious institutions,” said the White House official because they “understand how contraception works” to prevent unintended pregnancy and reduce health care costs. “This makes sense financially.”

    The way it works is this: Insurers will create policy not including contraceptive coverage in the contract for religious organizations that object. Second, the same insurance company must simultaneously offer contraceptive coverage to all employees, and can not charge an additional premium. This provides free contraceptive coverage to women. The reason this works for insurance companies is because offering contraception is cost-neutral and cost-effective; companies realize the tremendous cost benefits of spacing pregnancies, and limiting unintended pregnancies, planned pregnancies and health benefits of contraception.

    White House officials, speaking on background, said that the accommodation — which they stress is not a compromise — fulfills two [principles]. One is that all women will have access to the health care they need no matter where they work; their access to contraceptive services is guaranteed. “No longer will they have to struggle to pay for it,” said the White House official. At the same time, “we are able to respect the beliefs of religious institutions.” These are two [principles], the official said, “that the White House holds dear.”

    Is it me, or is this a giant universal healthcare camel’s nose under the tent?

  • New York Times, By Helene Cooper and Laurie Goodstein, February 11

    WASHINGTON — For the White House, the decision announced Friday to soften a rule requiring religious-affiliated organizations to pay for insurance plans that offer free birth control was never really driven by a desire to mollify Roman Catholic bishops, who were strongly opposed to the plan.

    Rather, the fight was for Sister Carol Keehan — head of an influential Catholic hospital group, who had supported President Obama’s health care law — and Catholic allies of the White House seen as the religious left. Sister Keehan had told the White House that the new rule, part of the health care law, went too far.

    “I felt like he had made a really bad decision, and I told him that,” Sister Keehan said of the president. “I told his staff that. I felt like they had made a bad decision on principle, and politically it was a bad decision. For me another key thing was that it had the potential to threaten the future of health reform.”

    Mr. Obama announced that rather than requiring religiously affiliated charities and universities to pay for contraceptives for their employees, the cost would be shifted to health insurance companies. The initial rule caused a political uproar among some Catholics and others who portrayed it as an attack on religious freedom.

    Digby: Cooperating with evil

    How changing the paperwork trail isn’t “cooperating with evil” and will salve the institution’s “conscience” is anyone’s guess. Apparently, God is mostly concerned about keeping up appearances. Who knew?

    Whether or not the Bishops accept this accommodation, I do think this has put birth control permanently on the sex police menu and it’s not going to go away. From this point on, contraception will be “controversial” in health care politics. How can it not? It’s “evil.” So, in that sense they win regardless. It’s moved the ball a little bit, drawn attention to the issue and reinforced the Bishops’ authority. And that’s why they did it.

  • Catholic bishops group denounces contraception compromise

    CNN, By Alan Silverleib, February 11

    The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops denounced President Barack Obama’s compromise over whether to require religiously affiliated institutions to provide contraception to female employees, saying the proposal raises “serious moral concerns,” according to a statement posted on its website late Friday.

    “Today’s proposal continues to involve needless government intrusion in the internal governance of religious institutions, and to threaten government coercion of religious people and groups to violate their most deploy held convictions,” the statement said.

    Under the new plan announced by Obama Friday, religiously affiliated universities and hospitals will not be forced to offer contraception coverage to their employees. Insurers will be required, however, to offer complete coverage free of charge to any women who work at such institutions. Women who work at churches, though, will have no guarantee of such contraception coverage — a continuation of current law.

    So it’s “leave it” then?

    More from Digby: Immoral actors

    This is the fundamental nature of the battle between enlightened liberalism and reactionary conservatism, always has been. In this case it’s a very explicit battle for women. But it’s not confined to women. Everyone should be concerned that this understanding of “liberty” is going to expand to allow any elite property owner whether religious or simply wealthy to opt out of community responsibility whenever it threatens their hegemony in their “private” sphere.

    This isn’t just about the lady parts.

  • EWTN News, By Benjamin Mann, February 23

    Washington, DC – President Obama’s contraception mandate may only be the beginning of a historic attack on religious freedom, Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan warned his fellow U.S. bishops in a Feb. 22 letter.

    “If the government can, for example, tell Catholics that they cannot be in the insurance business today without violating their religious convictions, where does it end?” asked the cardinal, addressing the U.S. episcopate in a letter coauthored with the bishops’ religious freedom chair Bishop William E. Lori.

    The Health and Human Services’ contraception mandate “violates the constitutional limits on our government, and the basic rights upon which our country was founded,” wrote the cardinal and bishop. They noted that religious liberty “does not depend on the benevolence of who is regulating us.”

    The dispute with the administration is “not about Republicans or Democrats, conservatives or liberals,” and “not just about contraception, abortion-causing drugs, and sterilization – although all should recognize the injustices involved in making them part of a universal mandated health care program.”

    “It is about people of faith. This is first and foremost a matter of religious liberty for all.”


    “The mandate to provide the illicit services remains,” they wrote. “The exceedingly narrow exemption for churches remains. Despite the outcry, all the threats to religious liberty posed by the initial rules remain.”

    US clergy declare ‘state of emergency’ over contraception mandate

    EWTN News, By Michelle Bauman, February 23

    Washington, DC – A group of ministers from numerous religious backgrounds sent a message to the White House declaring a “state of emergency” over a health insurance mandate that may force religious employers to violate their consciences.

    “Protestants are beginning to close ranks and join our Catholic friends on this issue,” said Lutheran minister Dr. Norman Lund.

    Lund told EWTN News on Feb. 21 that he considers the issue to be part of his Christian identity and “an issue worth fighting and dying for.” He explained that the core problem “is not birth control” but “the freedom of churches to determine their own policies and positions on issues like birth control.”

    “In other words,” he said, “this is an issue of religious liberty and freedom of conscience.”

    Lund is a member of the National Clergy Council, a group that represents Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical and Orthodox leaders.

    After deliberating with pastors and theologians across the country, the council has declared a state of emergency for the Churches in response to the Obama administration’s contraception mandate.

  • Right-Wing Media Group Pledges To Strip Birth Control Out Of Health Plan After Providing It For Years

    Think Progress, By Amanda Peterson Beadle, February 23

    Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) has offered an amendment that would allow employers to deny coverage of health services to their employees on the basis of their personal moral objections. Women’s groups warn the measure will severely limit access to needed care and now Brent Bozell, founder of the Media Research Center, is providing a sneak preview to the kind of discrimination employees will experience if the amendment becomes law.

    Upon hearing news of President Obama’s regulation requiring all employers to offer contraception coverage without additional cost sharing, Bozell examined his own organization’s insurance policy and was “horrified” to learn that MRC’s plan has long provided contraception (and abortion) coverage. Bozell asked his employees to stop using “contraception/abortifacient/abortion services” and promised to eliminate the benefits at once:

    “[W]e are working to change our insurance policy so as not to have to comply with this administration’s disgusting mandate to provide contraceptive, sterilization and abortifacient services. In the course of looking into this I have learned our insurance policy provides abortion services. I cannot begin to tell you how horrified I am by that. I never would have approved this had I known. It is the taking of a human life. That will change.”

    If Congress approves Blunt’s amendment, employers like Bozell would be able to make health decisions for their employees on the basis of their own personal beliefs. About two-thirds of Americans oppose this idea, but Bozell is already putting it into practice.

    Also, Hullabaloo (Atkins): The GOP is now officially against birth control, February 23

    Not a single GOP candidate for president was willing to support basic contraception last night. Not one.

    This is your modern Republican Party: against not only abortion, but universally against the very idea of birth control as well.

  • New York Times, By Tim Stelloh & Andy Newman, March 3

    HICKSVILLE, NY — Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan told Roman Catholics on Saturday that in an era when the church was fighting the government on several fronts, they needed to make their voices heard more clearly in the political sphere.

    Speaking at a diocesan convocation on public policy here, Cardinal Dolan, who is the archbishop of New York and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, said, “We are called to be very active, very informed and very involved in politics.”

    The cardinal’s speech came in advance of the church’s annual lobbying day in Albany, scheduled for March 13.

    Several recent government actions have clashed with church teachings, including New York’s legalization of same-sex marriage and President Obama’s mandate that religiously affiliated hospitals and universities cover birth control in their insurance plans, which was upheld on Thursday by the United States Senate.

    Though the Obama administration has suggested a compromise that could let employers offer the coverage without paying for it directly, Cardinal Dolan told the crowd at Holy Trinity Diocesan High School that the government sought to make the church do something “we find unconscionable.”

    “It is a freedom of religion battle,” he said. “It is not about contraception. It is not about women’s health.” He added: “We’re talking about an unwarranted, unprecedented, radical intrusion” into “a church’s ability to teach, serve and sanctify on its own.”

    The cardinal mocked a secular culture that “seems to discover new rights every day.”

    “I don’t recall a right to marriage,” he said, describing marriage, instead, as a “call.”

