It’s Not a Sin to Use Birth Control—It’s a Sin to Impede Access to Birth Control


Read more of our coverage on the Little Sisters of the Poor case here.

Late on New Year’s Eve, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor agreed to a request by an order of nuns to stay the requirement for contraceptive coverage in the Affordable Care Act (ACA). A few days later, the Obama administration responded by saying that the Little Sisters of the Poor was already exempt from the requirement because its health insurance was provided by Christian Brothers Services, a religious organization.

If it wasn’t so serious, the Little Sisters case might be the basis for a funny Saturday Night Live skit: the Little Sisters, insured by its Christian brothers, was let off the hook by the Catholic school-educated Supreme Court justice. Somehow, an order of nuns worrying that they could cause the 67 employees at their nursing homes to “behave immorally” by using birth control strikes me as worthy of satire.

But it is serious, because the implications go far beyond the Little Sisters. There are currently more than 90 cases wending their way through the courts on the required contraceptive provisions of the ACA in the name of the religious liberty of the employing organizations. The case brought by Hobby Lobby, a secular corporation with a Roman Catholic leader, will be heard by the Supreme Court in March.

More than a dozen faith-based organizations, including the Religious Institute, the organization I head, have signed on to a friend of the court brief in opposition to these claims. As faith leaders, we believe that all persons should be free to make personal decisions about their families and reproductive lives that are informed by their culture, faith tradition, religious beliefs, conscience, and community. We remind the Supreme Court that including contraceptives as a covered service does not require anyone to use it; excluding contraceptive coverage for those who choose to plan and space their families with modern methods of birth control will effectively translate into coercive childbearing for many.

As a religious leader, I support religious freedom. Religious freedom means that each individual has the right to exercise their own beliefs; it does not mean that an individual or a corporation gets to exercise their beliefs to deny others’ freedoms. It is morally wrong for employers to deny the women who work for them access to basic health care.

The fact is that each of us must have the right to accept or reject the principles of our own faith without legal restrictions. No single religious voice speaks for all faith traditions on contraception (or any other controversial subject), nor should government-supported programs take sides on religious differences.

The Little Sisters call contraceptive use a “sin,” and many mainstream news stories about the case quote only religious leaders that oppose it. Eric Rassbach, deputy general counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents the Little Sisters, told NBC, “If you are directing someone else to do the act [use contraception] that is immoral, you yourself are immoral.” For me, the sin is not a person using birth control; the sin is denying women the right and means to prevent unplanned pregnancies. It is precisely because life is sacred that I support the intentional—indeed moral—use of contraceptive methods by all who are not planning pregnancies.

The reality is that almost all people of faith in the United States, including most Roman Catholic women, use birth control. Almost every Protestant and Jewish denomination has supported responsible childbearing and family planning for decades. More than one thousand religious leaders recently endorsed the Open Letter to Religious Leaders on Family Planning, calling access to family planning a moral imperative.

One can imagine that Justice Sotomayor learned a conservative sexual theology from her elementary school nun-teachers. But surely she learned later in life that each individual has the right to their own moral agency and that there is an urgent need to protect the rights of individuals to make their own moral choices. We can only hope that as she reviews the response by the Obama administration, she’ll send the case back to the courts and ultimately vote to protect the rights of us all.

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  • Arval Becker

    “Sin” is no reason, legal or otherwise, to deny the people who work for you the right to obtain a legal, prescribed product. You don’t even have to be directly paying for it, the company will contact the females directly.

    I’m sorry, I’m not sympathetic to their cause. “Religious Freedom” has become an excuse to force every other person to follow their edicts, no matter the individual’s beliefs.

  • lorimakesquilts

    Well said! Thank you.

    That said, I couldn’t care less about their religious morals. They don’t apply to me or to anyone else. This is a country of laws, not a country of religious morals. They are trying to use the law to limit the civil rights of citizens. That is the moral wrong here.

    • CJ99

      yet they hide behind devious phrases like “moral majority” which is opposite of what they’re really about. Perhaps they should be covered in graffiti describing them as the Immoral Inquisition.

  • HeilMary1

    Did you know Cardinal Spellman was bonafide Nazi colluder and gay pedophile?! It never gets thrown in the smug faces of anti-choicers that many of their prize institutions are named after Nazi collaborators and child rapists. Anti-choicers should be publicly shamed over their telling choices of “heroes”.

  • HeilMary1

    “Christian Brothers Services”

    I wonder if this insurance company is run by the same Christian Brothers order that is getting criminally charged and sued all over the planet for allowing and protecting pedophile monks to rape students for decades? If so, this puts a criminal womb-trafficking-for-pedophile-priests spin on the nuns’ “moral objections”!

