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Religious Tyranny Shames Religion

Kathleen Reeves

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has debased itself by turning into a lobbying group of the most aggressive and inappropriate sort.

In a comment on one of Jodi Jacobson’s posts on this site, a commenter who identifies as a “Pro-Life Catholic for Choice,” applauds Stupak’s amendment to the health care bill. Quoting the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops—who stated that they would not support health care reform unless abortion were explicitly excluded from all insurance plans in the new health care system—the commenter says,

The Catholic position is that health care reform is a "national priority" and a "moral imperative". This is the kind of language that makes me proud to be a Catholic.

The Catholic Church’s longtime advocacy for universal health care also makes me proud to be a Catholic. But I’m ashamed of the way the USCCB has acted in this debate, and I’m surprised that a “Pro-Life Catholic for Choice” supports an amendment that restricts choice in a very serious way.

Catholics are free to do what they want. Catholic hospitals have the right to refuse services they find offensive. But when the federal government sets out to reform the health care system in a way that will affect nearly every single American, and only one procedure—affecting only women—is singled out as “inappropriate,” based on the objections of some religious groups, we are not on common ground.

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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America has honored religious freedom more consistently, perhaps, than any other country. Of course, religious freedom implies plurality. As soon as a religiously-held belief restricts the freedom of others, it’s no longer simply “religious freedom.” It’s tyranny.

This should be a reminder to us that, even with a pro-choice President and a Democratic majority, the war against reproductive health care is far from over. Hydra-like, it rears not one head, but many: sexual hypocrisy, misogyny, religious bigotry. Feministing gets it right:

This has me so incredibly infuriated because it further segregates abortion as something different, off the menu of regular health care. It is a huge backward step in the battle to convey — not just politically, but to women in their everyday lives — that reproductive health care is normal and necessary, and must be there if (or, more accurately, when) you need it.

The commenter on Jodi’s post claims that with the bill’s passage, Obama is siding with the USCCB over Planned Parenthood. Is he ashamed that, of all the things the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops could be lobbying for, it has chosen to obstruct access to health care?

In an extraordinary effort over the last 10 days, the bishops conference told priests across the country to talk about the legislation in church, mobilizing parishioners to contact Congress and to pray for the success of anti-abortion amendments.

The bishops sent out information to be “announced at all Masses” and included in parish bulletins, and urged priests and parishioners to tell House members: “Please support the Stupak Amendment that addresses essential pro-life concerns.” They added: “If these serious concerns are not addressed, the final bill should be opposed.”

Would the USCCB have been conducting a full-scale organizing effort for health care reform if abortion hadn’t been at issue? Do we ever see the USCCB wearing themselves out over social welfare legislation? What about the death penalty?

When they have the opportunity to help people, the USCCB makes little noise. But given the opportunity to take away women’s rights, the Conference debases itself by turning into a lobbying group of the most aggressive and inappropriate sort. President Obama is, without a doubt, faith-friendly. He understands the importance of religion to Americans, and he believes in the power of religion to do good. But he, like the founding fathers, does not look favorably upon a religious group that would like to create the nation in its image.

So to anyone who thinks that fortune is smiling on USCCB or the Family Research Council or Concerned Women for America, I have this to say: Obama will not let women down. He has the opportunity, and the inclination, to increase funding for health clinics and to change the way abortion providers are treated in this country. And maybe a few years from now, or at least sometime in my lifetime, abortion won’t be a dirty word.