Contraception and the Fight Against the HHS Ruling

In the January 25, 2012 First Things A Time for Catholic Action and Catholic Voices, Archbishop José H. Gomez of Los Angeles argues against the recent HHS mandate that every U.S. employer must provide health insurance coverage for birth control, sterilization, and even abortion-causing drugs. As of this writing 145 Bishops have also made excellent similar statements. One recurring theme I find in these articles is expressed by Bishop Gomez when he states: “But the issues here go far beyond contraception and far beyond the liberties of the Catholic Church.” He goes on to argue for our national identity and a true notion of freedom of religion.

His arguments are good ones, and I, like many Catholics, am thrilled to see the bishops making such strong statements on the issues. Nonetheless, I do want to raise one simple question, not as a challenge, but as a way to bolster the cause: Why downplay the question of contraception? Why not seize this moment to engage the culture with boldness on the issue? Pope Benedict, quoted by Bishop Gomez, urged the US Bishops just days before the HHS ruling that the presentation of “a convincing articulation of the Christian vision of man and society” is “a primary task of the Church in your country.” Does not this very moment represent the proverbial “teaching moment”? The entire country has just now had the idea jostled about in their minds that the Catholic Church thinks something about contraception; and I might add, it may be the first time in a while that Catholics have thought of it as well. St. Peter urges, “Always be ready to give an explanation to anyone who asks you for a reason for your hope.” (1 Pt 3:15). In contrast, Thomas Merton warned, in No Man is an Island, that “One of the moral diseases we communicate to one another in society comes from huddling together in the pale light of an insufficient answer to a question we are afraid to ask.” At this moment will we take the route urged by St. Peter and Pope Benedict or the route predicted by Thomas Merton?

Furthermore, a main argument against the Bishops goes that the Catholic view is a religious position, and since many employees at Catholic hospitals and universities are not Catholic, those employees’ insurance should cover their contraception. As used in that argument the term “religious” implies the meaning “irrational.” And so, if the Bishops grant the point that it is exclusively a religious reason and move directly to questions of national identity, this will be perceived as a tacit acceptance by the Bishops of the hidden premise that to oppose contraception is irrational.

The reasons for Church teaching on procreation are well-founded and full of common sense, and now is the moment to explain them to fellow Catholics who may be foggy on the issue, as well as to those non-Catholics whose ears are currently perked up. Will we as a Church (Bishops, priests and laity) use this moment not only to assert our view that contraception is immoral, but also to explain the reasons? Or will we remain silent, skirting the real issue at hand?

For those who want to take the former path, there are very many solid resources out there for making the case philosophically. My own modest contribution to this effort is here.


Peter J. Colosi taught for nine years for Franciscan University of Steubenville at their program in Gaming, Austria as assistant professor of philosophy. In the fall of 2009, he joined the faculty at St. Charles Borromeo Seminary in Wynnewood, Pennsylvania as assistant professor of moral theology. He earned his BS in mathematics from Franciscan University, an MA in Franciscan Studies from St. Bonaventure University, and his MPhil and PhD from the International Academy of Philosophy in the Principality of Liechtenstein.

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  • ST. Markeymark

    A National Cancer Insitute (US GOV’T)  factsheet quote: “Some studies have shown an increased risk of breast cancer in women taking oral contraceptives” and “Oral contraceptives have been shown to increase the risk of cervical cancer” and “A 1996 analysis of worldwide epidemiologic data conducted by the Collaborative Group on Hormonal Factors in Breast Cancer found that women who were current or recent users of birth control pills had an elevated risk of developing breast cancer. The risk was highest for women who started using OCs as teenagers. ”  ???

    Also  In a July 29th 2005 press release, the World Health Organization declared that combined estrogen-progestogen Oral Contraceptives are carcinogenic to humans. Specifically, they said that “Use of OC’s increases risk of breast, cervix, and liver cancer.” The data was presented by a working group of 21 scientists from 8 countries convened by the cancer research agency of the WHO, the International Agency for Research on Cancer. Companies that make birth control pills also have admitted a link between the drug and breast cancer.

  • Florin S.

    I believe there are about 271 Active Bishops and many more retired – why aren’t all the Bishops speaking out? I know that Muslim clerics and Orthodox Bishops are speaking out against this proposed mandate. We have to keep in mind that even if we deflect this mandate now, if Obama remains in office for another 4 years, he will have nothing to lose and will ferociously try to put through his anti-life agenda…we need to speak out about his agenda and we need to make known to those who do not know that neither contraception nor abortion are good for women…not good at all.

  • Anonymous

    Why not speak out against contraception at this time?  Simple.  The bishops are engaging in a political battle with the president, not a theological one.  The issue is religious liberty, not contraception per se.  The reaction of the bishops would be the same if the pres were trying to prevent the Catholic Church in the US from following ANY of our beliefs, not just this one.

    In this fight, the bishops have to gain as many allies as they can among the American people, the majority of whom are protestant (at least nominally).  Your average protestant is not opposed to contraception.  Our bishops therefore are aiming to garner support for our position vs. buying insurance policies offering free contraception, from people who theologically don’t agree with us.  In the US, we Catholics may be a formidable voting-block, but we are still a statistical minority.

    So if the bishops were to argue vs. the president solely on the issue of contraception, they would be grossly outnumbered AND they would lose.  And they want to win. 

    That’s why.

  • Peter Nyikos

     Excellent quotes, ST. Markeymark.  Could you give us links to these sources from which you are quoting, so that we will be fully armed against Sibelius’s favorite rationale for this tyrranical mandate: that contraceptives have numerous health benefits?

