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Contraception coverage.

There's been a lot of it this week. A couple of selections:First, Bryan Cones tries to suss out which Catholic institutions will have to include contraception coverage in their employee health plans. You'll recall that not-for-profit religious institutions that employ and serve primarily co-religionists, whose mission is to inculcate its values, and are not-for-profits, are exempt. So, Bryan argues, when it comes to the Catholic Church, its parishes, parish schools, diocesan offices directly under the bishop's authority (like the newspaper), religious congregations and agencies they directly supervise (like the Jesuits and America magazine), and Catholic high schools should receive exemptions from the mandate. What about Catholic Charities? Bryan writes:

Most (maybe all?) Catholic Charities agencies are separately incorporated in dioceses. So it's "Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago." But -- and this is an important but -- most Catholic Charities agencies are not part of the diocesan legal structure. In other words, Catholic Charities is a separately incorporated social service agency connected to the local church "aspirationally" but not directly funded by it necessarily. In fact most of Catholic Charities budget comes from public sources (state and federal).Since Catholic Charities doesn't necessarily primarily employ Catholics or primarily serve them, I suspect they would not qualify for a religious exemption to the HHS rule, but because of their particular connection to the local church, they may have an argument for the exemption. For example, the archbishop of Chicago appoints all the board members of Catholic Charities in this diocese.

That's an interesting wrinkle, although in the end legal precedents may make it moot. In 2000, Catholic Charities of Sacramento sued the state over a law requiring insurance companies to include contraception coverage in plans with a prescription-drug benefit (obviously that wouldn't cover sterilization procedures) because it didn't qualify as a religious employer under the law. The challenge was rebuffed by two lower courts before the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear the case, as it declined to hear a later suit brought against New York State for a similar law. The Supreme Court's refusal to hear those cases, along with other decisions upholding narrow religious exemptions for generally applicable laws -- including one written by Justice Scalia -- have led some to believe the HHS mandate will pass judicial scrutiny. Which doesn't mean the Obama administration made the right call here, although it may lend some credence to the wild theory that the president is not out to get Catholics.

As for Catholic colleges and hospitals, it doesn't look good. As Bryan notes, most of them were founded years ago by religious congregations who ceded ownership (and in many cases control) to lay-led boards. Perhaps smaller Catholic colleges will qualify (Bryan names Steubenville as a possibility), but larger ones like Notre Dame probably won't.A lot of questions remain: If the contraception-coverage mandate makes it through the courts, will that be the end of the litigation process? Or as religious institutions seeking a mandate receive rejections from HHS, will they bring suit against HHS for the criteria used to define a religious group? And how will those criteria be balanced? Organizations that primarily employ and serve co-religionists will be exempt. But how will "primarily" be interpreted? Or measured? How will HHS determine the extent to which an organization exists to pass on its religious values? What about Catholic groups that claim serving non-Catholics is part of the way they model their religious values? How will courts respond to the argument that the government has no place deciding on the quality of a church-sponsored group's religious claims?Second, on Thursday Catholic News Service ran an opinion piece disguised as a news story under the headline "Doctors Wonder How Federal Mandate Will Affect Practice of Medicine." A reader might be forgiven for not making it past the second paragraph, where one finds:

Although the requirement will not directly impact physicians, some said it represents a governmental intrusion into health care that could grow in the future.

Great, so no need for this piece then, right? Wrong. Several doctors have grave concerns about this governmental overreach into medicine. And feminists.

Dr. Kim Hardey, an obstetrician and gynecologist in Lafayette, La., said he hopes the decision by the Department of Health and Human Services and the Obama administration will cause Catholics and other Christians to rise up against "the liberal left" and "misguided feminists" who would like to see abortion also become a required part of every medical practice.

Apparently Dr. Hardey is unaware that the contraception-coverage mandate does not affect existing conscience-protection laws -- ones that ensure Catholic hospitals are not forced to perform abortions and offer contraception services.Even doctors-in-training are worried.

Sarah Smith is not a doctor yet, but she worries that the HHS mandate will further sour an atmosphere in which she already finds some challenges to her pro-life convictions."The one safe environment -- Catholic hospitals -- is not even going to be safe anymore."

