Today, national faith leaders and organizations are celebrating the White House’s announcement of a common-sense, common-ground solution to religious liberty concerns around contraception coverage that protects women’s access to important preventive health care. The regulation expands religious exemptions within the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that contraceptive services be covered without copayment in health insurance plans, while guaranteeing that employees of religious institutions can obtain family planning and other preventive health services directly from their insurance providers. Below is a statement from Catholic and Protestant leaders celebrating the decision as “major victory for religious liberty and women’s health.”
Today the Obama administration announced an important regulation that will protect the conscience rights of religious organizations and ensure that all women have access to contraception without a co-payment. We applaud the White House for listening carefully to the concerns raised by religious leaders on an issue that has provoked heated and often misinformed debate. This ruling is a major victory for religious liberty and women’s health. President Obama has demonstrated that these core values do not have to be in conflict.
Specifically, this new regulation guarantees that no religiously affiliated institution will have to pay for services that violate its moral beliefs or even refer employees for this coverage. Instead, if a woman’s employer is an objecting university, hospital or other religious institution, her insurer will be required to offer her coverage at no cost. This is a sensible, common-ground solution.
In recent days, sound bites and divisive rhetoric have too often pitted the faith community against sound science and public health.The previous regulations caused an unnecessary conflict between the administration, the Catholic Church and other religious institutions. We are encouraged that the Obama administration has developed a substantive solution that addresses the concerns of the many constituencies involved. We look forward to bringing the same level of passion displayed in this debate to other pressing moral issues that face our nation.
Sister Simone Campbell Executive Director
NETWORK, A National Catholic Social Justice Lobby
Institute Leadership Team of the Sisters of Mercy of the Americas
Douglas W. Kmiec United States Amb. (ret)
Chair, Constitutional and Human Rights Law, Pepperdine University
Terrence W. Tilley Avery Cardinal Dulles, S.J., Professor of Catholic Theology Chair, Theology Department
Nicholas P. Cafardi Dean Emeritus and Professor of Law
Duquesne University School of Law
Vincent J. Miller Gudorf Chair in Catholic Theology and Culture
University of Dayton
Kristin Heyer Associate Professor, Religious Studies
Santa Clara University
Gerald J. Beyer Associate Professor of Theology
Saint Joseph’s University
Stephen Schneck Director of the Institute for Policy Research and Catholic Studies
Catholic University of America
Francis Schüssler Fiorenza Stillman Professor of Roman Catholic Theological Studies Harvard Divinity School
John Inglis Chair and Professor of Philosophy
Cross-appointed to Religious Studies
University of Dayton
Bradford E. Hinze Professor of Theology
David DeCosse Director of Campus Ethics Programs
Markkula Center for Applied Ethics
Santa Clara UniversitY
Todd Whitmore Associate Professor of Theology
University of Notre Dame
Sr. Paulette Skiba Professor of Religious Studies
Michael E. Lee Associate Professor of Theology
Tobias Winright Associate Professor of Theological Ethics
Saint Louis University
Richard R. Gaillardetz McCarthy Professor of Catholic Systematic Theology
Christopher Pramuk Assistant Professor of Theology
Rev. Dr. Susan Brooks Thistlethwaite Professor of Theology
Chicago Theological Seminary
The Rev. Canon Peg Chemberlin Immediate Past President
National Council of Churches
Lisa Sharon Harper Director of Mobilizing
Rev. Anne Howard Executive Director
The Beatitudes Society
Rev. M. Linda Jaramillo United Church of Christ
Justice and Witness Ministries
Rev. Richard Cizik President
New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good
Dr. David Gushee Board Chair and Co-Founder
New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good
Rev. Alexander Sharp Executive Director
Protestants for the Common Good
Dr. Sharon E. Watkins General Minister and President
Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in the United States and Canada
Rev. Dr. Ken Brooker Langston Director
Disciples Justice Action Network (DJAN)
Dr. Barbara Williams-Skinner President
Skinner Leadership Institute
Linda Bales Todd Director of Women’s Advocacy
General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church
Jim Winkler General Secretary
General Board of Church and Society of the United Methodist Church
*Organizations listed for identification purposes only
This morning the Obama administration announced an important solution to the intense controversy regarding religious exemptions to the Affordable Care Act’s mandate that contraceptive services be covered without copayment in health insurance plans. The policy will ensures that religious institutions won’t have to provide coverage of or referrals for contraception, but also guarantees that women employed by these institutions will have access to contraception without a co-pay. If a woman’s employer is an objecting university, hospital or other religious institution, her insurer will be required to initiate contact and offer her coverage at no cost.
