February 11, 2013 — The Washington Post, New York Times and Los Angeles Times recently published letters to the editor and opinion pieces that respond to the contraceptive coverage debate, including the Catholic bishops' recent rejection of the Obama administration's proposed accommodation for religiously affiliated employers.
~ Bill Keller, New York Times: Columnist Keller writes that the administration's "concessions are not enough to satisfy the religious lobbies," who "now want the First Amendment freedom of religion to be stretched to cover an array of for-profit commercial ventures, Hobby Lobby being the largest litigant." Keller adds that Hobby Lobby has a "high [legal] bar to get over -- as it should." Hobby Lobby's owner "can spend his own money to promote his faith, but it would be an act of legal overreach to say that he can impose his faith on his employees by denying them benefits the government has widely required," Keller states. Courts also "tend to distinguish between laws that make you do something and laws that merely require a financial payment," he notes, adding that "[n]othing in the Obamacare mandate obliges anyone to use contraception" (Keller, New York Times, 2/10).
~ New York Times letters to the editor: In letters to the Times, advocates on both sides of the debate respond to the paper's recent coverage of the issue, including a news article and an editorial. Louise Melling, the director of American Civil Liberties Union's Center for Liberty, writes, "Real religious freedom gives to all the right to make personal decisions about how they practice their religion or don't," not the "right to impose their beliefs on others." Jean Bucaria -- deputy director of the New York City National Organization for Women -- adds that "employees who use birth control have a right to their religious freedom, too." Jon O'Brien -- president of Catholics for Choice -- writes that "the bishops and their conservative allies don't recognize that the First Amendment prescribes a system that includes freedom from religion as well as freedom of religion." Meanwhile, Monsignor Daniel Hamilton of New York writes that the charge that the Catholic Church's opposition to contraceptive coverage "was contrived to defeat President Obama is a false if not nefarious claim" (New York Times, 2/8).
~ Lisa Miller, Washington Post's "On Faith": The Catholic bishops' dissatisfaction with the contraceptive coverage accommodation reflects "the Vatican's articulated lack of understanding of youth culture," particularly that "[y]oung people care about sex" and bristle at the Church's insistence that birth control is "immoral," columnist Miller writes. Although "[s]ocial conservatives like to point to the widespread use of the pill, ... as the beginning of the end of" sexual morality, Miller notes that data show teen pregnancy rates have sunk to new lows, teens are waiting longer to have sex, and increasingly having sex in serious relationships and using contraception. Despite the "fear that the availability of birth control will lead to a nation of hedonistic narcissists, the kids are all right," she writes, adding, "But they're less likely than ever to take advice about personal morality from older men who think they know better" (Miller, "On Faith," Washington Post, 2/9).
~ Michael McGough, Los Angeles Times: Columnist McGough writes that the bishops' rejection of the contraceptive coverage accommodation "reiterated that the Roman Catholic Church is equally adamant that nonreligious employers should be free to ignore the mandate." He asks, "But do the bishops really believe that owners of hardware stores and coffee shops have a right to opt out of Obamacare -- or other laws -- because of their personal religious convictions?" For instance, McGough questions whether a Christian fundamentalist should be able to refuse to hire women -- in violation of civil rights laws -- if he thinks women should not work outside the home. McGough concludes, "Someone ought to ask [New York Cardinal Timothy] Dolan whether forcing those employers to obey the law is also a monstrous violation of religious liberty" (McGough, Los Angeles Times, 2/8).
Debra Ness, publisher & president, National Partnership
Andrea Friedman, associate editor & director of reproductive health programs, National Partnership
Melissa Safford, associate editor & policy advocate for reproductive health, National Partnership
Perry Sacks, assistant editor & health program associate, National Partnership
Cindy Romero, assistant editor & communications assistant, National Partnership
Justyn Ware, editor
Amanda Wolfe, editor-in-chief
Heather Drost, Hanna Jaquith, Marcelle Maginnis, Ashley Marchand and Michelle Stuckey, staff writers
Tucker Ball, director of new media, National Partnership