Is Smith unaware that Catholic hospitals are safe from government intrusion forcing them to perform services contrary to their religious values?

"I am not at the point in my career where I have experienced" discrimination because of her pro-life beliefs, Smith said. "We are kind of insulated in medical school. But then you get out and you say, 'Wow, all these policies could really affect my practice.'"

But "these policies" don't affect the way Catholic hospitals provide medical care to their patients. In any way. So why is Catholic News Service running a string of alarmist quotes purported to address the HHS mandate when they are actually little more than reactionary statements based on the bogeyman of "government-run health care"?

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Grant Gallicho is an associate editor of Commonweal. You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter.



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Anthony,It could be, but I don't see the political will for such a move. The country is still sharply divided about abortion. It isn't about contraception.

In Catholic magisterial teaching, contraception is intrinsically evil, a grave sin, even a mortal sin if done freely and knowingly. (All sexual sins are DEFINED as grave matter. Masturbation, rape, both grave matter.) Abortion is also a grave sin, mortal if done freely and knowingly. In some of their recent materials, bishops have argued that the two are morally connected, that one practicing contraception is open to abortion if contraception fails, and that the two are equally "anti-life." The overwhelming majority of people, Catholic and otherwise, would see a stark difference between contraception and abortion morally. Contraception seeks to prevent an unplanned pregnancy, while abortion terminates a life that would likely come to birth, (barring major medical issues of mother and fetus.) Also, the overwhelming majority of Catholics practice contraception, while, even though Catholics HAVE abortions more often than members of some other religious groups, only 40% of Catholics approve of abortion on demand. (NB: 86% approve of terminating pregnancy to save the mother's life, however.) If it is true that abortion and contraception are morally equivalent, or just about so, then the bishops' alarmist rhetoric makes sense. But I suspect the traction on the slippery slope depends on the consensus of most, that abortion and contraception are different moral questions.

"Which doesnt mean the Obama administration made the right call here, although it may lend some credence to the wild theory that the president is not out to get Catholics."----- Do you really think the President is "out to get Catholics"?

Grant --The Hyde Amendment could be repealed. No, that doesn't look likely now, but I can understand a young politically conservative doctor being concerned. Look at the opposition to Obama's executive order restricting abortions. The feminist hard-left is not going to give up on abortion restrictions any time soon. It's raison d'etre is to have all abortions allowed.(By the way, crazy ob-gyn M.D. Ron Paul did a fine job yesterday evening on Piers Morgan speaking against late very term abortions. That one's a no brainer, but he argued it particularly well.)

Let's assume that both the Obama Administration and Catholic hierarchs in this stand-off are both trying to appeal to their political constituencies. Both are trying to protect constitutional rights of their constituencies.Let's try to find a compromise. Let's eschew all the political posturing and name calling. Here is Hawaii's very generous compromise that has been in effect for over a decade. Hawaii's health care plan has been very successful at gaining near universal health care coverage. Religious institutions get what they need; the state gets peoples' health care coverage at reasonable costs. If you have ever been to Hawaii you will remember that it is the most ethnically diverse, tolerant of American states. It works:Hawaii Rev. Stat. 431:10A-116.7 (1999) defines a religious employer and states that such an employer may request a health insurance plan without coverage for contraceptive services and supplies. If so requested, the health insurer must provide a plan without such coverage. Each religious employer that invokes this exemption must provide written notice to enrollees upon enrollment a list of services the employer refuses to cover and provide written information describing how an enrollee may access contraceptive services and supplies. (1999 Hawaii Sess. Laws. Act 267; SB 822)

led some to believe the HHS mandate will pass judicial scrutiny. Which doesnt mean the Obama administration made the right call here, although it may lend some credence to the wild theory that the president is not out to get Catholics.A non sequitur. The fact that Obama's regulation might pass judicial scrutiny is not inconsistent with Obama being hostile to Catholics (a good deal of hostility is allowable under current law, provided that it is couched in a "generally applicable" rule).

Also, I believe the word "not" is missing from this sentence: ones that ensure Catholic hospitals are forced to perform abortions and offer contraception services.