    “Now we hear there’s a right to sterilization, abortion and chemical contraceptives. I suppose there might be a doctor who would say to a man who’s suffering some type of sexual dysfunction, ‘You ought to visit a prostitute to help you.’ ”

    Cardinal Dolan said that the prelates, though, might not be the church’s most persuasive advocates. He told a story about bishops hiring an “attractive, articulate, intelligent” laywoman to speak against abortion and said it was “the best thing we ever did,” adding, “In the public square, I hate to tell you, the days of fat, balding Irish bishops are over.”


    Though he called his flock to action, Cardinal Dolan reaffirmed the primacy of the church’s leadership.

    Obama officials have pointed to recent polls showing that most Catholics favor the new contraceptive rule, and in a recent blog post, the cardinal wrote that officials in the Obama administration had recommended that bishops “listen to the ‘enlightened’ voices of accommodation” within the church. At a news conference after Saturday’s speech, Cardinal Dolan said, “We kind of got our Irish up when leaders in government seemed to be assigning an authoritative voice to Catholic groups that are not the bishops.”

    He added: “If you want an authoritative voice, go to the bishops. They’re the ones that speak for the truths of the faith.”

    Just not the fat, balding Irish ones like myself.

  • Frank Schaeffer observes:

    The idea that the American Roman Catholic bishops of ALL PEOPLE — given the actual history of the church on human rights and religious freedom — are lecturing President Obama and the American people on religious liberty is supremely ironic. The bishops must be counting on Americans’ amnesia and/or ignorance of history.

    Just about anyone who comes from a Protestant missionary family as I do grew up on horror stories about how the Roman Catholic Church worldwide trampled the religious liberties of all other religions. For instance in my family my mother wrote a bestselling book called “L’Abri” about how our family was kicked out of the Roman Catholic canton of Valais in Switzerland in 1953 because my pastor dad converted a villager to evangelical faith. When my father — Francis Schaeffer — later became a leader of the religious right (as I describe in my book Crazy For God) we made common cause with the Roman Catholic Church here in America to fight against abortion rights.


    What irks me is that because Americans don’t know the history of religion we take Dolan and the rest of the bishops seriously at face value instead of just laughing at them for their hubris in claiming for themselves what they have denied others through history.

    How ironic that Dolan and the bishops are claiming “freedom” to impose their will on women. Thus their argument is “we have the religious right to deny what we’re demanding for ourselves.” And all this is in the service of denying women equality while also trying to destroy an American president.

  • Politico, By Tim Mak, March 3

    The Archbishop of New York admonished Rush Limbaugh on Sunday, asserting that the campaign against the Obama administration’s birth control mandate shouldn’t be “pugnacious,” according to a report.

    “Whatever we do, and however strongly we feel, we do it charitably, we do it civilly,” Timothy Cardinal Dolan said after Sunday morning Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral, according to the New York Daily News.

    “We don’t judge the motives of other people. We just try, in a confident, peaceful, inviting way, to make our position felt, to invite other people to respect it,” he added, when asked about Limbaugh’s recent comments that a Georgetown law student was a “slut” for advocating birth control coverage.

    Dolan added that the church didn’t “want to [oppose contraception] in a pugnacious way.”

    No, not at all. You know, velvet glove and all.

  • Catholic bishops say fight against White House mandate a top priority

    Washington Post, By Michelle Boorstein, March 14

    Top U.S. Catholic bishops on Wednesday formally made their fight against a White House mandate for reproductive services the church’s top priority, saying “this struggle for religious freedom” demands their immediate attention.

    The statement [PDF], issued by the leadership of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, came at the end of a closed, two-day meeting and as some close to the bishops say the men are concerned that their campaign is faltering in the public square.

    “This dispute is not about access to contraceptives but about the government’s forcing the church to provide them,” the statement read.

    The statement represents an expanded public relations effort to oppose the mandate that most religious employers provide health-care coverage for employees, including contraception and sterilization, services forbidden by Catholic teaching.

    “If this definition is allowed to stand, it will spread throughout federal law, weakening its healthy tradition of generous respect for religious freedom and diversity,” the bishops’ Administrative Committee said.

    In the coming days the bishops will also launch a broader effort about religious freedom, expanding to include not only reproductive issues but state and local laws they say reflect a chipping away at the rights of religious groups. They’ll go after laws requiring religious ministries to turn in illegal immigrants they serve, limitations on religious groups on college campuses, restrictions on religious groups renting public schools for worship and other issues the bishops see as a trend.

  • New York Times, By Robert Pear, March 16

    WASHINGTON — The Obama administration took another step on Friday to enforce a federal mandate for health insurance coverage of contraceptives, announcing how the new requirement would apply to the many Roman Catholic hospitals, universities and social service agencies that insure themselves.

    In such cases, the administration said, female employees and students will still have access to free coverage of contraceptives.

    The coverage will be provided by the companies that review and pay claims — “third-party administrators” — or by “some other independent entity,” it said.

    Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, said the government would guarantee women access to contraceptives “while accommodating religious liberty interests.”

    The new proposal escalates the election-year fight over the administration’s birth control policy.

    President Obama had previously announced what he described as an “accommodation” for religiously affiliated organizations that buy commercial insurance but object, for religious reasons, to covering contraceptives and sterilization procedures. In these cases, the White House said, the insurer “will be required to provide contraception coverage to women free of charge.”

    On Friday, the Department of Health and Human Services went a step further and said it would propose a similar requirement for group health plans sponsored by religious organizations that insure themselves.

    Birth control rule won’t apply to all student plans at colleges, White House says

    Washington Post, By N.C. Aizenman, March 16

    The Obama administration’s controversial birth control health insurance coverage rule will not apply to a type of plan used by about 200,000 college and graduate students, officials said Friday.

    The administration’s authority to issue the rule stemmed from the 2010 health-care law. Officials said they have concluded that for technical legal reasons the law’s reach does not extend to “self-insured” student plans, meaning those for which a college or university collects premiums directly from students, then uses the pool to pay for their health care.

    At least 800,000 students are in a different class of plan: ones that their school purchases from insurance companies on their behalf. These plans will be subject to the full array of consumer provisions mandated by the health-care law, including the birth control rule — which requires plans for workers and students to cover preventive services including prescription birth control, emergency contraception and sterilizations, with no out-of-pocket charges.

    Many religious institutions, including universities, have complained that the rule requires them to provide a health service that conflicts with their beliefs. For instance, Georgetown University excludes birth control coverage from its student plan. And because that policy is not a self-insured plan, the birth control mandate will soon apply.

  • Republican Politicians ‘Sarcasm Bombed’ With Female Health Details on Facebook Walls

    ABC News, By Colleen Curry, March 16

    Facebook users took to the walls of Republican governor of Kansas Sam Brownback and Virginia state senator Ryan McDougle to post intimate details of their reproductive health in protest of anti-abortion legislation.

    The Republicans’ walls were filled with messages, many from women, detailing their menstrual and reproductive health and asking the politicians for advice on different health problems. One website labelled the messages “Sarcasm Bombing” for the tounge-in-cheek way the users ask the politicians for help.

    See also, Salon: Mockery: Women’s new weapon

  • Politico, By Robin Bravender, March 18

    The sudden focus on contraception and abortion in the 2012 campaign has meant a surge in fundraising for abortion rights groups that support women as congressional candidates.

    EMILY’s List — whose mission is to elect pro-abortion rights Democratic women — has raised nearly twice as much for candidates at this point in the 2012 cycle as it did during the entire 2010 cycle, according to spokeswoman Jess McIntosh. And that’s with about eight months to go.

    “We are on track to have one of the best first quarters we’ve ever had for candidate fundraising,” said EMILY’s List President Stephanie Schriock.

    It’s a very different landscape than the one Democratic women faced in 2010, when 11 of them were ousted from the House and several were replaced by tea party-backed candidates. Democratic women fared better in the Senate, where moderate Sen. Blanche Lincoln of Arkansas was the only female Democratic incumbent to lose her reelection bid, but several others had close calls.

    The shift is a surprise. Women’s groups were preparing to fend off a number of new state laws that restrict abortion access, not pull in new cash after attacks on Planned Parenthood funding and a comment from Rush Limbaugh about a female law student shifted momentum in their direction.

  • In Alabama, the claim that eggs, embryos and fetuses have separate legal rights has led to the jailing of 60 women.

    Alternet, By Lynn Paltrow, March 17

    Numerous organizations and leaders who identify themselves as pro-life have assured the public that their efforts to re-criminalize abortion and establish the unborn as separate legal persons will not result in the prosecution and imprisonment of women. Yet, in Alabama alone, the claim that eggs, embryos and fetuses have separate legal rights has provided the basis for arresting approximately 60 women.

    These women are being prosecuted under Alabama’s 2006 law designed to provide special penalties for people who bring children into methamphetamine laboratories. Its official title is “Endangerment of Exposing a Child to an Environment in Which Controlled Substances are Produced or Distributed” and it provides that a person “commits the crime of chemical endangerment” by “exposing a child to an environment in which he or she…knowingly, recklessly, or intentionally causes or permits a child to be exposed to, to ingest or inhale, or to have contact with a controlled substance.”

