Catholics and Contraception: Letters From the Laity Paint a Very Different Picture Than the Bishops Want You to See

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Commentary Contraception

Catholics and Contraception: Letters From the Laity Paint a Very Different Picture Than the Bishops Want You to See

Catholics for Choice has been hearing a lot from Catholics who are indeed upset.  An excerpt from just one of the letters we've received: "I will start paying more attention to the bishops’ position on birth control on the day a Catholic bishop becomes pregnant. Until then I’ll stand with the 97 percent of Catholic women who use or have used birth control."

New York Times/CBS News polling released this week backed up what most of us already knew: the majority of Americans (66 percent) support the ruling by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to include no-copay birth control in employee insurance plans. A similar number, 61 percent, believe that religiously-affiliated employers such as hospitals and universities should be expected to comply with this policy.

Though it’s harder to quantify emotions, quickly skimming the headlines these days is all it takes to see: Catholics are upset. The reasons for these strong feelings are much more complex than can fit into a headline, however, and in most cases very different than the ones expressed by the US bishops.

For Catholics, as for everyone, contraception is personal.

Ever since the HHS decision was made public, Catholics for Choice has been hearing from Catholics who are indeed upset. We have heard from young women and retirees, fathers, mothers, lectors and church employees, many of whom have sat in a pew and listened to letters from their bishop condemning the HHS decision, experienced their personal contraceptive and political decisions becoming an issue in church like never before, or seen news coverage that didn’t reflect their own Catholic support for contraception. Parishioners may be encountering a new, political Catholic hierarchy, but the experience may yet create a new, political progressive Catholic movement in response.

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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A selection of the letters we received appears below.

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Diane T.
Nashua, NH

I had to have a hysterectomy to save my life and the church is basically saying if I worked for a Catholic organization, they would not pay for my “sterilization” as they call it. What about my life? What about my rights to my body? I’m incensed over this and I will make my voice heard! 

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Miami, FL

The [HHS ruling] does make exception for those who works in a church (or some other building of worship), but to be fair (?), now no insurance will be given throughout the Archdiocese [of Miami]….

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Patricia K.
Oklahoma City, OK   

Does it matter to the Catholic church that girls have hopes and dreams?… How small of them all in this day and age.…    

All of this has drawn me so far away from going to church that I could never imagine walking into a church of any sort ever again….  This is a nation for all religions. Not just for Christians, or for Catholics….

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I was stunned to hear a political message in a Catholic church. I thought that only happened in a Christian fundamentalist church. A letter, written by Bishop Lennon, Catholic Diocese of Cleveland, was inserted in our weekly bulletin. It was incendiary, over the top and misleading. Words were selected for their shock value.

I’ve always held respect for our local clergy in spite of views that I’m sure we don’t share. But now I don’t know what to do. Should I continue to serve as a lector at mass when I’m no longer sure I belong there? And what about the envelope from Bishop Lennon on my kitchen table? I don’t want to compromise my modest donation to help the poor, but I’m so angry right now that I have the urge to throw it out.

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Mequon, WI

My daughter takes birth control. She’s 27, single, and this helps her mood swings and anxiety attacks. I am Catholic and believe this is a personal decision for each of us. The church has no idea what each of us deals with in our personal lives. We all have to make our own well-thought-out decisions.

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Winter Park, FL

Just a comment from a life-long Catholic, long-time church employee and mother of two:

I will start paying more attention to the bishops’ position on birth control on the day a Catholic bishop becomes pregnant. Until then I’ll stand with the 97 percent of Catholic women who use or have used birth control.

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Scottsville, NY

I am a very liberal woman who supports choice and LGBT rights. I feel that this is right and what God wants. I have been on birth control for several years and feel it is a responsible decision…

I am a loving person and I would love to go back to church if I knew a parish that would accept me and not preach against beliefs that I hold dear.…

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White, SD

Absolutely: I support making access to birth control methods as part of basic health care coverage.… Modern birth control methods are a product of God-given human intellect. These methods are a tool that can be used to make a huge improvement in the quality of life for living, breathing human beings, no different than any other health care method.…

As it stands now, I will do anything I can to avoid the Catholic healthcare system. The bishops have made it plain that they are more concerned with pushing their agenda than with my welfare as a patient. As far as I am concerned, their so-called “prolife” viewpoint is little more than the primary method they use to maintain their authority and control the populace. Personally, I look to my own conscience and situation in life.

And let us not forget that the freedom of conscience is for the individual human being, not the corporate structures created by humans.

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Atlanta, Georgia

My local parish priest delivered a homily railing against the new insurance rule. My fellow parishioners and I were not impressed. In fact, we were angry at our local and regional clerics for trying to ram their point of view down our throats.

We do not agree! We are happy that FINALLY the moral conscience opportunity has been taken away from Catholic organizations and instead redirected—and rightly so—to the level of individual employees. It is the individual who has the right to exercise their own moral conscience. We don’t need the Catholic church to do it FOR us. We are not in alignment with our church leadership. They do not speak for us.

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Dianne E.
Knoxville, TN

I have been Catholic all of my life (66 years) and could not believe what I heard.… As a young Catholic woman I lived in the days of practicing the “rhythm method” and found myself pregnant both times. I was searching for a priest—as so many of my Catholic girlfriends did in the 60s—who would tell us it was okay to use The Pill, and chastised by even my own birth family for “practicing birth control”…. It’s scary to me that a church I was raised in, believed in, worked in, seems to be moving backward instead of forward….
I am overwhelmed but not afraid to do what I can to let others know that I am a Catholic for Choice…. There are those that may agree with me but would never risk telling anybody.

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In these shaky economic times, no-copay contraception is more important than ever. It’s about social justice, a core Catholic value, and an issue of conscience. A groundswell of Catholic support for equal access to contraception would do a lot to correct the misconception that the bishops’ polemics against individual moral agency are reflective of the views of the faithful.  

If you want to contact Catholics for Choice, please click here.