Apparently Dr. Hardey is unaware that the contraception-coverage mandate does not affect existing conscience-protection lawsWell, not yet. It's a slippery slope argument. And it makes sense: There are people out there who would like to force Catholics to subsidize birth control and to subsidize abortions. And now they've succeeded in the first of those aims. Moreover, the arguments on behalf of the first aim are identical to the arguments raised on behalf of the second aim. One can't answer a slippery slope argument merely by snarking that the bottom of the slippery slope hasn't happened (as the very premise of the slippery slope argument is that we're not at the bottom yet). One instead has to come up with a reason that a line can successfully be drawn short of going all the way down the slope, that the political forces that would like to go all the way down the slope aren't powerful enough to do so, etc.

Thanks for noting the missing "not," Stuart.Actually, there's very little argument in the CNS piece. There's more fear-mongering than anything else. Slippery-slope anxiety is not always unfounded, of course, but as a response to the HHS ruling, which emphasized that existing conscience protections would remain unaffected, it won't do. Of course, everyone already "subsidizes" contraception and abortions (just not the abortions that Hyde keeps from receiving federal funding). I disagree with Obama's decision here, but the idea that he is out to get Catholics is silly. I think he wanted to expand contraception coverage, and believed the legal precedents supported the narrow religious exemption.

"Do you really think the President is 'out to get Catholics'?"Gerelyn,I don't think so. Possibly he surrounds himself with too many flatterers who tell him Democrat Catholics are locked into his administration and have no place else to go politically. I can imagine that. Obviously, he is a proud man, too. He doesn't want to requite a favor (conferred on him at Notre Dame University a few yrs ago) because it would require an acknowledgement that he recieved one in the first place. (But, no doubt in his mind, he's "done" Notre Dame, as it were.) He was invited to Georgetown University last year. One now wonders if he will be ever be invited back again. A spokeswoman for the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, whose members include Georgetown, Boston College, College of Holy Cross (and 25 other universities and colleges), said that the associaton does not support the White House mandate. As a priest, I pray for him all the time. I think his good will toward all people is generally of much more value than some of his decisions. But how he ever made this one is beyond me!!!

Grant,Thanks for this. I would like to raise one question, though. You write:"Is Smith unaware that Catholic hospitals are safe from government intrusion forcing them to perform services contrary to their religious values?"But now Catholic hospitals will be required to offer contraceptive coverage to their employees "contrary to their religious values"? Might this not be seen as some precedent? Now, of course, like you, I am very wary of the old slippery slope argument. But maybe this is the camel's nose under the tent? Thanks,A

Thanks Grant - we may arrive at different conclusions but you continue to see through the smoke and mirrors from all sides.Too often (say the earlier post referencing Shields and Brooks or the column today by Peggy Noonan or even Kmiec's proposed draft statement) it appears that they do not really question the HHS decision on its merits - fact that it expands the coverage of women/men in terms of contraceptives (note that many employees of hospitals and social agencies; even universities are not highly paid). Rarely have any comments dwelled on this aspect; women's health (an area that has consistently been slighted in terms of insurance coverage); shifting to prevention rather than focusing after the fact on pregnancy/abortions/costs of raising children in single parent families.Instead, most seem to focus on a very narrow potitical calculus rather than the actual decision. That political calculus is formatted as a religious liberty restriction - but even then, they talk more about the potential political damage than the slippery slope or even the religious liberty questions - that seems just to be a catch phrase to give them coverage.IMO

In Catholic magisterial teaching, contraception is intrinsically evil, a grave sin, even a mortal sin if done freely and knowingly. Lisa Fullam,I have to disagree somewhat here. The Church has no objection to contraception in the case of rape victims, so long as what is prevented is fertilization and not implantation. Also, the Church has made it clear that nuns in the Congo in the early 1960s in danger of rape, and women in Bosnia in the early 1990s in danger of rape, could take birth control pills. Also, Catholic hospitals seem to have no objection at all to morning-after pills, so long as conception has not taken place. So it does not seem to me that contraception per se can be regarded as intrinsically evil.

Grant,I have posted in previous threads about how the HHS mandate likely violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (a federal law that applies a pre-Smith test to federal regulations that infringe on religious liberty). RFRA does not apply to the states, so it was not applicable to the California and New York cases. Here is the first in Ed Whelan's series of posts on RFRA and the mandate: am very interested in seeing if the administration analyzed RFRA before it announced this policy or if it relied on the same legal team that made the arguments in Hosanna-Tabor that the entire Supreme Court rejected so soundly.

