The Bishops vs. HHS – What Do You Think?

Recently, a reader of our blog left the following comment on our editorial page:

I would be interested in any thoughts you all might have on the current bishops vs HHS issue. I am trying to sort mine out. I have a number of questions now that, after the Army, I have time to pray, think, and read. This is not a trick question or an attempt at entrapment. I’m really interested.

Oh boy. Suffice it to say, I’m trying to sort my thoughts about this out, too. First of all, I need to be upfront and say I haven’t been following this debate incredibly closely, so I’m happy to defer to or stand corrected by those who know more about it than I do. But essentially, I understand it as this: Catholic employers are being “forced” to include contraception and abortion in health care plans for their employees. I’ve also heard that Catholic hospitals are being “forced” to offer these services, although a very short online search didn’t bring up confirmation of this.

I first heard about this debate when my fiance came to my house outraged after he got off the phone with his uncle who is a priest. His outrage fell on the religious freedom side of the issue. (He felt this mandate trampled on religious freedom and every person’s right to obey their conscience.) Although I understood where he was coming from — I cherish religious freedom, too — on a gut level I couldn’t get to that place of outrage. Because the reality of what this mandate offers women was too important to me. Contraception isn’t a rare or specialized service; it’s something that virtually EVERY adult woman will need at some point in her life, if she wants to a) enter into a sexual relationship and b) not have more children than she can support emotionally, physically, or financially — and there are many, many cases where even just one is too many. So trumping freedom of religion definitely made me squeamish — but so did the thought of women being denied access to safe birth control “just” because they worked for a Catholic organization. I do see contraception as an essential health service, and because the “morality” of denying it causes women to suffer most, I can’t separate my judgment on the issue from the reality of who will be most adversely affected.

When I asked my younger sister about her thoughts on it, she divided the issue as follows: “I think it’s OK for them to force insurance plans to cover those services, because not EVERYONE who works for a Catholic organization is Catholic; those people should have the choice of whether to use those services or not. And if you’re getting insurance through your employer, you don’t get a choice of insurance plans, either. But I don’t think it’s OK to force Catholic hospitals to provide those services, because people can make a choice to go to a different hospital.”

My fiance and I hashed this issue out for a good hour earlier this week, and although he can make strong political arguments on any issue he cares about, I just couldn’t bring myself to choose a side on this one. I felt caught in the crossroads similar to the way I am on the abortion issue: I don’t believe abortion should be illegal, but I don’t agree with having an abortion, either. So I don’t strongly ally myself with pro-choicers or pro-lifers; I’m a “fence-sitter” on this issue that my high school civics teacher once told me you “couldn’t be a fence-sitter on.”

At the end of the night, I finally knew why I felt so trapped, and I told him: “I think they’re BOTH immoral. I think it’s immoral to force a religious organization to do something, and I think it’s immoral to deny women affordable access to contraception.”

So that’s where I stand — still in the middle, but understanding why. I’d love to hear where you stand, too, even if you, like me, hardly know yourself.