Meet the powerful men trying to take away your birth control coverage

Meet the men behind the war on women. In an infuriating article, Laura Bassett examines the enormous political influence of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops.

A group of men with no real background in law or medicine, but blessed with a strong personal interest in women’s bodies, have quietly influenced all of the major anti-abortion legislation over the past several years. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops may be one of the quietest, yet most powerful lobbies on Capitol Hill, with political allies that have enabled them to roll back decades of law and precedent.

The USCCB became a major anti-choice voice on Capitol Hill during the debate over health care reform, when they not only lobbied for but actually helped write the hated “Stupak Amendment.” Since then they’ve been mostly behind the scenes, but still leaving their finger prints all over major anti-choice legislation. Remember the “Protect Life Act” that would allow hospitals to let women die rather than provide life-saving abortion care? The Bishops’ lobbyist says he had “some input” on that one.

These days, they’re back in the news and shouting “religious discrimination” at anything that threatens them. After recently losing a federal grant to help trafficking victims, they’re accusing HHS of “anti-Catholic bias” and threatening to sue. In reality, it seems that HHS’ bias is, shockingly enough, toward what’s “in the best interests of these victims” and against organizations that refuse to provide them with all the services–including contraception and abortion care–that they need.

The USCCB is also the leading–and perhaps sole–voice against the proposed HHS rule requiring insurers to cover birth control without a co-pay. (Seriously, is anyone else against this?) While there is already a religious exemption for churches, the USCCB is demanding that all Catholic-related organizations be exempt–or that coverage of birth control be removed from the guidelines altogether. While the so-called “Respect for Rights of Conscience Act” will surely die in the Senate if it manages to pass the House, there’s still the possibility that Obama administration could bow to the bishops’ pressure. Don’t let them.

It’s outrageous in general that a group of utterly unqualified men have so much say over women’s health issues, but it’s particularly absurd considering just how out-of-touch the bishops are with the vast majority of the American Catholics they claim to represent. According to Catholics for Choice, 98% of heterosexually active Catholic women have used a method of birth control banned by the church. In 2009, 63% of Catholic voters said they support health insurance coverage for contraception. In addition, only 14% agree with the Pope’s view that abortion should be illegal and Catholic women have abortions at the same rate as other women. In short, Catholic women are just as fond of their reproductive health care as the rest of us.

Seems like the bishops might want to spend as much effort exerting influence in their parishes as they do in Congress. As it stands, considering only 8% of Catholics believe the views of the U.S. bishops are “very important” in deciding how to vote, it’s baffling why the USCCB has any political clout at all.

Atlanta, GA

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director in charge of Editorial at Feministing. Maya has previously worked at NARAL Pro-Choice New York and the National Institute for Reproductive Health and was a fellow at Mother Jones magazine. She graduated with a B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. A Minnesota native, she currently lives, writes, edits, and bakes bread in Atlanta, Georgia.

Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing in charge of Editorial.

Read more about Maya

Join the Conversation

  • Daniel Ballow

    If only 8% of Catholics believe the view of the bishops are very important, then I guess the men NOT the ones behind the curtain.

    Please address this as a moral/ethical issue instead of a “free will” or “boys oppressing girls” issue.

    I technically agree with you on this, but I think the rhetoric often used on this side of Pro-Choice is rightfully unconvincing.

    • rhian

      I don’t understand your reasoning here at all. The argued influence is on lawmakers, not on 8% of Catholics. How are they “NOT the ones behind the curtain”? What kind of rhetoric do you think would be convincing?

  • Evelyn

    Yesterday, I read Do New Health Law Mandates Threaten Conscience Rights and Access to Care?, written by Catholics for Choice member, Jon O’Brien ( The article thoroughly details just how shortsighted, selfish, and uninformed the USCCB is on the subject of reproductive healthcare.

    I learned that the USCCB (among other taxpayer-supported conservative Catholic organizations) are asking to be allowed to “deny condoms as part of HIV outreach; ban employees and their dependents from getting the benefit of no-cost contraceptive coverage that other insured Americans enjoy; opt out of providing emergency contraception to victims of sexual violence who come to Catholic hospitals for help; and deny abortion care to everybody — even those women whose lives are threatened by their pregnancy.”

    While these demands are completely consistent with certain teachings of Catholicism, Jon O’Brien explains that, ultimately, “respect for individual conscience is at the core of Catholic teaching…Our faith compels us to listen to our own consciences in matters of moral decision-making and to respect the rights of others to do the same.” O’Brien believes that we should allow healthcare professionals to refuse treatment and services that they find morally intolerable, but healthcare institutions should never prevent the potential beneficiaries of these treatments and services from accessing them elsewhere. Patients should be able to get timely referrals and not be subject to the burdens of traveling long distances (and other related obstacles).

    I recommend this article for anyone who wants to learn more about conscience rights and USCCB driven anti-choice legislation from the perspective of a Catholic for Choice. On a more intuitive note, I leave you with this statement: “I don’t like being told by some guy that I’ve never met that I can’t use [birth control]. The bishops are not even having sex in the first place. How are they supposed to know how to tell me what to do in that situation?”

  • Jackie

    These people against birth control, seem to forget that women take birth control for reasons outside of avoiding pregnancy. In my own situation, I take birth control pills continuously, to not have periods. I get really depressed during them, and I know that’s common, but I already have been diagnosed with chronic depression so I guess it’s worse then what’s normal. They should be taking into account, that many women take birth control for health reasons, not just to avoid having kids.