While I have no intent to debate the Catholic Church’s policies towards family planning with Bishop Edward J. Burns in the context of a Letter to the Editor, I am compelled, however, to respond to the Bishop’s highly-charged opinion piece in the Feb. 5 Juneau Empire.
The U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Service’s announcement on Jan. 20 that so outraged the bishop requires health insurance providers to fully cover costs of contraception and is consistent with existing laws in 28 states. This new federal rule specifically exempts churches from the requirement to offer such health insurance, a fact that Burns did not mention. Additionally, this policy offers other religious organizations, such as hospitals and universities that serve the general public and employ people regardless of their faith, a year to prepare for the new law.
So why should a worker at Anchorage’s Providence Hospital, a religiously-affiliated organization and the state’s largest private employer in 2010, not share the same insurance benefits regarding contraceptives that a worker at, say, a large grocery store chain has? The federal policy does NOT require anyone to use contraceptives nor does it require any health care provider to prescribe contraceptives. It does, however, give women who want to use contraceptives a big help with the cost of this critical family-planning option.
The bishop goes far afield with his verbiage regarding attacks on religious freedom and the faithful’s rights. Should a woman not have the freedom and right, regardless of her economic situation, to access family planning services? Are such services only for those who can afford it?
My travels to India, Guatemala, and other developing countries — and indeed, my observations here in the U.S. — reveal that incredible improvements can be made in the quality of people’s lives by simply allowing all women access to education and to family planning. The government’s decision of Jan. 20 has nothing to do with restricting religious liberty, human rights, or changing “divinely established truths.” as the bishop so dramatically states. Lastly, I would suggest that the bishop, while he may profess that human rights come from God, only has to look as far as Rwanda, Chechnya, Tibet, Sudan, or Guatemala to realize that these rights depend upon governments to defend them.