    This law makes no mention of pregnancy, pregnant woman, drug use, fetus, or any other words that would make it applicable to a pregnant woman who uses a controlled substance and seeks to continue her pregnancy to term. In fact, the Alabama legislature has repeatedly refused to amend this law or to create others that would address the issue of pregnancy and drug use through the criminal law.

    Nevertheless prosecutors have argued, and the Alabama’s Court of Criminal Appeals has agreed, that the word “child” in the statute includes a “viable fetus” and therefore may be used to arrest and jail women who become pregnant, eschew abortion, go to term, and try to bring life into this world, despite having used a controlled substance.

    The Appeals Court decision reaches far beyond women who use illegal drugs or even drug use at all. Many prescription drugs are controlled substances and there is no defense under the law if the drug is prescribed to the pregnant woman. This means that a pregnant woman who is prescribed a controlled substance (and her doctor who prescribed it) are now potentially subject to criminal penalties as well. And, if the word “child” in one Alabama criminal laws means “viable fetus,” then surely it would have to mean the same thing in others – including the state’s child abuse and related laws. This means that women are potentially criminally liable for an unlimited range of actions, inactions or circumstances during pregnancy believed by police and prosecutors to pose a risk of harm to the fetus. (Think “personhood” measure in disguise.)

  • IBT, By Ashley Portero, March 19

    As liberal pundits and Democratic politicians alike insist the GOP has declared a de-facto “war on women” this election cycle, the Republican National Committee has released a new video arguing the Obama administration is a “boy’s club” that has little to no regard for women.

    Titled “Obama’s War on Women” the video, uploaded to YouTube by the RNC on Friday, begins with clips highlighting comedian Bill Maher’s history of inappropriate comments about conservative women, a story that has recently been picked up in the mainstream media in the wake of radio host Rush Limbaugh’s offensive comments about Georgetown University law student Sandra Fluke.

    “Bill Maher, the host of HBO’s Real Time with Bill Maher, announcing that he’s donated $1 million to President Obama’s super PAC,” begins a clip by MSNBC’s Chris Matthews, before the video switches to another clip of Obama’s chief campaign strategist, David Axelrod, defending the famously liberal comedian during an interview with CNN’s Erin Burnett.

  • Whatever, By John Scalzi, March 20

    Where Is The Physician Outrage?

    Right. Here.

    I’m speaking, of course, about the required-transvaginal-ultrasound thing that seems to be the flavor-of-the-month in politics.

    I do not care what your personal politics are. I think we can all agree that my right to swing my fist ends where your face begins.


    It is our responsibility, as always, to protect our patients from things that would harm them. Therefore, as physicians, it is our duty to refuse to perform a medical procedure that is not medically indicated. Any medical procedure. Whatever the pseudo-justification.

    It’s time for a little old-fashioned civil disobedience.


    It comes down to this: When the community has failed a patient by voting an ideologue into office…When the ideologue has failed the patient by writing legislation in his own interest instead of in the patient’s…When the legislative system has failed the patient by allowing the legislation to be considered… When the government has failed the patient by allowing something like this to be signed into law… We as physicians cannot and must not fail our patients by ducking our heads and meekly doing as we’re told.

    Because we are their last line of defense.

  • McClatchy Newspapers, Steve Kraske, March 22

    Kansas City, MO — It’s called “sarcasm bombing.”

    And Kansas Gov. Sam Brownback’s Facebook page is the latest target.

    One of Wednesday’s Internet explosive devices: “Dear Dr. Brownback: I am 44 years old and have two teenage children. My partner and I both feel we are too old to have more children. However, I’m still fertile. What do you think we should do?”

    The authors aren’t really seeking medical advice on their “lady questions” from the Republican governor, a lawyer by training, not an obstetrician. They’re making a political point.

    Tired of what they see as attacks on their reproductive rights by the anti-abortion Brownback and Legislature, abortion-rights advocates are firing back. Their tactic: carpet-bombing Facebook pages or email boxes with tongue-in-cheek posts that ask intimate questions about their menstrual and reproductive health.


    But Brownback is hardly the only target.

    Virginia state Sen. Ryan McDougle, a Republican who has supported measures to restrict abortions, had this message attached to his Facebook wall. “Hi Senator McDougle! I just wanted you to know, since you’re so concerned about women’s health, that my period started today!”

    Anti-abortion Texas Gov. Rick Perry, another Republican, also has been singled out.

    Critics complain that the new approach is too coarse and will backfire on the abortion-rights movement.

    “It’s counterproductive because it’s not addressing the underlying issue,” said Kansas state Rep. Charlotte O’Hara, a Republican and conservative. “It’s just going out there and throwing bombs.”

    State Sen. Julia Lynn, a Republican, commented that “they’re just trying to produce some shock value.”

    But Kari Ann Rinker, Kansas coordinator for the state chapter of the National Organization for Women, said the outpouring of Facebook posts demonstrates that a lot of abortion-rights backers in Kansas and across the country are “fed up.”

  • New York Times, By Frank Bruni, March 24

    I moved into my freshman-year dorm at the University of North Carolina after many of the other men on the hall. One had already begun decorating. I spotted the poster above his desk right away. It showed a loaf of bread and a chalice of red wine, with these words: “Jesus invites you to a banquet in his honor.”

    This man attended Catholic services every Sunday in a jacket and tie, feeling that church deserved such respect. I kept a certain distance from him. I’d arrived at college determined to be honest about my sexual orientation and steer clear of people who might make that uncomfortable or worse. I figured him for one of them.

    About two years ago, out of nowhere, he found me. His life, he wanted me to know, had taken interesting turns. He’d gone into medicine, just as he’d always planned. He’d married and had kids. But he’d also strayed from his onetime script. As a doctor, he has spent a part of his time providing abortions.

    For some readers his journey will be proof positive of Rick Santorum’s assertion last month that college is too often godless and corrupting. For others, it will be a resounding affirmation of education’s purpose.

    I’m struck more than anything else by how much searching and asking and reflecting he’s done, this man I’d so quickly discounted, who pledged a fraternity when he was still on my radar and then, when he wasn’t, quit in protest over how it had blackballed a Korean pledge candidate and a gay one.


    He shared a story about one of the loudest abortion foes he ever encountered, a woman who stood year in and year out on a ladder, so that her head would be above other protesters’ as she shouted “murderer” at him and other doctors and “whore” at every woman who walked into the clinic.

    One day she was missing. “I thought, ‘I hope she’s O.K.,’ ” he recalled. He walked into an examining room to find her there. She needed an abortion and had come to him because, she explained, he was a familiar face. After the procedure, she assured him she wasn’t like all those other women: loose, unprincipled.

    She told him: “I don’t have the money for a baby right now. And my relationship isn’t where it should be.”

    “Nothing like life,” he responded, “to teach you a little more.”

    A week later, she was back on her ladder.

  • The Huffington Post, By Laura Bassett, March 28

    An Oklahoma state judge on Wednesday permanently blocked enforcement of a law that would have required doctors to give a woman an ultrasound and describe the fetus to her in detail before performing an abortion. The ultrasound law, which the Oklahoma Legislature passed in April 2010, had been temporary blocked since the Center for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit against it the following month.

    The Oklahoma County district court judge found the law unconstitutional, agreeing with the plaintiffs’ arguments that it violates medical ethics by forcing doctors to perform medically unnecessary procedures and discounting women’s ability to make personal health decisions without the government’s interference.

    “The court has resoundingly affirmed what should not be a matter of controversy at all — that women have both a fundamental right to make their own choices about their reproductive health, and that government has no place in their decisions,” said Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights, in a statement.

    A similar mandatory ultrasound law in Texas was upheld by a federal appeals court in January. Chief Judge Edith Jones of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 5th Circuit wrote that the “required disclosures of a sonogram, the fetal heartbeat, and their medical descriptions are the epitome of truthful, non-misleading information.”

  • Mother Jones, By Stephanie Mencimer, March 26

    For the past several months, the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) has been waging war on the Obama administration over reproductive health care, declaring it no less than a battle over religious freedom. But on Friday, a federal judge ruled against the bishops in a fight over whether the group could impose its views on contraception and abortion through its control of taxpayer dollars.


    But on Friday, a federal judge in Massachusetts essentially validated the Obama administration’s position, ruling in favor of the ACLU in the lawsuit over the contract. Even though the bishops no longer have the contract, they had joined with the ACLU in asking the judge to rule in the case to settle the constitutional issues. US District Judge Richard Stearns explained why the bishops were in the wrong. He wrote:

    To insist that the government respect the separation of church and state is not to discriminate against religion; indeed, it promotes a respect for religion by refusing to single out any creed for official favor at the expense of all others…This case is about the limits of the government’s ability to delegate to a religious institution the right to use taxpayer money to impose its beliefs on others (who may or may not share them).