A broad range of leaders and stakeholders have welcomed the new exemption policy, showing that it’s a true common-ground solution.
The Catholic Health Association, which runs hundreds of hospitals across the country, supported the Affordable Care Act, and strongly criticized of the administration’s originally crafted religious exemption, lauded the decision:
We are pleased and grateful that the religious liberty and conscience protection needs of so many ministries that serve our country were appreciated enough that an early resolution of this issue was accomplished. The unity of Catholic organizations in addressing this concern was a sign of its importance.
Planned Parenthood Federation of America commended the administration for preserving women’s access to preventive health services:
In the face of a misleading and outrageous assault on women’s health, the Obama administration has reaffirmed its commitment to ensuring all women will have access to birth control coverage, with no costly co-pays, no additional hurdles, and no matter where they work.
We believe the compliance mechanism does not compromise a woman’s ability to access these critical birth control benefits.
Religious liberty expert Melissa Rogers, former chair of President Obama’s inaugural Advisory Council on Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships, who criticized the original religious exemption as too narrow, said:
Given the White House description of the revised rule, it both resolves the religious liberty concerns and respects the interests of Americans who would like to have these important health benefits. President Obama and his administration deserve great credit for implementing a solution that honors free exercise rights and fairness. I deeply appreciate the fact that the White House has taken the religious community’s concerns so seriously.
Catholic United executive director James Salt said:
Catholics United has been calling on both sides of this heated debate to work towards today’s win-win solution. President Obama has shown us that he is willing to rise above the partisan fray to deliver an actual policy solution that both meets the health care needs of all employees and respects the religious liberty of Catholic institutions.
I am eager to see the response of the Catholic bishops, and I hope and pray in their wisdom they see the value of finding a solution. If the bishops are unwilling to recognize the value of compromise, I suspect their opposition is more about playing politics than serving the needs of the people.
Such a broad range of support demonstrates real common ground, shows that preventive health care and religious liberty are reconcilable priorities, and shows just how ridiculous are the accusations that President Obama is waging a “war on religion.”
Earlier this week, Rep. Bill Johnson (R-OH) spoke at the March for Life rally on the National Mall saying among other things “as a father of four and a grandfather of 5, I know how precious life is.” Then later that day, he blasted new Environmental Protection Agency regulations that for the first time require coal-fired plants to limit toxic mercury pollutants directly linked to fetal disease, death and serious illness in children.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops touted the new mercury and air toxic standards as “an important step forward to protect the health of all people, especially unborn babies and young children.” Bishop Stephen Blaire, chairman of the U.S. bishops’ domestic justice and human development committee, noted that it’s just “good sense to want to have clean air for our children and families to breath and for future generations.”
Along with Catholic bishops, a diverse range of faith leaders – including more than 100 evangelical pastors and the president of the National Association of Evangelicals – pushed for reasonable controls on these deadly toxins.
But Rep. Johnson’s pro-life commitment apparently stops at the coal lobbyists’door. Here’s what he said on the floor of Congress:
Mr. Speaker, here’s the simple truth. The Obama administration is driven by a far-left liberal ideology rather than the facts. This administration says it wants to put America back to work, but through its policies is doing right the opposite.
For example, because of the EPA’s new train wreck of regulation, up to 160 direct jobs will be lost with the accelerated closure of Beverly, Ohio’s Muskingham coal-fired power plant. This train wreck of regulation is the most expensive regulation that the EPA has ever mandated. These costs will ultimately be passed on to hard-working families in the form of higher utility rates. This new disastrous regulation will also cost southern Ohio many indirect jobs related to the coal industry. No matter how you look at it, the president has declared war on the coal industry and the jobs that go with it.
It’s cynical politics and a false choice to ask Americans to choose between jobs and public health. Is our nation really incapable of growing our economy without harming pregnant women, infants and children? Rep. Johnson (who counts the mining and electric utilities industries as two of his top five campaign contributors) and other self-identified pro-life members of Congress should get off the soap box and ask what they are really doing to protect children and families. Soaring rhetoric at a rally isn’t enough.
