Avoid the subject. Smile and walk away when somebody starts to talk about it. This is the only way I have found to maintain peace among friends when some of us are pro-choice and others are pro-life. When some of us are Catholic and the others are not. Arguments about abortion become ugly and mean. I am pro-choice and non-Catholic. Out of respect I avoid the topic, smile, walk away, and agree to disagree.
For ten years I have driven down Governors Avenue in Dover past the anti-abortion people picketing out in front of Planned Parenthood. In that time I have only once stopped to hurl verbal insults at picketers. The time I did, a priest in the group got down on his knees on the sidewalk, raised his arms up toward heaven, and began praying out loud.
When a Holy Cross High School student told me the school was giving her and her friends the day off from school and was transporting them to Washington, D.C. to participate in an anti-abortion demonstration at the Capitol, I just smiled. “Hope you have a nice trip.”
I make contributions to Planned Parenthood and Emily’s list. I know we have Roe v. Wade as strong legal precedent protecting a woman’s right to choose abortion. We have the 1965 Supreme Court decision in Griswold v. Connecticut, permitting the use of contraceptives. We have the 1970 law in Title X protecting a woman’s right to access family planning services. We have some Equal Employment Opportunity court rulings that say it is gender discrimination if an employer refuses to provide insurance coverage for birth control. I am pro-choice but at the same time I think we should work to reduce the number of abortions by making birth control, family planning and adoption services readily accessible to all American women.
And so I have maintained peace with my friends for years and avoided arguments about abortion. It was like we had a covenant in this community to respect each other’s beliefs and differences.
The covenant was broken on Wednesday June 20, 2012 when I saw a 5” by 10” announcement in The News Journal inviting the public “to join Bishop Francis Malooly at a special Fortnight for Freedom Mass on June 21st at 7 pm at Holy Cross Catholic Church in Dover”. Most people reading the News Journal that day had no idea what that meant. But I knew exactly what it meant.
Probably more than most people I read a lot about the battles going on over the Affordable Care Act and health reform. Just the day before I read about this Fortnight for Freedom campaign by the Catholic bishops. The Catholic bishops attack the Affordable Care Act because it requires all employers who offer their employees private health insurance to provide insurance coverage for birth control and family planning. The Catholic church is exempt from this requirement under their first amendment right to religious freedom and conscientious objection. I agree with that. But Catholic schools, charities and hospitals are not exempt because these entities receive public tax money. The Catholic bishops object. They want their schools and hospitals to be exempt also. The Catholic bishops are not willing to compromise and maintain that peaceful balance between church interests and public interests. The Fortnight for Freedom campaign is designed to whip up support for their objection to the Affordable Care Act.
Catholic schools receive public tax money through vouchers and tax credits in some states, not Delaware. Catholic universities accept public tax money through student loans. Catholic hospitals receive public tax money through Medicare and Medicaid. Saint Francis, Delaware’s only Catholic hospital, has received loans from the Delaware Economic Development Office and operating funds from the Delaware Health Fund Advisory Committee. As recently as 6/25/12 Saint Francis Hospital was asking the state for favorable term modification on a $4 million loan from the Delaware Strategic Fund. Catholic Charities receives public tax money to run programs such as a homeless shelter in Seattle, Washington. Catholic Charities in Delaware receives grants from Blue Cross Blue Shield through their Blue Prints for Community Program. (Hey, that’s my insurance premium money!) Larry Snyder, President of Catholic Charities USA, spoke to Republican Congressman Paul Ryan’s House Committee on the Budget in May 2012 and asked for more public tax money under the Social Service Block Grant program. Yet the Catholic bishops want these entities to be exempt from complying with the public law that protects women’s rights. That’s just wrong. If you receive public tax money, you must comply with public law.
I ask – Is this conscientious objection or just refusal to compromise? The Catholic bishops are on the war path against the Affordable Care Act, against birth control, against getting your tubes tied, against the morning after pill, against family planning services, against counseling to prevent unintended pregnancies, and against a woman’s constitutional right to privacy. The Catholic bishops are camouflaging their war campaign under the lie that the Affordable Care Act is a threat to religious liberty and freedom of conscience. The Catholic bishops started this campaign at their Catholic Bishops Conference in Atlanta, Georgia. Never did I imagine they would come to Dover, Delaware. But there they were in my local newspaper, throwing their lies in my face. And Bishop Francis Malooly himself was leading the assault on my peaceful community of Dover the next day June 21st at 7 pm.
I had to protest. They were attacking the Affordable Care Act which I support. And they were attacking women’s rights which every woman in this country must protect for the next generation just like our ancestors fought for us. I stood in front of Holy Cross Catholic Church from 6:30 to 8:30 Thursday evening as people arrived and left this “special” mass. I held a sign saying “Stop the War on Women”.
The Catholic bishops are simply going too far. They are deliberately confusing abortion and birth control. It’s like they’re trying to whip up their anti-abortion people to also be anti-birth control. I detect a sleight of hand trick. They are saying that birth control really is abortion so if you’re against abortion then you should also be against birth control and family planning and if the Affordable Care Act guarantees every American woman access to birth control and family planning then you should be against the Affordable Care Act.
I know this because of the crazy comments I got from two people who came up to me on the sidewalk after mass. One woman asked me “Have you ever had an abortion?” “When does life begin?” When I told her I don’t know, she questioned my medical credentials and asked me if I was on drugs. Bishop Malooly did a good flimflam job on her. He’s talking about restricting birth control and she’s thinking about abortion. The next step is to get her to equate birth control and abortion. The Catholic bishops whip up talk about abortion and confuse it with birth control in order to rally their troops. This woman is an example.
A man said to me “Pregnancy is not a disease”. The Catholic bishops say pregnancy is not a disease therefore it should not be either aborted or prevented. They believe that birth control and abortion are equally wrong. I really don’t think most people agree with that. Many of us oppose aborting a pregnancy. But most of us believe a woman has a right to take birth control pills to prevent an unintended pregnancy. It’s the unintended pregnancy that carries increased health problems for mother and baby. Don’t let the Catholic bishops confuse this important difference and then in the midst of the confusion they take away some women’s right to contraceptives and family planning. It’s like the old shell game – Now you see your rights, now you don’t.
And then there is the suspicious association between the Catholic bishops and the Republican party. The Wall Street Journal reported on 2/8/12 that Republican Congressman John Boehner (R-OH) vows that the U.S. House of Representatives will act to reverse the Obama administration attack on religious freedom. The Los Angeles times reported on 2/13/12 Republican Senator Mitch McConnell (R-KY) said on CBS “Face the Nation” that he would press legislation to exempt all employers from providing insurance coverage for contraceptives if they have religious or moral objections. The Republican senator said, “This is what happens when the government tries to take over healthcare and tries to interfere with your religious beliefs.”
I respect my friends who are devout Catholics. But after years of trying, I can no longer avoid this argument. In my humble opinion the Catholic bishops have nothing but contempt for women’s rights. They have no intention of maintaining a peaceful coexistence between their religious beliefs and a woman’s constitutional rights. They won’t even let a woman be a priest. They have no misgivings about coming after us with the full “shock and awe” power of the Catholic church. They have no misgivings about getting mixed up in partisan politics if they think it will advance their campaign against women’s rights.
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