The Bishops of the Catholic Church in the United States are, for the most part, a hierarchy of privileged, white men attempting to make decisions regarding women’s health. That, in itself, is puzzling enough for many people. Most remarkably, we see that their recent opposition to birth control access blatantly conflicts with the needs of most 21st century Catholics. The new rule issued by the Obama Administration requires insurers to provide women employees and women dependents, including those of religiously-affiliated institutions, birth control without co-pays or deductibles. Part of this group of people affected includes students attending Catholic colleges and universities. What we see in the media are bishops speaking for and deciding the position of these students, but how do these students really feel about gaining better birth control access?
Unsure of the responses we would receive to this question, students and interns from the Feminist Majority Foundation, Planned Parenthood, and Catholic University stood outside of local DC Catholic colleges and universities, including Catholic University, Trinity Washington University, and Georgetown University, and asked students to sign a petition showing their support for the recent birth control decision. The amount of support the Obama Administration’s decision received was overwhelming and pleasantly surprising. Many of the students looked disinterested when first asked to sign a petition, but when they were told it was for birth control access, their eyes lit up.
One student from Catholic University said birth control access in schools “would be a good idea” but declined to sign the petition in fear of getting in trouble with the university. According to another student from Catholic University, “Students are having sex and we’re all aware of it.” This was confirmed by several other students. Contraceptive usage, including condoms and birth control, is forbidden on Catholic University’s campus; however, that rule does not completely stop students from using birth control obtained from outside resources. One student compared the process to a drug trafficking operation.
The reaction we received from the Catholic students makes downright perfect sense. The reality is, 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women use a method of contraception not supported by the bishops of the Catholic Church, according to a study done by the Guttmacher Institute. The Catholic Bishops have played the “religious freedom” card with no regard to the individual liberties of these women within their faith. Could their stance possibly be due to the fact that they are all men and will never have to endure the fear of an unwanted pregnancy? The bishops do not adequately reflect the opinions of many Catholic parishioners. Why are we allowing them to have such an influence? Why are we allowing them to outshine and embody the voices of Catholic women, the individuals that will be the ones actually affected by the change?
With that said, the new compromise on the birth control regulation is completely appropriate and reasonable. In no way does it restrict the free exercise of religion, and no one is being forced to use birth control against their will. Opposing the use of birth control was a huge misstep on the part of the bishops and has resulted in the loss of credibility on their part. Their inconsiderate decision blatantly disregards the needs of women and is out of touch with reality. Unless the bishops reverse their decision on this matter, they are going to run into a firm barrier solidified by the Catholic women of the 21st century… and these women ain’t moving.