Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Catholic Bishops Assault Health and Common Sense

By Scott Dibble

Editor's Note: This op-ed was first published November 15 in the Star Tribune (Minneapolis).

A new, forceful campaign from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, pushing an extremist ideological agenda against literally every single form of birth control, family planning services and women's health care, has come to light in Congress.

During a hearing of the Subcommittee on Health, Rep. Joe Pitts, R-Pa., made clear that he will push to overturn a recent decision by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that ensures that health plans cover birth control.

At the behest of the bishops, Pitts ignores the fact that millions of women and families would greatly benefit from better access to affordable birth control, in keeping with the widely agreed need for crucial preventative services across the board -- key to better public health and to reining in costs.

This is just the latest in a broad campaign by the bishops to impose their narrow religious views onto the laws of our country (and to enrich themselves with taxpayer dollars for the programs and institutions they run at the same time).

They very nearly brought down health care reform in its entirety over a contrived abortion controversy. More recently, they were the prime movers behind a bill that permits hospitals to refuse emergency care to women in need of life-saving reproductive health services.

The Catholic bishops' efforts blatantly undermine religious freedom in our country. Official Catholic positions say that abortion is impermissible even in cases of rape and incest; that stem cell research to help cure and treat debilitating illnesses is unacceptable, and that all artificial contraception and sterilization methods, including birth-control pills, vasectomies and condoms, are a violation.

As a Catholic, I know that all of the recent attacks by the Catholic hierarchy on birth control and women's safety are completely out of step with most Americans' views on contraception, including Catholics'.

Birth-control use is nearly universal in the United States: Ninety-nine percent of sexually active women will have used birth control at some point in their lives, including 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women.

Seventy-one percent of American voters, including 77 percent of Catholic women voters and 72 percent of Republican women, support access to birth control without copays.

And as a lawmaker, I know the American people want their legislators to be focused on creating jobs and fixing our economy -- not on attacking women's access to basic health care.

In fact, ensuring that health plans will cover contraceptives with no copays is especially important in these economic times. Last year, the Centers for Disease Control found that more than half of women reported delaying or even forgoing health care entirely because of economic barriers.

Access to affordable birth control helps millions of women prevent unintended pregnancy every year. Numerous studies, including recommendations by the respected Institute of Medicine, demonstrate that birth-control use improves maternal health.

Our lawmakers should be focused on keeping people healthy, not on obstructing access to health care in service to powerful religious interests.

Scott Dibble, DFL-Minneapolis, is a member of the Minnesota Senate.


NOTE: Sen. Scott Dibble and his husband Richard feature in Catholics for Marriage Equality MN's recent video series in support of marriage equality.

To view all five "video vignettes" in the Catholics for Marriage Equality series, click here.

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