    Stearns also cited an earlier Supreme Court ruling that found that the framers “did not set up a system of government in which important, discretionary governmental powers would be delegated to or shared with religious institutions.” The judge’s ruling is potentially a big one: It calls into question the entire basis of the federal faith-based contracting initiative, implemented by George W. Bush, which gave tremendous power to groups like USCCB over taxpayer dollars. Stearns found, in fact, that it was USCCB that was making the decisions about how the federal anti-trafficking law should be administered—a job that properly rests with the government, not the church.

  • Ms. Blog, By Lauren Barbato, March 31

    After an emotional 14-hour workday that included fist-fights between lobbyists and a walk-out by women Democrats, the Georgia House passed a Senate-approved bill Thursday night that criminalizes abortion after 20 weeks.

    The bill, which does not contain rape or incest exemptions, is expected to receive a signature from Republican Gov. Nathan Deal.

    Commonly referred to as the “fetal pain bill” by Georgian Republicans and as the “women as livestock bill” by everyone else, HB 954 garnered national attention this month when state Rep. Terry England (R-Auburn) compared pregnant women carrying stillborn fetuses to the cows and pigs on his farm. According to Rep. England and his warped thought process, if farmers have to “deliver calves, dead or alive,” then a woman carrying a dead fetus, or one not expected to survive, should have to carry it to term.

    The bill as first proposed outlawed all abortions after 20 weeks under all circumstances. After negotiations with the Senate, the House passed a revised HB 954 that makes an exemption for “medically futile” pregnancies or those in which the woman’s life or health is threatened.


    In order for a pregnancy to be considered “medically futile,” the fetus must be diagnosed with an irreversible chromosomal or congenital anomaly that is “incompatible with sustaining life after birth.” The Georgia “fetal pain” bill also stipulates that the abortion must be performed in such a way that the fetus emerges alive. If doctors perform the abortion differently, they face felony charges and up to 10 years in prison. Given all this, the so-called compromise suddenly does not look like much of a bargain.

    For anti-choice lawmakers, it is an item of faith that fetuses feel pain at 20 weeks. But scientists disagree. Reviews of all existing medical evidence have found that fetuses have not developed the neurological structures to feel pain until at least 25 weeks, and likely not until 28 weeks, in the third trimester.

    Although Roe v. Wade set the precedent for abortion to be legal up to 24 weeks, state legislatures continue to ram through restrictive anti-choice laws. Georgia will join six other states with fetal pain restrictions—Nebraska, Indiana, Idaho, Kansas, Oklahoma and Alabama. North Carolina prohibits abortion after 20 weeks.

    Arizona is now poised to join the roster, as the Senate passed a 20-week abortion restriction Tuesday. The bill, which awaits final approval from the House, also requires women seeking abortions to look at a state-run website littered with anti-choice propaganda.

    And in the Northeast, arguably the country’s most pro-choice region, the New Hampshire House voted Thursday to ban abortion after 20 weeks. The bill now moves to the Senate to join four other anti-abortion bills passed by the House this month.

    Via Digby: Georgia, out of its mind

    Also, RH Reality Check: STOKING FIRE: Extremist Anti-Choice Groups Plan Five-State Assault

    And, RH Reality Check: Arizona Legislators Trying To Declare Pregnancy Two Weeks Prior To Conception

  • A secret history of the papal commission that endorsed the pill

    Mother Jones, By Frances Kissling, May/June 2010 Issue

    SINCE 1870, WHEN the Roman Catholic Church formally pronounced popes infallible, a lot of Vatican energy has gone into claiming that doctrine never changes—that the church has been maintaining the same positions since the time of Jesus. Of course, historians know better: Dozens of church conferences, synods, and councils have regularly revised the teachings, all the while claiming utter consistency. Thus, when the advent of the birth control pill in the early ’60s coincided with a major push for church modernization, there was widespread hope among Catholics that the reform-minded Pope John XXIII would lift the church’s ban on contraception. After all, the Second Vatican Council had explicitly called for greater integration of scientific knowledge into church teaching.

    John did establish a small commission for the Study of Problems of Population, Family, and Birth, which his successor, Paul VI, expanded to 58 members. Its job was to study whether the pill and issues such as population growth should lead to a change in the church’s prohibition on all forms of contraception (other than abstinence during periods of fertility—the “rhythm method”). The commission was led by bishops and cardinals, including a Polish bishop named Karol Wojtyla, the future Pope John Paul II. (The Polish government did not allow Wojtyla to attend meetings.) They were assisted by scientists, theologians—including Protestants, whose church had ended its own opposition to contraception three decades earlier—and even several lay couples. One of them, Patty and Patrick Crowley from Chicago, carried letters and stories from Catholic women worn out by multiple pregnancies, medical problems, and the financial burdens of raising large families. The commission deliberated for two years, amid much anticipation from the faithful.

    The Vatican’s position on birth control has long held something of a paradox: Catholics are encouraged to plan their families, to bear only the number of children they can afford, and to consider the impact of family size on a community and the planet. In recent years, under Pope Benedict XVI, the church has also made a major push to embrace environmental stewardship. Yet Catholicism has also been the most intransigent of the world’s religions on the subject of contraception, alone in denying its use even to married couples.

    This may have made some theological sense in the first century of Christianity, when Jesus’ followers believed he would return in their lifetime: Their mission was to prepare for the Second Coming by devoting themselves to the worship of God. Sex, they believed, was a distraction. The good life was best lived in celibacy—even in marriage. When the wait for the Second Coming evaporated, the belief that sex for its own sake was sinful did not, and abstinence remained the ideal.

    Yet by the first half of the 20th century, change seemed to be in the air. In 1930, Pius XII issued the encyclical (papal letter) Casti Connubii (“on chaste wedlock”), which acknowledged that couples could seek pleasure in their sexual relations, so long as the act was still linked to procreation. Then, in 1966, Paul VI’s birth control commission presented its preliminary report to the pope. It held big news: The body had overwhelmingly voted to recommend lifting the prohibition on contraceptives. (The former Archbishop of Brussels, Cardinal Leo Suenens, went so far as to say the church needed to confront reality and avoid another “Galileo case.”)

    Catholics rejoiced, and many began using the pill at once. But their hopes were dashed when, in July 1968, Paul VI released an encyclical titled Humanae Vitae (“on human life”), reaffirming the contraceptive ban. It turned out that three dissenting bishops on the commission had privately gone to plead with the pope: If the position on contraceptives was changed, they said, the teaching authority of the church would be questioned—the faithful could no longer trust the hierarchy.

  • U.S.-style protests and Breitbart-like tactics have given the British anti-abortion movement new life., By Steve Weissman & Frank Browning, April 5

    Anti-abortion protests might seem as American as apple pie, but don’t be fooled. Activists from Texas have just laid siege to Britain, the country the Daily Mail has called the “the abortion capital of Europe.” And their American-style demonstrations outside the headquarters of the British Pregnancy Advisory Service recently led the group to warn that the new anti-abortion climate could spook future doctors from entering women’s health.

    At the root of these protests is the devoutly Christian “40 Days for Life,” a Virginia-based organization that has been working hard to export American-style anti-abortion protests to other countries. The group had its start in 1998 when Planned Parenthood announced plans to build a clinic in College Station, the home of Texas A&M. According to the official history, a pharmaceutical salesman and religious Catholic named David Bereit rallied 60 churches of different denominations and thousands of people and “dramatically reduced abortions in the region.”

    Bereit then organized the first 40 Days for Life campaign in 2004 on the A&M campus, where he recruited his chief lieutenant, a media savvy young man called Shawn Carney. Now global, 40 Days has been organizing English Catholics, Protestants, Evangelicals, and others since September 2010. Their most recent effort came during the 40 days of Lent, when they ran continuing “prayer vigils” outside the BPAS headquarters on Bedford Square in the historic Bloomsbury section of Central London. The protesters also staged similar vigils at the corporate Calthorpe Abortion Clinic in Birmingham, the Marie Stopes Clinic in Manchester, and the Wistons Clinic in Brighton, where they worked with Abort67, an offshoot of America’s highly controversial and virulently graphic Center for Bioethical Reform.

    The English protests were all part of a campaign throughout the United States and around the world that 40 Days call “the largest and longest coordinated pro-life mobilization in history.” The list of 251 participating cities over the past four-and-a-half years stretches from Sydney and Buenos Aires to Warsaw, Madrid, and Dublin. Both Bereit and Carney visited London to help inspire this year’s protests and guide them in the direction of made-in-America demonstrations. The vigils involve praying, fasting, bearing witness, and reaching out to the community to end abortion. England’s Catholic hierarchy supported the protesters, with Bishop Alan Hopes attending an evening prayer vigil last Friday.

  • New York Times Op Ed, May 7

    Hawaii significantly strengthened its protections against child sexual abuse last month when Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed a measure extending the statute of limitations for civil lawsuits filed by child victims. At least as important, it opens a one-time two-year window to allow victims to file suits against their abusers even if the time limit had expired under the old law.

