Some of the legislation that has come out of Congress recently seems more like a decree from on high than the result of the democratic process. Capitol Hill should be a reflection of the needs and values of all Americans — not just those with the loudest voices or the strongest lobby. Often, religious voices are used to impose or support the most conservative policies, despite the diversity that exists among people of faith.
Our Catholic tradition places a premium on what the Declaration on Religious Freedom calls “the right of all citizens and religious communities to religious freedom.” Though we come from different backgrounds, all of us share the belief that women should have the right to make their own choice about abortion, in particular, and reproductive health choices in general. All of these choices are under fire in Congress. In fact, the U.S. bishops have been the greatest obstacle to women exercising these choices – even though Catholics disagree fundamentally with positions that the bishops have taken on these matters.
One of our common principles is the commitment to social justice and equal rights. For Catholics, the preferential option for the poor calls us to protect the least among us. The “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” (S. 906/H.R. 3) would permanently bar any federal money from being spent on abortion, thereby singling out those women who depend upon Medicaid, Medicare, or the Indian Health service, or are in the military or receive healthcare from other federal healthcare programs. Further, it would likely lead many private insurance plans to eliminate abortion services, leading to a situation where only those who can pay out of pocket can exercise choice.
When women — and men — make family planning decisions, they don’t go to their legislator to ask what he or she thinks about an addition to the family. Family planning is a highly personal decision, one that women are fully equipped to make. People of faith take their moral agency seriously —indeed, Catholics are enjoined to follow the dictates of the conscience above all. Unfortunately, recently proposed legislation has tried to place a healthcare worker’s right to refuse to provide certain services above the patient’s right to access the services she needs. The proposed expansion of conscience clause protections under the “Protect Life Act” (S. 877/H.R. 358) fails to strike the proper balance between providers’ and patients’ moral beliefs, endangering women’s lives in the process. While reproductive health decisions are highly personal, public policy is there not to restrict the decisions for many according to the whims of a few, but to provide the most complete set of choices for all.
One of the many ironies about today’s highly charged reproductive rights debate is that the word “life” has been wrongly associated with policies that do anything but support life. Two bills in particular, H.R. 3/S. 906 and H.R. 358/S. 877, do nothing but endanger women’s safety and limit their possibilities. Many religions share a profound reverence for the life in the people around us, including the woman who gets her contraception and checkups from a Title X-funded clinic, as well as the woman who chooses to have an abortion.
Women have a right to make reproductive health choices based on their own conscience, free from constraints imposed by those seeking to legislate one religious viewpoint or another. Those of us who spoke at the briefing speak for the majority of those from our respective faiths, whose members believe that women should have access to safe, legal abortion and comprehensive reproductive healthcare services. We will have traveled different roads to get to Capitol Hill; we debated and challenged one another to develop our platform; most of all, we listened —in short, we have behaved like responsible persons of faith within a democratic society. By contrast, The “Protect Life Act” and the “No Taxpayer Funding for Abortion Act” are catering to the interests of the very few at the expense of the vulnerable many.
Sara Hutchinson is Director of Domestic Programs at Catholics for Choice.