Commentary Contraception

Protecting Women’s Rights in a Religious “Right” World

Lisa Kerr

Women received a small victory yesterday when the Obama administration announced that most employers will have to provide contraceptives at no cost to their employees. But the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops remain strong and determined to take away your rights.

Photo of President Obama by Flickr user lednichenkoolga used under Creative Commons 2.0

Photo of President Obama by Flickr user lednichenkoolga used under Creative Commons 2.0

Threats to women’s reproductive rights have been making headlines for the past few years but women received a small victory yesterday when the Obama administration announced that most employers will have to provide contraceptives at no cost to their employees.

While this is a victory to women’s reproductive rights, there are still a few things women’s rights activists need to consider. First, there is still a loophole for religious nonprofits. According to ThinkProgress.org, “Only houses of worship and other religious nonprofits that primarily employ and serve people of the same faith will be exempt.” For women like me, who used to work for a religious nonprofit, this may not be terrible news since abstinence-only and purity teachings are widespread. However, married women who may not want to have children immediately, or at all, may still have trouble accessing contraceptives due to the financial cost. And due to the fact that many religious nonprofits and houses of worship still hold the belief that women are to be mothers first, and human beings second.

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Second, and perhaps most importantly, are the Roman Catholic bishops who are behind the lobbying that’s threatening women’s access to abortions and contraceptives. These men are simply not going away, nor will they stop lobbying just because they were defeated by the Obama Administration on this small matter. Laura Bassett writes in The Huffington Post

But the erosion of women’s rights didn’t begin with the GOP takeover. President Barack Obama’s health care reform law contained some of the most restrictive abortion language seen in decades.

Lift the curtain, and behind the assault was the conference of bishops.

“It is a very effective lobby, unfortunately, and now they have an ally in the Republican majority because both groups find this a means by which to fight women’s health issues in general,” said Rep. Lois Capps (D-Calif.), a member of the House Pro-Choice Caucus. “The bishops carry a lot of clout.”

“We consider the two biggest opponents on the other side the Catholic bishops and National Right to Life,” said Donna Crane, policy director of NARAL Pro-Choice America. “They are extremely heavy-handed on this issue.”

And what do the Bishops have to say on the matter? 

“By refusing to broaden the exemption, “in effect the president is saying that we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences,” complained Cardinal-designate Timothy M. Dolan, archbishop of New York and president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops” href=”http://www.latimes.com/topic/religion-belief/christianity/roman-catholicism/united-states-conference-of-catholic-bishops-ORCUL000006.topic”>U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops

Sister Jane Marie Klein, chairwoman of the board of Franciscan Alliance Inc., a system of 13 Catholic hospitals, said, “This is nothing less than a direct attack on religion and 1st Amendment rights.”

When are my rights as  a women more important than the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops? When religious leaders begin to flaunt money, power, and the threats of “a direct attack on religion and 1st Amendment rights” it seems that we may have a problem on our hands. I have news for the Catholic Bishops and those who choose not to dignify women’s minds, bodies and souls: your religious “rights” end when my reproductive rights are threatened.

The Religious Right has snagged many proponents in the Pro-Life movement by feeding them twisted ideologies while they sit in the Church pew, pushing their power as ‘Authorities from God’ in the pulpit. Isn’t this in direct violation of nonprofit law? Not exactly. According to the Freedom from Religion Foundation

Churches have been actively involved in many recent controversial ballot initiatives and referenda in numerous states across the country. Under the law, this is permissible activity because ballot initiatives are considered to be “legislations” and thus, are lobbying activities, not “political” activity. For example, a priest is allowed to tell his congregation to support a referendum denying equal marriage rights to gay partners, and to include church support or opposition to referenda in church bulletins.

However,

A 501(c)(3) organization, including a church, is allowed to engage only in “insubstantial” lobbying. In other words, a 501(c)(3) could lose its tax-exempt status if it engages in substantial lobbying; however, the definition of “insubstantial” is amorphous.

So maybe the Catholic Bishops aren’t in direct violation of any nonprofit laws, or if they are it would be rather hard to prove, but that means many of congregants donations to religious nonprofits may be spent lobbying and not helping the poor and the needy as the Bible commands. If you are part of the Catholic body (or any religious body), you should be asking where your money is going and get the answer in writing.

Sadly, patriarchal religion doesn’t seem to be stopping when it comes to gaining political ground and supporters and this means neither will the war on women’s health issues. In many religious institutions, the war on women has been waging for thousands of years and the only way to stop it is for women to do a little digging in what their spiritual leaders are saying about their gender.


Years ago, I was a young church member who was “saving myself for marriage” even though I was in my mid-twenties. I voted according to what my minister suggested my morals should be, because I thought that was what a good Christian did. I bought all of what was taught to me: hook, line and sinker. Fortunately, I’m no longer part of that church, nor am I religious, but I didn’t start questioning some of their political endorsements, their narrow ‘moral’ views, or where their money went until long after I quit my membership. I didn’t become a feminist until I was in college, later in my twenties and when I did, I felt there was no other option for me than to leave the church.

I wonder what would happen if more individuals would dig a little bit deeper into the lobbying efforts and financial records of their church. What types of activities would they find and would they support them? For women in particular, I wonder if they would say as I’ve said: Your religious “rights” end when my reproductive rights are threatened.

News Health Systems

Complaint: Citing Catholic Rules, Doctor Turns Away Bleeding Woman With Dislodged IUD

Amy Littlefield

“It felt heartbreaking,” said Melanie Jones. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

Melanie Jones arrived for her doctor’s appointment bleeding and in pain. Jones, 28, who lives in the Chicago area, had slipped in her bathroom, and suspected the fall had dislodged her copper intrauterine device (IUD).