    Like similar laws in California and Delaware, the Hawaii measure recognizes some wrenching realities. It can take many years, even decades, before child abuse victims are emotionally ready to come forward and tell their stories in court. But by then, they may be barred from suing by the statute of limitations. For example, many suits against the Catholic Church have been blocked because the church’s covering up for pedophile priests made it hard for victims to come forward until long past the time limit for bringing civil claims.

    Hawaii’s new law allows child victims to bring suits up to the age of 26 (it was 20), or three years from the time the victim realizes the abuse caused injury. The law’s leading opponent was the Roman Catholic Church, which has been working hard to defeat statute of limitations reform across the country.

    Lobbying by the church recently succeeded in blocking reform in Pennsylvania. But lawmakers in Massachusetts seem ready to follow Hawaii’s example by passing similar reforms.


    Getting the measure through the State Senate would be an uphill climb; previous attempts have failed, and Republican leaders have again vowed to stop it. Cardinal Timothy Dolan has made defeating statute of limitations reform one of his top legislative priorities. Mr. Cuomo’s strong leadership will be needed if New York is to match Hawaii’s accomplishment any time soon.

    Via Lance Mannion: His eminence, the Cardinal, Timothy Dolan, protector of children

    This is very important to understand: The whole contraception charade is part of a strategy to divert the faithful and the politicians and shut down the lawsuits and save priests and bishops from arrest. The whining about infringements on religious freedom are intended to scare off more investigations and prosecutions and discredit attempts to change the laws to make it possible for more victims to come forward to seek justice and sue. And every bishop and cardinal appointed in the last twenty years has been given as one of his main duties implementing that strategy.

  • Will Kansas Legislators Encourage Doctors to Lie and Deny Sick Women Care?

    ACLU Blog of Rights, By Elissa Berger, May 11

    The Kansas House passed an unwieldy 70-page bill, chock full of troubling provisions aimed at depriving a woman from receiving accurate information about her pregnancy, preventing her from accessing medical care and punishing health professionals who treat her. We need to make sure the Senate doesn’t do the same.

    Here are just a few examples of what this bill would do:

    • It would provide legal protection to a doctor who discovers that a baby will be born with a devastating condition and deliberately withholds that information from his patient because he doesn’t want her to seek an abortion. That means a doctor could decide to lie about the results of a woman’s prenatal test so that she won’t have information that she needs to make the best decision for her circumstances.
    • The bill attempts to scare women by forcing doctors to tell patients about a supposed link between abortion and breast cancer — a risk that the National Cancer Institute, the American Cancer Society, and other medical experts roundly reject.


    This bill is long and sweeping in scope. The Senate refused to rush this bill through the process, but extremists are working to force a vote now. We need to stop this legislation once and for all. You can help — tell Kansas lawmakers to oppose this bill. Will Kansas legislators encourage doctors to lie and deny sick women care? Let’s make sure the answer is “no.”

  • Capitol Media Services, By Howard Fischer, May 11

    Phoenix – Arizona businesses that designate themselves to be a “religiously affiliated employer” will no longer have to include contraceptives in the insurance coverage they provide for their workers.

    Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation to broaden an exemption to a 2002 law which spells out that businesses which provide prescription drugs as part of their health insurance plans cannot exclude birth control pills. The governor said she was satisfied with the last-minute compromise worked out by lawmakers.

    “In its final form, this bill is about nothing more than preserving religious freedom to which were all constitutionally entitled,” Brewer said in a prepared statement. “Mandating that a religious institution provide a service in direct contradiction with its faith would represent an obvious encroachment upon the First Amendment.”

    In a separate development, the governor signed legislation designed to ensure that the state cannot take away the license of a professional because of that person’s religious belief.

    Arizona law already protects pharmacists and doctors who refuse to prescribe or dispense contraceptives. This measure extends to all state licenses.

    Proponents could not cite any example where this has occurred.

  • US election: Barack Obama urges women to fight for their right to contraception

    Barack Obama urged young American women to fight for their right to contraception and abortions, as Left-wing allies accused Mitt Romney of “throwing women under the bus” by seeking a crackdown.

    The Telegraph, By Jon Swaine, May 14

    Washington – The US president told students graduating from an elite all-women’s college in New York that they would face challenges to their equality in the workplace and to their right to “control your own health”, noting that politicians were “relighting long-settled battles over women’s rights”.

    “We are better off when women are treated fairly and equally in every respect, whether it is the salary you earn or the health decisions that you make,” Mr Obama said at Barnard College. “Fight for your seat at the table, or better yet, fight for a seat at the head of the table.”

    His remarks threatened to reignite a row over the rights of women in modern America that his re-election campaign has tried to keep alive beyond the Republican party’s presidential primary contest.

  • Catholic University Stops Providing Student Health Insurance Over Birth Control Mandate

    Christian Post, By Napp Nazworth, May 16

    Franciscan University of Steubenville, a small Catholic university in eastern Ohio, has decided to no longer offer health insurance to its students rather than comply with the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) birth control mandate.

    “The Obama Administration has mandated that all health insurance plans must cover ‘women’s health services’ including contraception, sterilization, and abortion-causing medications as part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA). Up to this time, Franciscan University has specifically excluded these services and products from its student health insurance policy, and we will not participate in a plan that requires us to violate the consistent teachings of the Catholic Church on the sacredness of human life,” the university posted in a message to students this week.

    Current health policies will expire August 15, 2012. Fewer than 200 of the university’s 2,500 students currently get their health insurance through the university, an official told Reuters.

  • New York Times, By Laurie Goodstein, May 21

    In an effort to show a unified front in their campaign against the birth control mandate, 43 Roman Catholic dioceses, schools, social service agencies and other institutions filed lawsuits in 12 federal courts on Monday, challenging the Obama administration’s rule that their employees receive coverage for contraception in their health insurance policies.

    The nation’s Catholic bishops, who were unable to reverse the ruling by prevailing on the White House or Congress, have now turned to the courts, as they warned they would. The bishops say that the requirement is an unprecedented attack on religious liberty because it compels Catholic employers to provide access to services that are contrary to their religious beliefs. The mandate is part of the Obama administration’s overhaul of the health care system, which the bishops say they otherwise support.

    Cardinal Timothy M. Dolan, whose archdiocese in New York is among the plaintiffs, said in a statement: “We have tried negotiations with the administration and legislation with the Congress — and we’ll keep at it — but there’s still no fix. Time is running out and our valuable ministries and fundamental rights hang in the balance, so we have to resort to the courts now.”


    Among those filing suit are the Archdioceses of New York, Washington, D.C. and St. Louis; the Dioceses of Dallas,Fort Worth, Pittsburgh, Rockville Centre on Long Island and Springfield, Ill.; the University of Notre Dame and the Catholic University of America; and Our Sunday Visitor, a Catholic publication. All the plaintiffs are being represented pro bono by the law firm Jones Day.

    The defendants are the Departments of Health and Human Services, Labor and the Treasury. At least 11 other Catholic and evangelical organizations had already filed lawsuits challenging the birth control mandate, but those cases are still pending.

    Also, Washington Post: D.C. archdiocese, other Catholic groups file suit against birth control mandate

    And, dKos: Catholic bishops coordinate lawsuits against Obama administration over birth control mandate

  • New York Times, By Pam Belluck, June 5

    Labels inside every box of morning-after pills, drugs widely used to prevent pregnancy after sex, say they may work by blocking fertilized eggs from implanting in a woman’s uterus. Respected medical authorities, including the National Institutes of Health and the Mayo Clinic, have said the same thing on their Web sites.

    Such descriptions have become kindling in the fiery debate over abortion and contraception. Based on the belief that a fertilized egg is a person, some religious groups and conservative politicians say disrupting a fertilized egg’s ability to attach to the uterus is abortion, “the moral equivalent of homicide,” as Dr. Donna Harrison, who directs research for the American Association of Pro-life Obstetricians and Gynecologists, put it. Mitt Romney recently called emergency contraceptives “abortive pills.” And two former Republican presidential candidates, Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum, have made similar statements.

    But an examination by The New York Times has found that, the federally approved labels and medical Web sites do not reflect what the science shows. Studies have not established that emergency contraceptive pills prevent fertilized eggs from implanting in the womb, leading scientists say. Rather, the pills delay ovulation, the release of eggs from ovaries that occurs before eggs are fertilized, and some pills also thicken cervical mucus so sperm have trouble swimming.


    The implantation idea stems from the Food and Drug Administration’s decision during the drug-approval process to mention that possibility on the label — despite lack of scientific proof and objections by the manufacturer of Plan B, the pill on the market the longest. Leading scientists say studies since then provide strong evidence that Plan B does not prevent implantation, and no proof that a newer type of pill, Ella, does. Some abortion opponents said they remain unconvinced.

  • Ms. Magazine Blog, By Carol King, June 7, 2012

    This week, the War on Women in Michigan moved from low-intensity combat to a full-scale firefight. Without warning, state Rep. Bruce Rendon (R-Lake City), launched a package of three anti-choice bills (H.B. 5711, 5712 and 5713) that represent an unprecedented assault on reproductive rights.