  • HeilMary1

    These mean step-Sisters need to keep their pedophile priest-blessed rosaries off their employees’ ovaries!

  • HeilMary1

    I’m also wondering if these cheapskate mean step-Sisters exploit H-1B workers from Latin America and the Philippines, thereby preventing them from “working elsewhere” because they would then lose their work visas? I’d love to see an investigation of the nuns’ employee profiles. Are they desperately supporting twenty-some SIBLINGS back home like one Vegas casino Filipino worker was doing? Are the nuns’ employees’ relatives among the 4 MILLION homeless living on garbage heaps in Tacloban?

    • CJ99

      We’re constantly told the inquistion ended centuries ago, slavery is long gone. both are lies covered in the corporate lingo of the moment. I wouldn’t be surprised if those in the religious wrong are getting a hard on to restart the crusades if they’re not calling for it already.

  • Andrea McDavid

    The whole point of the constitution protecting religious freedom was because of lessons learned from Europe where people fled to the new world to escape being forced to be breeding stock for the armies, church and fields (to feed the army and churchgoers.) People have forgotten why the constitution is made up of 10 amendments that come from rights fought for by the British, who incidentally are the parents and grandparents of most if not all the founding fathers if you look at the family trees. The reason is, because Henry 8th was one of the few monarchs who told the Catholics to get lost. This started about 140 years of war until the last Catholic monarch in England was chased off by the Dutch, on request from Southern British PROTESTants. Now you have 6 supreme court justices out of 9 that are Catholic and people have been brainwashed to think the inquisition was over long ago, never to return. That’s very naive. The Catholics are teaming up with their competitors, like the Mormons, to make a deal to overthrow the precious freedoms Americans fought so hard for. The inquisition is also here, right now. The proof is in the 500K people who’ve complained to the FBI that they are being harassed covertly and at work. The surveillance we have now is exactly what they church used to do hundreds of years ago to rout out heretics. By the way, Constantine declared in 350AD that “heretics” must be destroyed for disobedience to the church, and he backed it up with one of the first heretic burnings. But that’s the only reason the word has a negative connotation. It is really the exact opposite. The word heresy is based on a Greek word, which really means CHOICE. It meant the choices you make to believe what you wish, as you transition from childhood to adulthood. The Catholic church is all about taking away choice because then you must come to church and pay the collection plate and make them the richest most powerful organization on the planet – and of course, breed like a virus to grow their religious business “economy”. Hey it’s a business model that worked spectacularly well. While telling everyone to be tolerant of them, they have been sneaking up on everyone, with no intention of being tolerant whatsoever. I’m not speaking on an individual level of Catholics. Many have no idea what’s really going on. But for those who value freedom…surprise!!!

    • HeilMary1

      Good summary!

  • Shan

    “None of the lawsuits challenging the mandate deny people access to birth control.”

    Arguable. But still they do punish people financially because

    “It does require that people working for companies that do not wish to provide this coverage must use there own money to buy it.”

    …because…?

    “Everyone sins, which doesn’t mean that this sin is ok.”

    Which means it’s okay that the quality of every employee’s healthcare coverage should be dependent on what their employer does or doesn’t consider to be sinful?

    Pretend we’re not talking about birth control and think about how a job interview/offer would go.

    • CJ99

      It could easily be said that blindly following religion is itself sinful (yes religion does require blind obedience) so health care of any kind could be denied to those attending church or mosque. If any attempt were made to enforce that you’d soon see the religious reich come out screaming about “their god given rights”

  • colleen2

    William….I know that this is difficult for you to understand but, then, your church only requires that you ejaculate into someone’s vagina whereas it requires that women agree to have a wide range of insane dogma imposed upon us so I feel I must comment. It is not a “sin” to use effective contraception. WE don’t share your religious beliefs and we do not agree with them.
    Effective birth control is an enormous benefit to society and to the individual lives of women. This is not a matter of belief, it is a matter of demonstrable and blindingly obvious fact. The arguments against the use of effective contraception are as absurd as the arguments opposing same sex marriage and that is, ion part, because the argument that effective contraception is a “sin” is unproven and absurd.

  • HeilMary1

    The alleged sin of MOTHER-SAVING contraception was a HERETIC INVENTION OF PEDOPHILE PRIESTS.

  • CJ99

    No, its about said cults using their power to control the lives of others. Churches of all flavours are marching the western world right into dictatorship and you’re cheering them on as they do it.

  • RNfromNY

    The solution to this mess is single payer.