I don't think the president "is out to get Catholics." the more likely answer is just that he doesn't agree with the Church teaching that contraception is evil - and believes that increased availability of contraception is morally good. Some churches agree with him. Jim Jenkins, the Hawaii law requires that employees who do not receive contraception coverage have the right to buy a contraception-only policy at a subsidized price. If I read the text correctly, the employer will end up paying that subsidy so, instead of paying 100% of the contraception cost, the employer will pay only part. My guess is that If the bishops have a problem with 100%, they will have a problem with part. See:

David Nickol, my understanding is that the Church teaching is that contraception (other than NFP) may not be used to avoid pregnancy as a result of consensual sex. Contraceptive meds may be used legitimately for other reasons - for some medical conditions as well as the non-consensual-sex scenarios you described above. Regarding Catholic hospitals dispensing "morning after" pills, the onl situation I have looked into is Conncticut, which requires all hospitals to o hat or rape victims. The Catholic hospitals in Connecticut do that. Their reaction might be if fervent if a women said she had had sex with her boyfriend rather than being raped.

Sorry for the auto-correcting iPad. I think you can probably figure most of that out."to do that for rape victims""if fervent" = "different"

From Cones' article: "But it seems a hard sell to say that a faculty member of the ND law school or a member of the janitorial staff must comply with church teaching on birth control."It's a "sale" that, as far as I know, no university is trying to make. All they are asking for is the status quo: that they not be forced to subsidize their employees' birth control. That's a far cry from insisting that all employees comply with church teaching on birth control. As has been pointed out here ad nauseum, those employees are still perfectly free to procure their own contraception with their own funds, and there are a variety of other ways it is already subsidized.

I believe that the clarification David Nickol makes is critical in recognizing that contraception, per se, is not intrinsically evil. Complementarily, somewhere in this discussion it was claimed that 14% of contraceptive prescriptions are related to other reproductive issues with the secondary-- but tolerable -- effect that has not been been morally questioned.The experience of the rape protocols, as noted, is likewise very significant and it is has been at lesast tacitly accepted by Catholic hospitals that this is a licit usage. This, to me, destoys the claim that that the Church has taught and enforced a "no artifical birth control policy." It has been a question of VALUES, i.e., the value of preventing conception from rape was seen as warranting such intervention, but the hierarchy has pretended that nothing is allowed to impede fertilization. In other words, they have proclaimed that nothing should impair fertilization after CONSENSUAL intercourse. Therefore, they have been promulgating this differentiation and eccleiastical JUDGEMENT about what warrants "artificial" intevnetion that the expereince of the last 40 years has shown has obviously not been accepted in practice.The further legal question let alone the political policy one deserves its own commentary and in these, opinions obviously widely differ.But on this essential question of the liceity, I don't see how there cannot be agreement that it is a matter of WHO is making the judgments and WHAT criteria is being used to make them.

I don't think Obama is out to get Catholics at all, but he is willing to let priorities that are mostly frivolous override religious liberty.

David Nickol,This is a minor point, but I have seen it written several times in posts on this topic that in the '60's nuns in the Congo were permitted to take oral contraceptives. Both in philosophical ethics and moral theology were were always taught that they were allowed to wear diaphragms, or pessaries, as they were then called. Oral contraceptives were not widely available before 1963, so I doubt that nuns in the Congo were taking them. The point remains that they were employing a method of birth control, but because it was assumed that they were not regularly engaging in sexual relations, under the principle of double effect, the Vatican allowed them to use that method to prevent pregnancy in the event that they were raped.

Thank you, Alan, for that clarification. It makes sense and I hope someone has a link to the "rest of the story" about that time and decison and whether it had any other ramifications as well as whether or not any nuns were impregnated.In that era, I wonder how clearly distinctions were made about the fertilization and nidation processes as well the effectiveness of pessaries and whether they were evaluated with other means as devices to prevent conception or as possibly also abortifacients.