    Among other things, the bills would turn conscientious health care providers of late-term abortions into felons and force most of the state’s reproductive health care centers to close.

    “We’ve never seen such a stealthy introduction,” says Rana Elmir, communications director of the Michigan ACLU. In a blitz executed with cold precision, the Health Policy Committee introduced the bills on May 31 and held an unusually short 1-1/2 hour hearing today before calling a vote. The conversation was cut off before more than 80 representatives from major pro-choice organizations across the state had the opportunity to voice their dissent, according to a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood Mid and South Michigan.

    “We were just shut down,” said Meghan Groen, director of government relations for Planned Parenthood Advocates of Michigan.

    All three bills passed committee. Although the state’s legislative session is scheduled to end June 28, anti-choice politicians are pushing these bills through the legislature hard and fast. If the bills end up before a full House vote, they are expected to pass, due to Michigan’s current anti-choice majority.


    In sum, passage of this legislation would make safe, legal abortion virtually inaccessible to Michigan women. “It will close every reproductive health care facility in the state,” says Renee Chelian, CEO of Northland Family Planning Centers. “That means Michigan woman who rely on us will not have pap smears, birth control, annual breast exams and routine gynecology care.”

    Via Maddow Blog: This is what not listening looks like

    Also, RH Reality Check: Rep. Bruce Rendon’s Anti-Abortion “Super-Bill” On Fast Track in Michigan Legislature
    Also, RH Reality Check: Democrats and Planned Parenthood Leaders Respond to Michigan’s Anti-Choice “Super-Bill”

    Gov. Bobby Jindal signs new abortion restrictions into law

    The Times-Picayune, By Jeff Adelson, June 7

    Baton Rouge, LA — Gov. Bobby Jindal signed bills Thursday increasing the waiting time between a mandatory ultrasound and an abortion, requiring abortion providers to describe the results of that procedure to the woman and offer to let her hear the fetus’ heartbeat and prohibiting anyone who is not a physician from performing abortions.

    The new restrictions add to requirements that are already considered some of the most stringent abortion regulations in the country, according to groups that support abortion rights.

    Most of the new restrictions were contained in Senate Bill 708 by Sharon Weston Broome, D-Baton Rouge. The bill introduces a new requirement that the heartbeat of the fetus be made audible during an examination unless the woman specifically opts out of that requirement.

    The bill also requires an ultrasound be performed 24 hours before an abortion rather than the two hours now in state law.

  • Raw Story, By Stephen C. Webster, June 14

    A female Democratic state representative in Michigan said Thursday that she has been silenced by her Republican colleagues after she uttered the word “vagina” while criticizing a slate of bills that would restrict female reproductive rights.

    Michigan State Rep. Lisa Brown (D) made her comments during a Wednesday debate on proposed legislation that critics say could effectively ban abortions in the state. ”I have not asked you to adopt and adhere to my religious beliefs,” she said. “Why are you asking me to adopt yours? And finally, Mr. Speaker, I’m flattered that you’re all so interested in my vagina, but no means no.”

    The legislation, contained in three separate bills, would limit abortions by restricting procedures past 20 weeks of pregnancy, imposing new insurance and licensing requirements on clinics, limiting access to abortion drugs and placing new requirements on the tissue disposal process.

    An earlier hearing on the same bills saw representatives from Michigan Planned Parenthood shut out and ignored — an act that attracted hundreds of protesters to the capitol on Tuesday.

    Speaking against the bills after being recognized by the House speaker, Rep. Brown relayed a little known fact: Jewish law that places the life of the mother over that of an unborn child, no matter how far along the pregnancy is.

    That’s when she dropped the v-word.

    House Republican leadership later confirmed to Michigan Radio that they felt her comment violated decorum, and that she would not be called upon in future debates.

    Update: Michigan Dem calls on women to withhold sex until legislature backs down.

    Where’s that Batsh*t Crazy thread?

  • Reuters, By David Morgan, June 15

    Washington – The biggest U.S. network of nonprofit health facilities formally asked the Obama administration on Friday not to require Roman Catholic-affiliated institutions including hospitals to provide employees with health coverage for contraceptives.

    The Catholic Health Association of the United States, which initially welcomed White House efforts to find compromise with Catholic authorities on the contraceptives issue, said administration proposals have not satisfied its concerns about emergency contraceptives that could interfere with a fertilized egg.

    Also, The Nation: Catholic Health Association Pulls Support From Contraception Mandate, June 20

  • Wall Street Journal, By Louise Radnofsky, July 27

    A federal judge on Friday granted a temporary injunction sought by Catholic owners of a Colorado heating-and-cooling company who had objected to new federal requirements that they provide contraception coverage in workers’ health-insurance plans.

    The decision is a victory for opponents of the birth-control coverage provision, which is part of President Barack Obama’s health overhaul. Starting Wednesday, most employers must cover contraception, including the morning-after pill and sterilization, without charging workers out-of-pocket fees. Some religiously affiliated employers, such as universities and hospitals, don’t have to comply for another year.

    What’s significant about Friday’s decision is that it opens an avenue for nonreligious employers to challenge the requirement.


    U.S. Judge John Kane in Denver said the requirements could violate the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 statute that requires the federal government to consider the rights of faith groups when crafting policy. He gave the company a temporary injunction while the court considers their case further, and said it could not be subject to federal penalties for not complying during that time.

    “These questions merit more deliberate investigation,” he wrote. “Defendants bear the burden of demonstrating that refusing to exempt Plaintiffs from the preventive care coverage mandate is the least restrictive means of furthering their compelling interest.”

  • New York Times Editorial, August 22

    Texas’s Republican-controlled legislature and Gov. Rick Perry are perfectly willing to endanger the general health and welfare of low-income women to further their agenda of eroding abortion rights. And now, a federal appeals court has given them a green light to do that, at least temporarily.

    A federal district judge had placed an injunction on a state regulation that excludes Planned Parenthood affiliates, which do not provide abortions, from receiving state money through the Women’s Health Program pending the outcome of a lawsuit brought by the clinics. But the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit lifted that injunction Tuesday.

    It is impossible to overstate the callousness of the state regulation and the harm it will inflict. The program serves more than 100,000 uninsured low-income women, with the federal government paying 90 percent of the roughly $40 million that it costs. The feds are now phasing out support because the rule violates federal law.


    To comply with that rule, these centers maintain strict legal and financial separation from Planned Parenthood entities that do perform abortions. But the new regulation, adopted this year, says this separation is not sufficient. It defines “affiliate” as any entity that shares a name or trademark with any organization that provides or “promotes” abortion. (In the lexicon of the anti-abortion right, just talking about abortion counts as promoting it.)


    Mr. Perry called the ruling “a win for Texas women.” Nothing could be further from the truth.

  • Kansas City Star, September 13

    Missouri lawmakers voted Wednesday to override Gov. Jay Nixon’s veto and allow employers to refuse to provide health insurance coverage for birth control if doing so violates their religious convictions.

    But almost immediately after the vote, a Kansas City firefighter and the Greater Kansas City Coalition of Labor Union Women filed a lawsuit asking a judge to throw the new law out.

    The Republican-led House and Senate each met the two-thirds majority needed to override the governor’s veto of a bill that states no employer or health insurance provider can be compelled to provide coverage for contraception, abortion or sterilization.

    “This is a victory for Catholics, people of all faiths, and more specifically, Missouri citizens who value religious liberty,” the Archdiocese of St. Louis said in a statement, later adding that the override vote was “a powerful pro-life statement, one that gives us hope that conscience rights will be extended to all U.S. citizens.”

  • Existing Va. abortion clinics lose exemption from strict building rules

    Washington Post, By Laura Vozzella, September 14

    Richmond, VA – Virginia’s Board of Health did an about-face on abortion regulations Friday, voting to impose strict, hospital-style building standards even on existing clinics and reversing its June decision.

    The reversal came two days after the office of Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) sent a letter to board members advising them against grandfathering clinics — and warning that they could be personally liable for legal fees if they were sued after ignoring his legal advice.

    Coming just weeks before Election Day, and on the heels of a General Assembly session dominated by contentious anti-abortion bills, the decision promises to further inflame the issue in Virginia’s neck-and-neck presidential and U.S. Senate races.

    “There’s lot of people who are really fired up,” said Connie Boyer, 59, a retired computer programmer who was one of hundreds demonstrating outside the meeting and who held a sign reading “Stop the War on Virginia Women.” She added: “You talk about the Arab Spring. Well, we’ve got the same thing going on here.”

  • New York schools offer ‘morning after’ pill to students

    CNN, September 24

    Since January 2011, more than 1,100 New York City students from 14 schools have gotten “morning after” and other birth control pills – from school.

    The pilot program, called Connecting Adolescents to Comprehensive Health, provides the birth control measures at schools where students are known to have a higher rate of pregnancy and less access to healthcare. In New York City, nearly half of teens have had sexual intercourse, CNN’s Alina Cho reports, and seven out of 10 pregnant girls drop out.

