Trump Rolls Back Birth-Control Mandate in Name of ‘Religious Freedom’ — and This Nun Is Angry

Jennifer Gerson Uffalussy
Contributing Writer
Sister Simone Campbell has spoken out against Trump’s reversal of mandatory contraception coverage. (Photo: Getty Images)

Ever since the Trump administration’s quiet announcement that it has begun, in the name of “religious freedom,” to roll back a federal rule requiring most employers’ insurance plans to cover birth control at no cost to women, the expected feminist champions have expressed disapproval. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) called it “sickening,” for example. And Nancy Northup of the Center for Reproductive Rights said the move “will hurt women” and has vowed to fight it in court.

But now some prominent Catholics have been speaking out as well — including Sister Simone Campbell, the 71-year old nun, lawyer, and public policy advocate who serves as the executive director of Network, the national Catholic social justice lobby.

“One of the big tenets of the Catholic faith and of the Christian tradition is the dignity of all people and the importance of a well-formed conscience,” Campbell tells Yahoo Beauty. “One of the things that concerns me about quote-unquote ‘religious liberty‘ is that it seems that the preference for the liberty of an employer is being expressed, but not for the employee. As people of faith, I think we are called to be respectful of all people’s conscience. … For me in this instance, it’s most often women who get caught in political machinations and not in actual concern as to what actually happens to them.”

Sara Hutchinson Ratcliffe, domestic program director for Catholics for Choice, agrees. “Where you are employed should not override your religious freedom nor limit your access to health care,” she tells Yahoo Beauty.

Nevertheless, the White House Office of Management and Budget announced on its website that it is reviewing an interim final rule that would allow religious employers to deny contraception coverage to their female employees. While the details of the rule have yet to be announced, Gretchen Borchelt, the vice president of the National Women’s Law Center, said, “We are sure that some women will lose birth control coverage.”

Under an Obama-era regulation, contraception coverage had to be included on all employer-provided health insurance plans, even those provided by religiously-affiliated organizations that might oppose contraception. The rules were written to allow for religious objections, noting that if an employer was uncomfortable providing contraception coverage, they could sign a form stating as such, and thus not be forced to do so directly; instead, a third-party organization would be prompted to provide that coverage for their employees, ensuring access to the contraception coverage guaranteed under the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Campbell emphasizes that while she and her colleagues originally disagreed with the way that the ACA addressed the issue of contraception coverage for faith-based entities, they strongly supported the exemption ultimately offered by the Obama administration. “A lot of people don’t know about this: Religious entities who object to providing contraception don’t have to do it,” she says.

Hutchinson Ratcliffe notes that the “majority of Catholics” use and support contraceptive coverage. Further, she says, “The majority of Catholics support real religious liberty for all and would be disappointed by rollback of these rights for those who work at Catholic institutions. Why? Because the majority of Catholics support the rights of workers to follow their God-given conscience when making personal decisions around their reproductive health and oppose efforts to make those decisions less available because of what their employer believes is best.”

Catholics for Choice has been vocal on Twitter about its support of the contraception mandate.

Campbell especially takes umbrage at a recent statement by Tom Price, secretary of Health and Human Services, who insisted that the ACA mandate on contraception coverage was “a trampling of religious freedom and religious liberty in this country.”

“For me,” Campbell responds, “a corporation doesn’t have a soul, which is an organizing principle in the Catholic tradition, and in my view, a corporation is then not entitled to the same liberty and dignity of human beings.” She adds that though the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby case has given corporations the same importance as human beings, she believes “that is wrong,” and that it is inevitably women who suffer.

“In a pluralistic society, we try to find a way where everyone can exercise his conscience. But women’s choices are seen as not as valid as men’s, and that is annoying to me,” Campbell says. “It really doesn’t give us the same dignity, the same respect, the same authority as the men who own these corporations.”

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