Her doctor confirmed the IUD was dislodged and had to be removed. But the doctor said she would be unable to remove the IUD, citing Catholic restrictions followed by Mercy Hospital and Medical Center and providers within its system.

“I think my first feeling was shock,” Jones told Rewire in an interview. “I thought that eventually they were going to recognize that my health was the top priority.”

The doctor left Jones to confer with colleagues, before returning to confirm that her “hands [were] tied,” according to two complaints filed by the ACLU of Illinois. Not only could she not help her, the doctor said, but no one in Jones’ health insurance network could remove the IUD, because all of them followed similar restrictions. Mercy, like many Catholic providers, follows directives issued by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that restrict access to an array of services, including abortion care, tubal ligations, and contraception.

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Some Catholic providers may get around the rules by purporting to prescribe hormonal contraception for acne or heavy periods, rather than for birth control, but in the case of copper IUDs, there is no such pretext available.

“She told Ms. Jones that that process [of switching networks] would take her a month, and that she should feel fortunate because sometimes switching networks takes up to six months or even a year,” the ACLU of Illinois wrote in a pair of complaints filed in late June.

Jones hadn’t even realized her health-care network was Catholic.

Mercy has about nine off-site locations in the Chicago area, including the Dearborn Station office Jones visited, said Eric Rhodes, senior vice president of administrative and professional services. It is part of Trinity Health, one of the largest Catholic health systems in the country.

The ACLU and ACLU of Michigan sued Trinity last year for its “repeated and systematic failure to provide women suffering pregnancy complications with appropriate emergency abortions as required by federal law.” The lawsuit was dismissed but the ACLU has asked for reconsideration.

In a written statement to Rewire, Mercy said, “Generally, our protocol in caring for a woman with a dislodged or troublesome IUD is to offer to remove it.”

Rhodes said Mercy was reviewing its education process on Catholic directives for physicians and residents.

“That act [of removing an IUD] in itself does not violate the directives,” Marty Folan, Mercy’s director of mission integration, told Rewire.

The number of acute care hospitals that are Catholic owned or affiliated has grown by 22 percent over the past 15 years, according to MergerWatch, with one in every six acute care hospital beds now in a Catholic owned or affiliated facility. Women in such hospitals have been turned away while miscarrying and denied tubal ligations.

“We think that people should be aware that they may face limitations on the kind of care they can receive when they go to the doctor based on religious restrictions,” said Lorie Chaiten, director of the women’s and reproductive rights project of the ACLU of Illinois, in a phone interview with Rewire. “It’s really important that the public understand that this is going on and it is going on in a widespread fashion so that people can take whatever steps they need to do to protect themselves.”

Jones left her doctor’s office, still in pain and bleeding. Her options were limited. She couldn’t afford a $1,000 trip to the emergency room, and an urgent care facility was out of the question since her Blue Cross Blue Shield of Illinois insurance policy would only cover treatment within her network—and she had just been told that her entire network followed Catholic restrictions.

Jones, on the advice of a friend, contacted the ACLU of Illinois. Attorneys there advised Jones to call her insurance company and demand they expedite her network change. After five hours of phone calls, Jones was able to see a doctor who removed her IUD, five days after her initial appointment and almost two weeks after she fell in the bathroom.

Before the IUD was removed, Jones suffered from cramps she compared to those she felt after the IUD was first placed, severe enough that she medicated herself to cope with the pain.

She experienced another feeling after being turned away: stigma.

“It felt heartbreaking,” Jones told Rewire. “It felt like they were telling me that I had done something wrong, that I had made a mistake and therefore they were not going to help me; that they stigmatized me, saying that I was doing something wrong, when I’m not doing anything wrong. I’m doing something that’s well within my legal rights.”

The ACLU of Illinois has filed two complaints in Jones’ case: one before the Illinois Department of Human Rights and another with the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office for Civil Rights under the anti-discrimination provision of the Affordable Care Act. Chaiten said it’s clear Jones was discriminated against because of her gender.

“We don’t know what Mercy’s policies are, but I would find it hard to believe that if there were a man who was suffering complications from a vasectomy and came to the emergency room, that they would turn him away,” Chaiten said. “This the equivalent of that, right, this is a woman who had an IUD, and because they couldn’t pretend the purpose of the IUD was something other than pregnancy prevention, they told her, ‘We can’t help you.’”

 

Tell us your story. Have religious restrictions affected your ability to access health care? Email stories@rewire.news

Analysis Politics

Timeline: Donald Trump’s Shifting Position on Abortion Rights

Ally Boguhn

Trump’s murky position on abortion has caused an uproar this election season as conservatives grapple with a Republican nominee whose stance on the issue has varied over time. Join Rewire for a look back at the business mogul's changing views on abortion.

For much of the 2016 election cycle, Donald Trump’s seemingly ever-changing position on reproductive health care and abortion rights has continued to draw scrutiny.

Trump was “totally pro-choice” in 1999, but “pro-life” by 2011. He wanted to shut down the government to defund Planned Parenthood in August 2015, but claimed “you can’t go around and say that” about such measures two months later. He thinks Planned Parenthood does “very good work” but wants to see it lose all of its funding as long as it offers abortion care. And, perhaps most notoriously, in late March of this year Trump took multiple stances over the course of just a few hours on whether those who have abortions should be punished if it became illegal.

With the hesitancy of anti-choice groups to fully embrace Trump—and with pro-choice organizations like Planned Parenthood, NARAL, and EMILY’s List all backing his opponent, Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton—it is likely his stance on abortion will remain a key election issue moving into November.

Join Rewire for a look back at the business mogul’s changing views on abortion.

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