    The program, which now operates in 13 schools, is facing some criticism.

    Students don’t need permission from parents to get the pills, unless parents opt-out of the program through letters mailed and sent home with students. Some question whether parents have seen the letters and are aware of the program. All New York City schools already distribute free condoms.

  • Illinois Court Permits Religious Pharmacists To Refuse To Dispense Emergency Contraception

    Think Progress, By Nicole Flatow, September 26

    An Illinois appeals court upheld a ruling Friday that exempted pharmacists with religious objections from prescribing emergency contraceptives, finding that the medical professionals were protected by state law. The plaintiffs, both individual pharmacists and corporations that own pharmacies, had challenged an order by then-Gov. Rod Blagojevich requiring that pharmacists sell “Plan B,” a brand of the contraceptive also known as the “morning-after pill.”

    The court rejected the ACLU’s argument that prescribing emergency contraceptives fell under an exception in the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience for “emergency medical care,” even though doctors testified that the contraceptive was most effective when taken immediately after unprotected intercourse.

    The three-justice panel did narrow the scope of the lower court’s ruling, which had entirely blocked the governor’s requirement to provide contraceptives. The appeals court held instead that the state law merely prohibits enforcement of the order against plaintiffs who claim a religious exemption.

    The court’s decision to allow individual pharmacists to claim the protection of the law is not particularly surprising, given the Illinois statute’s broad wording: “No physician or health care personnel shall be civilly or criminally liable to any person, estate, public or private entity or public official by reason of his or her refusal to perform, assist, counsel, suggest, recommend, refer or participate in any way in any particular form of health care service which is contrary to the conscience of such physician or health care personnel.”

    Via Slate’s XXFactor: Exciting New Opportunity For Women To Get Judged While Running Errands!, By Amanda Marcotte

  • Bush-Appointed Judge Upholds Obama Administration’s Birth Control Coverage Rules

    Think Progress, By Ian Millhiser, October 1

    On Friday, Judge Carol Jackson, a George H.W. Bush appointee to a federal court in Missouri, rejected a Catholic business owner’s challenge to the Obama Administration’s rules requiring employer health plans to cover birth control. Like the many copycat lawsuits asserting similar legal claims, the plaintiffs in this suit argued that the birth control rules substantially burden their faith by requiring them to pay for employee health benefits which might then in turn be used to pay for birth control. As Judge Jackson’s opinions explains, however, this argument proves too much:

    The burden of which plaintiffs complain is that funds, which plaintiffs will contribute to a group health plan, might, after a series of independent decisions by health care providers and patients covered by [an employer’s health] plan, subsidize someone else’s participation in an activity that is condemned by plaintiffs’ religion. . . . [Federal religious freedom law] is a shield, not a sword. It protects individuals from substantial burdens on religious exercise that occur when the government coerces action one’s religion forbids, or forbids action one’s religion requires; it is not a means to force one’s religious practices upon others. [It] does not protect against the slight burden on religious exercise that arises when one’s money circuitously flows to support the conduct of other free-exercise-wielding individuals who hold religious beliefs that differ from one’s own. . . .

    [T]he health care plan will offend plaintiffs’ religious beliefs only if an [] employee (or covered family member) makes an independent decision to use the plan to cover counseling related to or the purchase of contraceptives. Already, [plaintiffs] pay salaries to their employees—money the employees may use to purchase contraceptives or to contribute to a religious organization. By comparison, the contribution to a health care plan has no more than a de minimus impact on the plaintiff’s religious beliefs than paying salaries and other benefits to employees.

    A key insight in this opinion is that salaries and health insurance can be used to buy birth control, so if religious employers really object to enabling their employees to buy birth control, they would have to not pay them money in addition to denying them comprehensive health insurance. An employer cannot assert a religious objection to how their employees choose to use their own benefits or their own money, because religious freedom is not a license to “force one’s religious practices upon others.”

    Opinion [PDF]

    Via Hullabaloo: Conservatives will fight for your freedom — to starve

  • France to cover 100 percent of abortion costs

    AFP, October 1

    France on Monday unveiled a package of reforms designed to increase access to abortion, including 100 percent reimbursement of medical costs by the state social security system.

    At present French women are only able to claim back between 70 and 80 percent of the costs, which average between 200 and 450 euros depending on whether the abortion is induced by medication taken at home or carried out by surgical procedure in a clinic.

    The change to full reimbursement was included in the 2013 social security budget unveiled on Monday. In a statement the government said the move was “necessary to ensure all women have equal access to abortion.”

    The move follows a long campaign by pro-choice organisations and was a manifesto promise by Socialist President Francois Hollande ahead of his election victory in June.

  • Study Finds Free Contraceptives Cut Abortion Rate

    AP, October 4

    Free birth control led to greatly lower rates of abortions and births to teenagers, a large study concludes, offering strong evidence for how a bitterly contested Obama administration policy could benefit women’s health. The two-year project tracked more than 9,000 women in St. Louis, many of them poor or uninsured, who were given their choice of a range of free contraceptives. These women experienced far fewer unintended pregnancies as a result, reported Dr. Jeffrey Peipert of Washington University in St. Louis in a study published Thursday. There were 6.3 births per 1,000 teenagers in the study, compared with a national rate of 34 births per 1,000 teens in 2010. There also were substantially lower rates of abortion, when compared with women in the metro area and nationally: 4.4 to 7.5 abortions per 1,000 women in the study, compared with 13.4 to 17 abortions per 1,000 women in the St. Louis region, Dr. Peipert calculated. The national rate is almost 20 abortions per 1,000 women. Women’s health specialists said the study foreshadows the potential impact of the new health care law, in which millions of women are beginning to get contraceptives without a co-payment.

  • Illinois congressman brings abortion into spotlight with controversial comments.

    CHICAGO — The focus of a fierce suburban congressional battle turned from the economy to abortion literally overnight following Republican Rep. Joe Walsh’s controversial declaration that there’s no medical necessity to use the procedure to save a woman’s life.

    “With modern technology and science, you can’t find one instance,” Walsh declared in comments to reporters following a televised debate Thursday night against Democrat Tammy Duckworth in the northwest suburban 8th District race.

    By Friday, those comments had created a firestorm and tea party icon Walsh was in damage control mode. At a hastily-called news conference, the rookie congressman backed off that sweeping assertion, slightly, acknowledging “very rare circumstances” where life-saving abortions might be required


    Medical experts sought to refute Walsh’s initial claim. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said 600 women die annually in the U.S. from pregnancy and child-birth related causes. Comments like those from Walsh, the group said in a statement, were ample reason why politicians need to “get out of our exam rooms.”


  • ‘Obamacare Simulation’ Cuts Teen Pregnancy Rates 80 Percent

    US News, By Jason Koebler, October 4

    One of the most controversial aspects of the healthcare reform law signed into law by President Obama, at least in Washington and religious circles, is the fact that it requires employers to offer free birth control to women workers. A new study released Thursday, however, suggests that the policy will be extremely effective at reducing pregnancy rates and abortions.

    Through a project known as Contraceptive CHOICE, nearly 10,000 women between the ages of 14 and 45 in the St. Louis and Kansas City, Mo., areas were offered free contraceptives between 2007 and 2011. Abortion rates among that cohort were between two thirds and three quarters less than the national average for those years. For the 500 teens in the study, the birth rate was 1-in-159, compared to the 1-in-29 birth rate nationally–an 80 percent drop. But most teens would likely not receive healthcare benefits from employers although they might be covered under their parents’ policies.

    “We were essentially simulating Obamacare,” says Gina Secura, of Washington University in St. Louis, one of the authors of the report. “It seems like a no-brainer, but it’s a good example of what Obamacare could possibly look like if women had access to birth control options in terms of cost and education of different methods.”

  • Polish rape victim ‘should have had abortion access’

    BBC, October 30

    A Polish teenager who became pregnant after rape should have had unhindered access to an abortion, the European Court of Human Rights has ruled.

    The girl, who was then 14, was forced to have a clandestine abortion after harassment from pro-life groups led to her being turned away from hospitals.

    The court ordered the Polish state to pay the teenager and her mother 61,000 euros (£49,000) in compensation.

  • How I Lost Faith in the “Pro-Life” Movement

    RH Reality Check, By Vicki Garrison, October 30

    The spring of my sophomore year of college I was president of my university’s Students for Life chapter. The fall of my junior year of college I cut my ties with the pro-life movement. Five years later I have lost the last shred of faith I had in that movement. This is my story.

    I was raised in the sort of evangelical family where abortion is the number one political issue. I grew up believing that abortion was murder, and when I stopped identifying as pro-life I still believed that. Why, then, did I stop identifying as pro-life? Quite simply, I learned that increasing contraceptive use, not banning abortion, was the key to decreasing the number of abortions. Given that the pro-life movement focuses on banning abortion and is generally opposed advocating greater contraceptive use, I knew that I no longer fit. I also knew that my biggest allies in decreasing the number of abortions were those who supported increased birth control use – in other words, pro-choice progressives. And so I stopped calling myself pro-life.