    Granted, hormonal therapy does have numerous health benefits for isolated individuals, but it should be covered on that basis and not on the basis of it being a contraceptive. 

    I wonder, by the way, whether hormones other than oral contraceptives are subject to a co-pay [typically 20% of the cost or more] and whether, under the new mandate, the only way one can get the co-pay waived is by getting oral contraceptives prescribed and then expressly claiming that the oral contraceptive is used for purposes of contraception and NOT just for any other health benefits.

  • Vicki

    ClareClare, I cannot agree with you completely. While it is true that this is a political battle, not a theological one, Mr Colosi makes a valid point that Catholics should not be seen as defending an irrational point of view based on faith alone regarding contraception, but on solid principle. Contraception is bad for marriages, half of which end in divorce. Once women realize that the constant “availability” created by contraception  turns them into objects for sexual gratification, they may take an interest, even secular women. It’s something that should be explained, since our culture has missed that point; and it’s a rational, important reason for avoiding artificial birth control: it demeans women.                                 
    I don’t know that what the bishops are doing is arguing with the president, or the American people. They are taking a stand, and will continue to take it whether or not it costs them, and us, and whether or not anyone agrees with them or not. The Catholic church will not fund abortion or birth control: it’s not an argument, it’s a statement.

  • Inkblot

    While your logic is thoroughly sound, I can’t help but be reminded that the gates of hell will not prevail against us. The Church’s mission is not a political but a theological one. Christ suffered a political and physical defeat, but eventually won a theological victory, and perhaps it would be better (not wiser, but better) to preach the truth while we have others’ ears.

  • Anonymous

    Dr. Colosi and others commenting have excellent points; this is an amazing opportunity to speak truth to power.

     I would add that Dr. Thomas Hilgers realized that contraceptives block, suppress and destroy a woman’s health and fertility. Because he and his colleagues (who are all over the world now) took the time to teach couples how to chart their cycles, a new reproductive health science called NaProtechnology could be discovered; it is revolutionary, cutting-edge, authentic health care for women. NaProTechnology respects the dignity and function of a woman’s body by thoroughly investigating, evaluating and treating her in cooperation with her natural procreative cycle. This renders the so-called “health care” for women that has been practiced for the last fifty years antiquated, old school and, eventually, obsolete.

     When we are faced with the misinformation that is repeated by Planned Parenthood, Kathleen Sebelius, President Obama, etc., we do not have to shy away, indeed we have a responsibility and duty to educate and enlighten with the truth.

    Another facet of this discussion we can call attention to is the misery of rampant STDs. This is something contraceptive supporters ignore, because an honest discussion will reveal that the problem is now epidemic directly related to contraceptive use. This alone has been a travesty against our young. Haven’t women suffered enough? will give you more information on what NaProTechnology is and how to become an active participant in the monitoring and maintaining of your own procreative and gynecologic health. Infertility, miscarriage, PCOS, endometriosis, PMS, post partum depression, painful periods, heavy bleeding, irregular cycles and/or bleeding, and any other issues you are suffering with are all addressed with NaProTechnology.  


  • ST. Markeymark

    To Peter Nyikos and others interested I get part of my facts from the US
    Governments website (National Institute of Health)

  • Terrygeorge

    i think the bishops will be using the opportunity to speak clearly about both aspects from a catholic perspective, and we need to be supportive and not fight overly about how much attention is given to one aspect or another.  the issue is raised regardless.  the crisis which is bringing this to the nation’s attention is the violation of religious freedom.  if that is not addressed head on we stand to lose much more.  yes the rationality of the Church’s contraceptive stance needs to be readily available.  but the national dialogue is about freedom of religion generally.

    my concern is whether people, catholics and our priests and bishops in particular, will consider how we arrived at this point in the first place and perceive a deeper evil that has been proceeding, one that many have unwittingly been participating in, and begin instead to resist it in whole, not just in this one or another instance.  (the overall healthcare law passed is immoral for numerous reasons, and that itself is only one development of this evil).

    obama and his administration have been very opposed to catholic ideals since long before his election.  and the democratic party has also been very anti life and otherwise opposed to catholic morality.  these have been part of the entire progressive movement of resisting Christ and His teaching and his Church.

    it has been said that all that is needed for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.  feigned neutrality in the face of evil is ultimately participation in it.  lets get moving and stay moving in the opposite direction already. 

    now that this has occurred the call has gone out to support the bishops, which we are.  hopefully the bishops will consistently support those politicians who support the catholic position on inviolable issues and quit taking pot shots at them on other issues in which there can be legitimate disagreement.

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  • The Pope and Bishops stance is from the Old Testament: Genesis
    1:28, “God blessed them; and God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply,
    and fill the earth, and subdue it; and rule over the fish of the sea and over
    the birds of the sky and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
    But, haven’t we already accomplished that in the past couple thousand years?  Are we to continue doing this until we destroy this earth–Or was this God’s plan from the beginning?

  • Martha

    We never end up completely accomplishing what you are saying. In order for the older people to be able to have a retirement, there has to be enough younger people to support it. Reducing the population so low that there are too many old people and not enough younger ones to carry on will destroy things, too. There has to be a balance.There is still much of the earth that is not populated. Most people live in or near cities. The reason there are many poor people is because of the bad governments and evil leaders who do not let the people have what others send them. If we all shared voluntarily or if leaders would be noble, there would not be much poverty or it would be lessened, at least. Greed is the one real reason why there are problems.

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  • Peter J. Colosi

    This is my response to your thoughtful point: