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Feb 17 / Elizabeth DiNovella

Republican Misconceptions on Americans and Birth Control


The Republicans showed how out of touch they are with Americans when House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform held a hearing on the birth control mandate in President Obama’s Affordable Care Act.

Representative Darrell Issa, Republican from California, chaired the committee and lined up a stellar cast of men—and only men—who are religious leaders and experts and who feel that paying for contraceptives is an attack on religious freedom.

The all-male Congressional panel seems fitting, considering it was the all-male Catholic bishops who organized against the mandate.

The savvy bishops did an expert job of framing the issue: Rather than having it be about health care, they turned it into a debate about religious freedom.


And the Republican leadership is using this as a wedge issue to excite its supporters. The activist base is thumbing its nose at the establishment candidate, Mitt Romney. So it needs something, and reproductive health care is red meat for those with a red state of mind.

This week on WORT-FM, we spoke to Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice, about this issue. He said that most Catholics don’t follow the bishops when it comes to contraception. Just look in the pews on Sunday mornings, he said. The families are smaller.

A recent Pew poll backs O’Brien up: “Just 15 percent of Catholics say that using contraceptives is morally wrong, while 41 percent say it is morally acceptable and 36 percent say it is not a moral issue.”

O’Brien is disappointed that Obama conceded so much with his compromise. Many of these so-called religious employers are, in fact, quite secular and are simply businesses—be it a hospital, university, or non-profit organization.

What the Catholic bishops and other religious leaders want is something larger than simply not paying for birth control coverage. “They want to be able to take taxpayer money, and provide social services, but not be judged by the same standards as anyone else,” O’Brien says.

He explains: “So let’s say they are providing services to a victim of sex trafficking, or to a refugee. Very often refugees and victims of sex trafficking need reproductive health services or emergency contraception in situations where they’ve been raped. The Catholic hierarchy wants to say, well, we’ll look after them. We’ll take taxpayer money—this isn’t money from the Vatican—to do that, but we don’t want to be held accountable to the same rules as anybody else.”

“They want to be able to take government money and not provide services most people would regard as being scientifically, medically, and socially sound,” he says.

O’Brien was born and raised in Ireland and saw firsthand the costs of gender inequality. But he remains Catholic. “My Catholicism informs the position I take on this issue,” he says.

O’Brien says it’s “almost Orwellian” since there are only 350 U.S. bishops but 68 million Catholics. “What the bishops are trying to say is that their consciences trump everybody else—both Catholic and non-Catholic here in the United States,” he says. “That’s not religious liberty. That’s a religious dictatorship.”

O’Brien says that being in Washington, D.C., is a bit like being Alice in Wonderland, adding, “ If you talk to lobbyists and Republicans, you have no sense of what reality is truly like.”

Being inside the Beltway must be like being a part of the U.S. conference of bishops. It’s easy to be insular, out of touch, and assume that millions of people are listening to you.

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