    But when I first started blogging a year and a half ago I was very insistent that the pro-life movement should be taken at its word when it came to rhetoric about saving “unborn babies” from being “murdered.” I insisted that the pro-life movement wasn’t anti-woman or anti-sex, and that those who opposed abortion genuinely believed that a zygote/embryo/fetus was a person with rights in need of protection just like any other person. I believed that the pro-life movement’s actions were counterproductive, but that they were merely misinformed. I wrote a post with practical suggestions for opponents of abortion. I believed that the pro-life movement was genuine in its goals, but simply ignorant about how its goals might best be obtained.

    I have come to the conclusion that I was wrong.


    I realized that the only world in which opposing birth control made any sense was one in which the goal was to control women’s sex lives. After all, birth control allows women to have sex without having to face the “consequences” of sex. But I had never opposed abortion in an effort to make women face the “consequences” of having sex. I had always opposed abortion out of a desire to save the lives of unborn babies. As a child, I had been moved to tears by the image of millions of babies murdered by abortion each year. If making it easier for women to have sex I personally believed was sinful was the price I had to pay to save the lives of unborn babies, it was a price I was more than willing to pay.


    Obamacare stands to cut abortion rates by 75%. And yet, the pro-life movement has been leveraged in opposition to Obamacare, and most especially in opposition to the birth control mandate. They don’t believe women should be guaranteed access to free contraception even though this access is the number one proven best way to decrease the number of abortions. That access would, to use the rhetoric of the pro-life movement, prevent the murders of 900,000 unborn babies every year.


    The reality is that so-called pro-life movement is not about saving babies. It’s about punishing women for having sex. That’s why they oppose birth control. That’s why they want to ban abortion even though doing so will simply drive women to have dangerous back alley abortions. That’s why they want to penalize women who take public assistance and then dare to have sex, leaving an exemption for those who become pregnant from rape. It’s not about babies. If it were about babies, they would be making access to birth control widespread and free and creating a comprehensive social safety net so that no woman finds herself with a pregnancy she can’t afford. They would be raising money for research on why half of all zygotes fail to implant and working to prevent miscarriages. It’s not about babies. It’s about controlling women. It’s about making sure they have consequences for having unapproved sex.

    But I am very sure that there are other dupes out there. If you’re sitting there reading this thinking “but I really am in it to save unborn babies,” I am sure you’re not alone. After all, I was one of you. If you are one who has been a part of the pro-life movement because you really do believe in “saving unborn babies,” it’s time to cut your ties with the movement. You may be an honest and kind-hearted person, but you’ve been had. You’ve been taken in. It’s time to let go. It’s time to support Obamacare’s birth control mandate, it’s time to call off opposition to birth control, and it’s time to get behind progressive programs that help provide for poor women and their children. It’s time to make your actions consistent with your motives.

    We’d love to have you join us.

    Interesting math at the link.

  • Raw Story, By Eric W. Dolan, November 16

    A federal court on Friday blocked the enforcement of the so-called contraception mandate for a large Christian book publisher.

    Tyndale House Publishers alleged that being required to provide contraceptives like Plan B, ella, and intrauterine devices to female employees violated the owners’ religious liberties. The company was represented in court by the Alliance Defending Freedom, a conservative Christian legal group.

    The contraception mandate, part of the Affordable Care Act, requires employers to provide their employees with health insurance plans that cover contraceptive drugs and devices at no cost.

    Conservative and religious groups have claimed the contraception mandate violates the religious liberties of employers who are morally opposed to the use of contraception. Illinois-based Tyndale House Publishers opposed being required to cover Plan B, ella, and intrauterine devices, claiming the contraceptives prevented fertilized eggs from implanting on the uterine wall and thereby induced abortions.

    A previous court had rejected a similar allegation, holding that the “decision to use contraceptives, the objectionable act, was ultimately in the hands of a third party.” However, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia said this case was “sufficiently distinguishable” from the prior case because Tyndale House Publishers acted as its own insurer and “itself directly pays for the health care services used by its plan participants.”


    The court’s order is the third injunction against the mandate nationwide, according to the Alliance Defending Freedom.

  • MLive, By Tim Martin, November 20

    Lansing, MI – Michigan lawmakers may consider allowing a fetus of at least 12 weeks to qualify as a dependent for state income tax purposes — a move that if put into law might be the first of its kind in the nation.

    House Bills 5684 and 5685 were given a hearing in the House Tax Policy Committee on Tuesday. And critics quickly question its motives, saying it appeared to be a back door way to try and crack down on abortions.

    It was not immediately clear if the bills will be made a priority during the Republican-led Legislature’s “lame duck” session that begins in earnest next week and will conclude in December.

    Any bills not passed by the end of this year die, and the legislative process would have to begin anew next year.

    • Oh for God’s sake, Republicans, enough already. Give the abortion issue a rest. If you don’t, you’re just preparing yourselves for becoming losers in perpetuity.

  • Over-The-Counter Birth Control Pills Backed By The American College Of Obstetricians And Gynecologists

    AP, By Lauran Neergaard, November 20

    Washington – No prescription or doctor’s exam needed: The nation’s largest group of obstetricians and gynecologists says birth control pills should be sold over the counter, like condoms.

    Tuesday’s surprise opinion from these gatekeepers of contraception could boost longtime efforts by women’s advocates to make the pill more accessible.

    But no one expects the pill to be sold without a prescription any time soon: A company would have to seek government permission first, and it’s not clear if any are considering it. Plus there are big questions about what such a move would mean for many women’s wallets if it were no longer covered by insurance.

    Still, momentum may be building.

    • Prescribe morning-after pills in advance, say pediatricians

      Reuters, By Sharon Begley, November 26

      Wading into the incendiary subject of birth control for young teenagers, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) on Monday called on the nation’s pediatricians to counsel all of their adolescent patients about emergency contraception and make advance prescriptions for it available to girls under 17.

      Because current federal policy bans over-the-counter sales of the pills to girls under 17, having a prescription on hand could help younger teens obtain emergency contraception more quickly than if they have to contact a physician only after they need it.

      Calling the AAP decision “significant,” Susan Wood, former assistant commissioner for women’s health at the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), said, “it’s not often you see physician organizations saying that their patients are better off without the physician involvement.”

      I see many heads exploding over this.

  • In France, Free Birth Control For Girls At Age 15

    NPR, By Eleanor Beardsley, December 18

    Beginning next year, young women in France between the ages of 15 and 18 will have access to birth control free of charge, and without parental notification. The French government says the new measure is intended to reduce pregnancies in this age group that result from a mixture of ignorance, taboo and lack of access to contraception.

  • New Kansas anti-abortion law orders doctors to lie to their patients

    Raw Story, By David Ferguson, April 6

    Legislators in Kansas’ Republican-led state House and Senate passed a draconian anti-abortion bill Friday night, including provisions that order physicians to tell their pregnant patients that breast cancer is a risk of abortion, a claim that has been thoroughly debunked.

    According to the Associated Press, the bill now heads to the desk of Republican Governor Sam Brownback, who is expected to sign it into law. The new restrictions are expected to be in place by July 1.

    Included in the language of the bill is the concept of “fetal personhood,” which states that life begins at fertilization, making all forms of abortion and some forms of birth control illegal. The measure puts restrictions on what children are allowed to learn in school about sex and contraception and dictates what information doctors must provide to patients.

    Republicans argue that they are not gearing up to put abortion providers out of business, but rather celebrating God’s creation.

    “The human is a magnificent piece of work at all stages of development, wondrous in every regard, from the microscopic until full development,” said Sen. Steve Fitzgerald (R), who supported the bill.

    I’ll bet you’re a magnificent piece of work, too, Mr. Fitzgerald…

    Update, also, too: Missouri GOP Approves Bill That Allows Pharmacies To Decide What Drugs Women Have Access To

  • North Dakota law banning medical abortion struck down

    Judge rules 2011 law is unconstitutional, saying the state had failed to demonstrate any need to regulate abortion

    The Guardian, By Karen McVeigh, July 15

    A North Dakota judge has issued a ruling striking down as unconstitutional a 2011 state law banning medical abortion.

    The law was due to take effect in August 2011, but the Centre for Reproductive Rights filed a lawsuit on behalf of Red River Women’s clinic, based in Fargo, arguing that the law unconstitutionally restricts abortion access for women.

    In his ruling on Monday, which followed a three-day trial in April, which focused on the safety of the procedure, district court judge Wickham Corwin said that the state of North Dakota had failed to demonstrate any need to regulate medical abortion, “much less a compelling need”.

    He also described the “declared legislative purpose and the means selected to advance that purpose” as “contrived and pretextual”.

    His ruling will add to a growing list of successful court challenges that have been filed following a record number of state-legislated abortion restrictions across the US.

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