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.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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