This post first appeared on the Huffington Post.
Yesterday an article by Dan Gilgoff appeared in the U.S. News World Report titled "Bishops Demand Universal Healthcare Without Abortion." Does
anyone else see the irony in the U.S. bishops wanting to define
universal health care as covering everything except for what they don’t
support? Under this theory, I suppose women are supposed to wait to see
just exactly how the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops comes down on
a variety of health care needs to understand what in fact will be
considered universal. Since when does universal health care mean
denying comprehensive reproductive health care supported by the
majority of Americans?
Under a "God & Country" header, Mr. Gilgoff’s article reports on
the ongoing demands by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops to
eliminate the legally protected right to abortion from the American
health care system, but doesn’t bother to mention all the other
positions of the U.S. Conference: the bishops agree with Pope Benedict
that condoms can worsen the AIDS pandemic in Africa; that contraception should not be covered under most health plans and that it is not basic health care; and argue that emergency contraception will not reduce either the need for abortion or unintended pregnancy.
Seems that, if the U.S. Conference had its way, the national health
care system would make American women second-class citizens and deny
them access to benefits they currently have.
The danger, of course, is not simply that the bishops are pushing to
erode decades of legal access to contraception and abortion in America.
Their hard-line opposition to women’s rights also endangers millions of
women around the globe — where women also need universal health care
access. The effort to criminalize access to safe abortion endangers
most women in the developing world — the very women that you would
think the bishops would be concerned about. Each year, an estimated 19 million women –
primarily in Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean — resort to
unsafe abortions. Globally, an estimated 68,000 women die each year as
a consequence, and more than five million each year suffer temporary or
permanent disability — including the inability to have a future
The root cause of unsafe abortion is unintended pregnancy, a result
of the lack of affordable and accessible contraception for women. The
correlation between higher contraceptive use and lower maternal
mortality is well established.
We have an opportunity this year to fundamentally address serious
health care issues for women and young people in America, and we stand
ready to partner with President Obama and Congress to find solutions to
our most pressing health care issues. The United States continues to
have some of the highest rates of unintended and teen pregnancy among
the world’s most developed countries, and now epidemic rates of
sexually transmitted infections among our teens. If we did our job
right in expanding access to contraception, we’d see a lower abortion
rate in America, just like in most other developed nations.
I’d welcome the bishops’ commitment to focus on these "universal"’
problems, rather than continue to fight to diminish a woman’s right to
make personal decisions that should be kept between her and her doctor.
We call upon Congress and the White House to continue to stand firmly on the side of women in health care reform. Women are needed to pass health care reform – and we are not going backwards and we are not going away.