By Barb Arland-Fye
The Catholic Messenger
A severe storm just knocked out the power at my house and I’m attempting to re-write this column, using my husband’s mini flashlight to illuminate the keys on my iPad keyboard. I had been struggling to write eloquently about the U.S. Supreme Court decision that exempts for-profit, family-owned companies Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties from the contraceptives mandate of the Affordable Care Act. But it seems too important not to address a ruling that impacts issues Americans care deeply about: religious freedom, respect for life and what constitutes health care for women. People of all faiths and perhaps no faith are taking to the Internet and social media, expressing views as divided as the 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court’s nine justices.
Someone pointed out that Hobby Lobby isn’t opposed to contraceptives but rather to abortifacients, such as the morning-after pill. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, opposes the use of all contraceptives and believes that all employers who oppose contraceptives as a matter of faith should be exempt from the mandate. The U.S. bishops, including our Bishop Martin Amos, express support for the Supreme Court decision, but hoped it would go further. The Justices made clear that their ruling did not apply to nonprofits who haven’t already qualified for the exemption.
In discussing this news story with my staff the day before we went to press, we reviewed some of the reaction online and in our office. Women in the pro-life movement embrace the religious freedom argument and can’t contemplate how others might perceive the mandate to be a women’s health issue. Women who identify themselves as pro-choice can’t fathom the religious freedom argument. They take offense at the idea of employers dictating what they consider to be a personal choice concerning preventive health care.
Three emails I received today illustrate the point:
From Emily’s List, which seeks to elect pro-choice female Democratic candidates: “When the future of our judiciary branch and women’s access to healthcare is at stake, every dollar raised to help elect pro-choice women matters.”
From Judie Brown, president of American Life League, who observed that the Supreme Court “in deciding this case, told the government that money taken from taxpayers — many of whom have the same objections as the business owners in this case — can be used to pay for these abortifacient products.”
John J. Dilulio Jr., the first director of the White House Office of Faith Based and Community Initiatives, takes another perspective in his blog post on Fixgov: “Arguably, the overarching ‘religion in the public square’ question of our day is this: which, if any, so-called ministerial exemptions — on health insurance coverage, on hiring, or on other matters — that religious nonprofit organizations enjoy when delivering ‘worship services’ should they retain when they are delivering social services that are funded in whole or in part by government, and/or administered with employees who are paid in whole or in part with tax dollars – all, some, or none? The Hobby Lobby decision does not address that question…”
My friend Marcia Chambers Regrut adds this thought: “So many of our religious freedoms are being challenged that it’s becoming more a freedom of worship rather than freedom of religion. They want us to keep our faith within the church walls, but we live our faith everywhere.”
These thoughts give me plenty to ponder on a stormy night in a house without electricity.