Lisa,I am not sure of theology by statistics, but attitudes and beliefs are important and something to be considered. Most Catholics supported slavery and segregation so you can only go so far with that line of reasoning. I wonder if we could get statistics on attitudes toward abortion by practicing Catholics. That could be interesting

John McGreevy's fine book, Catholicsm and American Freedom, has some worthwhile data on those issues.

Grant --Another reason not to immediately conclude that Obama is out to get Catholics, is that some bishops have *already* tolerated similar mandates. I suspect that Secretary Sibelius is not the best advisor on Catholic matters. She doesn't seem aware of the variety of opinion within Catholic circles about this, even about freedom of religion. It should perhaps also be noted that she is about as pro-abortion as you can get == she accepted political contributions of over $12K from the Dr. Tiller who did late term abortions. (He was the one who was murdered.) She also apparently has high political ambitions. Am I insinuating that she is insincere? No, just that her judgment could be clouded by her personal interests.

Anthony A. -- From NCR Catholics in America survey of 2011, Fig. 2 on "aspects of Catholicism that are very important to them"shows 40% consider opposition to abortion very important. "Although the Vatican and the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops have been highly involved over several decades in articulating the churchs opposition to abortion, fewer than half of American Catholics, 40 percent, say that the churchs teachings opposing abortion are very important to them personally." For same-sex marriage, the number is 35%.

Lisa --Any moral theory that would put masturbation and rape in one simple category such as "grave matter" is quite simply ridiculous. Sure, if the moralists thought about it, no doubt they would invent categories of more and less gravity. But they didn't, did they? That's my beef with Rome -- they just DON'T THINK.And Rome wonders why people are leaving the Church? Sheesh. House of absurdity.

My source for "intrinsic evil" for contraception is the Catechism, viz.: "In contrast, "every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible" is intrinsically evil." My understanding is that emergency contraception is licit under magisterial norms only if the woman has not yet ovulated. If she has ovulated, it's not OK, in case fertilization might occur and non-implantation result. So it's not always illicit to prevent ovulation. (There's language of "appropriate testing" in the norms.) As far as I can tell, the distinction is in the context--rape vs. the "conjugal act."The sisters' practices, again, I'm interested to hear if I'm off-base here, was justified on grounds of self-defense, under the presumption that they were not going to consent to intercourse. @AA. I'm not suggesting that public opinion dictate morals--you're right that such reasoning has its limits. I do think that the overwhelming sense of a relevant moral distinction between abortion and contraception is important.

@Ann, I hesitate to make it worse, but in traditional morals, masturbation is an unnatural act, while rape is natural. (It doesn't make rape better, just more "natural" because it looks more like procreative sex.) Essays have been written (e.g.,Charles E. Curran, "Masturbation and Objectively Grave Matter." in A New Look at Christian Morality. Fides Publishers, Notre Dame, IN, 1970 ) arguing that masturbation is not always grave matter. Others, who want to stick with all sexual sins being equally grave materially, were forced to argue either that masturbation is usually a mortal sin, or that most people don't have knowledge or freedom regarding masturbation. Which seems to me to be much sillier than the course you (and Curran, et many al.,) suggest--that we have to think more subtly about sex.

Alan,The source I was relying on actually didn't sake what the contraceptives were in the case of the Congo in 1960s. I made an unwarranted assumption.

Lisa Fullum,This is interesting. When I heard the example about the nuns in the Congo in philosophical studies in the early seventies and theological studies in the late seventies their use of diaphragms was an illustration of double effect. In more recent years it is considered under self-defense, as the source in David Nickol's last post shows. I wonder what changed if anything. Can it be that later commentators did not know the earlier explanation and supplied self defense as the reason?

Fullam not Fullum, please forgive me.