With yesterday’s anniversary of Roe v. Wade and today’s massive March for Life here in DC, the often heated conversation around abortion id back in the headlines. In the midst of these debates, it’s always refreshing to find people of faith and goodwill (both those who oppose and those who support legal access to abortion) who want to work together to reduce unintended pregnancies and support women and families.
Sometimes, anti-abortion advocates inaccurately criticize such common ground efforts as ineffectual or unprincipled. Those who want to reduce abortions, they argue, should simply support laws that restrict access to the procedure, whether by shrinking the legal time-frame, adding waiting periods, or enacting regulatory laws designed to burden clinics into closing among other strategies.
But a new Guttmacher Institute report finds that globally, these kinds of highly restrictive laws are not actually associated with lower abortion rates. While this study compares national level legislation in different countries, these findings suggest that the restrictive abortion laws many states have passed in the last few years may not actually accomplish their ostensible goal of driving down the number of abortions.
If being pro-life means being pro-women and pro-children already born in addition to being pro-unborn life, then perhaps it is time to focus equally on giving women power to decide when to get pregnant in the first place. Catholic teaching may be opposed to most forms of modern contraception, but in this case, perhaps it is better to choose the lesser of two evils–or at least this evidence seems to point in that direction.
The report also notes that, “Where abortion is legal on broad grounds, it is generally safe, and where it is illegal in most circumstances, it is generally unsafe.” For some, even those who are morally opposed to abortion, concerns abut safety and women’s health justifiably end up playing an important role in their opinions highly restrictive abortion laws.
It’s time to inject some reasonable rhetoric back into our political conversation and figure out ways of lowering abortion rates in this country that reflect the values and concerns of those on both sides of the issue.
Marcia Pally, author of The New Evangelicals: Expanding the Vision of the Common Good, had a refreshing column in USA Today last week, with a clarion call for a different kind of rhetoric and approach to the issue of abortion. Instead of hunkering down in the culture war trenches, she makes a compelling case for the “nuanced ideas” evangelicals have been developing to find common ground approaches to the abortion debate.
Here’s the heart of her principled and pragmatic argument:
Because 73% of U.S. abortions are economically motivated (according to the Guttmacher Institute, a non-profit that researches reproductive issues), abortion would drop significantly if medical, financial and emotional support were provided during pregnancy along with day care post-partum services. It would drop further if we re-thought our adoption policies and dealt with the values taught to our kids about the worth of others and of intimate relationships, and — especially for boys — about using others for one’s own pleasure.
Moreover, there’s no reason why evangelicals should not join with other faith groups, secular organizations and feminists in developing such programs.
In addition to supporting (economically, socially, and otherwise) women who become pregnant, we can also work together even amidst difference on the legality or morality of abortion to ensure that women and families have access to the health care and contraception they need.
In a November 2011 New York Times column, Nick Kristof called attention to one such effort, calling a statement in support of family planning organized by The New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good a “ray of hope.” The draft statement says: “Family planning is morally laudable in Christian terms because of its contribution to family well-being, women’s health, and the prevention of abortion.”
Pally points out that the Republican Party’s stance on abortion has cemented the bond between the GOP and evangelical voters. But with evangelicals’ new approach to reducing the need for abortion and supporting women, that glue might start to come un-stuck:
As Richard Land, president of the conservative Southern Baptist Convention’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, said, “If that issue (abortion) were taken off the table, then other issues get oxygen, issues where evangelicals are not nearly as certain that Republicans offer the best answer. Issues like economic justice, racial reconciliation, the environment.”
From my experience working with evangelical Christians across the country, there’s definitely truth to this: people of all religious and political stripes are anxious for a new approach to the issue of abortion and know that battles over legality don’t get at the root cause of why women decide to have abortions. And evangelicals, especially the younger generation, care deeply about America’s role in the world, global and domestic hunger and poverty, protecting the environment, economic opportunity, and a host of other issues.
Abortion is an incredibly important moral issue, but it’s not the only issue that matters to voters of faith. Increasingly, paying lip service to the pro-life cause without actively working to create solutions and alternatives won’t be enough for politicians to maintain their grasp on evangelical voters.