Jon O’Brien: President Obama, don’t turn your back on women

When healthcare reform was first proposed, you promised the American people that under your administration we wouldn’t lose the healthcare coverage we already had if we were happy with it. You said that we would get the healthcare coverage we wanted and needed. You promised that you would make decisions based on science and medically accurate information.

When the Institute of Medicine recommended that family planning be added to the list of essential preventive services, women and men around the country were delighted. So were doctors and public health advocates who recognize the importance of allowing women and men to plan their families. Family planning can be expensive, and providing it at no cost to people makes sense.

The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has been lobbying hard, calling for you to include an expansive refusal clause that will ensure that millions of women and men are denied no-cost family planning coverage.

Mr. President,

• Providing no-cost family planning is good public health policy and an important advance under the Affordable Care Act. But if you grant the refusal clause the Catholic bishops want, you will be supporting discrimination against millions of Americans, both Catholic and non-Catholic, simply because of where they work or go to school.

• The majority of American Catholics support affordable access to contraception for all women and men, especially during these tough economic times. Catholics themselves use contraception: 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women have used the family planning the bishops want you to exclude from healthcare coverage.

• Two-thirds of Catholics, 65 percent believe that clinics and hospitals that take taxpayer money should not be allowed to refuse to provide procedures or medications based on religious beliefs. A similar number, 63 percent, also believe that health insurance, whether private or government-run, should cover contraception.

• A strong majority (78 percent) of Catholic women prefer that their hospital offers emergency contraception for rape victims, while more than half (55 percent) want their hospital to provide it in broader circumstances.

• Expanding refusal clauses to allow some institutions and universities to refuse to provide coverage for contraception is not what you promised in healthcare reform. Giving in to the bishops’ demands will mean preventive healthcare will cost more—not less—for millions of healthcare and social service employees, teachers and university students and their families.

• American taxpayers’ dollars should be used for the common good and to enable people to exercise their conscience-based healthcare decisions.

If you side with the Catholic bishops, it will be harder and more expensive for millions of American women to get family planning. You will also be rejecting the advice from medical experts that recommended its inclusion on the list of recommended preventive healthcare services for women. The US bishops have completely failed to convince Catholics in the pews not to use effective family planning methods, so now they want you to impose their agenda on Catholics and non-Catholics alike.

Mr. President, you have a choice — listen to the people who elected you or the Catholic bishops. If you want to do what’s right by American Catholics, don’t make this deal with the bishops. Listen to the majority of the 68 million Catholics who want contraceptive coverage for everyone, not the 271 active bishops in the United States who don’t.

Jon O’Brien is the president of Catholics for Choice.


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