Thank you, Lisa. The catechism example is, I suppose, meant to be definitive, but it seems that the critical qualifier that makes contraception "intrinsically evil" in this teaching, is "in anticipation of the conjugal act." Thus, it is the RELATIONAL DIMENSION that is essential to making it INTRINSICALLY evil. Now... this would seem to create a whole other line of argumentation in other aspects of moral theology that make RELATIONSHIP intrinsic to the morality of the action -- something that has generally been suspect in Kantian based deontology as I remember it. I don't have the mental stamina to press on here, but I do find it interesting in what modifiers this might allow with the normal meaning "intrinsic." However, to cut to the chase, I think that he famous birth control commission debate (compiled in that NCR publication of 40 years ago) and the world of commentaries since, have sufficiently refuted the traditional arguments against the immorality of artificial contraception -- whether it is viewed as consensual or as an act of protection against further violence. Finally, it is so simply ludicrous that this action of contracepting should be licit for those who are in risk of sexual violence, but not for those women who might be facing human risks of health issues of life or death with another pregnancy within marriage or unable in one of many other ways to support another llfe. It is truly such absurd reasoning that has driven so many from the Catholic community.

Lisa,My understanding of "conjugal act", and I get this from my Bishops here in New Zealand, is that it is a genuine act of love in marriage. Excluded from the teaching against contraception is every other sex act eg those outside marriage, rape, coercion in marriage, to limit infection (eg condoms and HIV) , to treat heavy periods etc.God Bless

Lisa Fullam, ovulation testing was the battle between Bishop Lori and the state of Connecticut. The hospitals had been Giving Plan B to rape victims but only after both an ovulation test and a pregnancy test. The new state law said you could do only a pregnancy test. After the law was enacted, Bishop Lori and the other Connecticut bishops decided they could live with without he ovulation test. David Pasinski, in the case of rape, the Church permits interfering with fertilization but not implantation. in the Church's view, interfering with implantation is abortion. The FDA, on the other hand, defines an abortion as something that happens after implantation - which is why you see people talking past each other about whether some contraceptives are abortifacients.

Lisa --Rape is natural? That is just sick.

Catholics obsess about contraceptives while the world burns.

The HHS mandate reveals a basic misunderstanding on the part of the Obama Administration of the core beliefs and teachings of religious institutions like the Catholic Church. Catholic doctrine REQUIRES all Catholics to live out the Gospel message in their daily lives. In other words, just going to church on Sunday isn't enough for salvation. The Catholic Church takes Jesus at his word: you must help the poor, the sick, the elderly and the downtrodden in society. Hence the Church has established the St. Vincent DePaul Society, Catholic Charities, Catholic Relief Services, Catholic hospitals, etc. in order to fulfill this Gospel-mandated mission. The narrow religious exemption in the HHS rule would have us believe that the practice of our religious faith stops at the threshold of the church building or perhaps extends to whatever activity is conducted on the building grounds, such as a parochial school or soup kitchen. Its an absurd interpretation of religious activity as carried out by believers in the real world. I'm not a lawyer or historian, so I don't know whether the mandate will withstand legal scrutiny, but it certainly doesn't pass the test of common sense. Does the Obama Administration really want to shut down these charitable operations or limit them only to co-religionists? That's the effect this rule will have unless further reflection is done inside the White House.

Jim Mahoney said "Does the Obama Administration really want to shut down these charitable operations or limit them only to co-religionists? Thats the effect this rule will have unless further reflection is done inside the White House."That's the kind of "painting yourself into the corner" statement hat I think it's important for the bishops to avoid. We know that both dioceses and Catholic institutions have provided that insurance under state law. If the bishops were to say they can't do it, they would destroy their credibility when they do, in the end, do it.

On the earlier discussion of use of contraceptives by nuns in Bosnia, here is an article from the time. I didn't find online the Civilita Catolica article which it quotes. The last sentence of this excerpt indicates that the priest author argued that the use of contraceptives in anticipation of possible rape doesn't apply only to nuns. I'm not aware of any further clarification by the Church of the circumstances under which an individual decision to do that would be allowable. "THE VATICAN has responded to mass rapes in Bosnia by reviving a decision that women in danger of rape may use contraceptives, even though its ban on contraception in normal circumstances remains.The ban on abortion remains absolute, although the Roman Catholic bishops of England and Wales have decided that the so-called morning-after pill may also be used by rape victims in certain circumstances.An article in the Jesuit magazine Civillta Catolica, which is approved before publication by the Vatican, argues that contraception is a legitimate form of self-defence for a rape victim. The author, Fr Giacomo Perico, says that rape is an act of violence, to which the rules applying to an act within marriage cannot apply.'In this particular situation, it is legitimate to use contraception to avoid a possible pregnancy. It is not then a refusal of a gift of love, but a form of legitimate self-defence.'The ban on artificial contraception within marriage restated by Pope Paul VI 25 years ago in the encyclical Humanae Vitae has been widely ignored in the West.The article in Civillta Catolica makes it plain that nuns in the Belgian Congo had been allowed to use contraceptives in the early Sixties when they were in danger of rape. The author argues that such concessions cannot be extended solely to nuns.

John Hayes --On this matter the bishops don't speak with one voice. That, to me, simply shows that they disagree. Some of them, not all are having problems of religious conscience. As far as the feds are concerned, it is irrelevant that there might be only a few bishops complaining.-- the only relevant issue is that at least one bishops is pleading a First Amendment religious practice violation.So much of this discussion has seemed to ignore that fundamental issue: individual claims of religious conscience are important, though a majority of the contributors here don't seem to find such a claim important. The Supreme Court disagrees -- note that it heard the First Amendment claim of that young atheist recently -- one person, not even a group. To the Court even the claim of one adolescent is important. Why do the people here not seem to see its importance?

To Ann Olivier,"The bishops don't speak with one voice." I know of several of them that do. They have written similar letters (if not identical) to be read to the people of their dioceses at all week-end Liturgies. And a printed copy of where Catholics can send e-mail to the:1) White House ;2) Senators and Reps. in Washington, DC is included in bulletins. Alsodiocesan newspapers have the same info.The bishops are expecting the Catholic in their arch/dioceses to raise "holy hell" over theHHS Mandate and let the President and others know exactly how Catholics feel.There are at least 70 or more bishops doing this---so I don't believe that they are not speaking with one voice.

Thank you, John Hayes, for the clarification and example from Bosnia. I am aware that that is the distinction that is made about fertilization and nidation (despite the fact that 40% plus of fertilized eggs do not apparently implant! We all know the arguments about progressive or delayed hominization for which Donceel --- following Aristolelian and Thomistic hylomorphism -- was at least politely rebuked, I understand). It is interesting that the Connecticut bishops decided they could live wihtout an "ovulation test." I don't know that that would have entailed in expense or time delay.

153 of 183 bishops have issued versions of the suggested letter that USCCB drafted and sent to the bishops for their use.

David Pasinski, it wasn't the bishops' preference, but the state law woudl not allow it. Bishop Lori's blog is offline today but here is the text of his blog post from back then:

Here's the official statement of the bishop's conference:

The USCCB is now asking people to contact Congress to ask for support for a specific bill (HR. 1179) which was filed in the House on March 17, 2011 and has been sitting in the Committee on Health ever since. is the exemption it provides:Essentially, it says that no one has to furnish coverage for "items or services is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan"That is a very broad exemption. Religious beliefs would cover a Jehovah's Witness employer excluding blood transfusions and a Scientology employer excluding mental health services. What could be excluded under "moral convictions" is not clear to me. (6) RESPECTING RIGHTS OF CONSCIENCE WITH REGARD TO SPECIFIC ITEMS OR SERVICES-`(A) FOR HEALTH PLANS- A health plan shall not be considered to have failed to provide the essential health benefits package described in subsection (a) (or preventive health services described in section 2713 of the Public Health Service Act), to fail to be a qualified health plan, or to fail to fulfill any other requirement under this title on the basis that it declines to provide coverage of specific items or services because--`(i) providing coverage (or, in the case of a sponsor of a group health plan, paying for coverage) of such specific items or services is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the sponsor, issuer, or other entity offering the plan; or`(ii) such coverage (in the case of individual coverage) is contrary to the religious beliefs or moral convictions of the purchaser or beneficiary of the coverage.`(B) FOR HEALTH CARE PROVIDERS- Nothing in this title (or any amendment made by this title) shall be construed to require an individual or institutional health care provider, or authorize a health plan to require a provider, to provide, participate in, or refer for a specific item or service contrary to the provider's religious beliefs or moral convictions. Notwithstanding any other provision of this title, a health plan shall not be considered to have failed to provide timely or other access to items or services under this title (or any amendment made by this title) or to fulfill any other requirement under this title because it has respected the rights of conscience of such a provider pursuant to this paragraph.

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