The rift between the Catholic Church and the Obama administration over health care reform and contraception policy is still going strong, with Cardinal Timothy Dolan telling CBS News on Sunday that "We didn't ask for the fight, but we're not going to back away from it."
Under the policy, some organizations affiliated with the Catholic Church are required to provide employees insurance that covers contraception, even though that violates Church doctrine. The debate is so intense because it goes to deeply held beliefs on all sides: Tenets of a faith versus individual liberty, not to mention women's health.
But the battle lines aren't entirely clear cut. Not all Catholics are comfortable with what they see as their own leaders' hard-line stance. Dr. Deborah S. McRoberts, a family practice doctor in Biscoe, N.C., is one of those. She has been a Catholic for 56 years, she says, but she is offended by what she sees as Church leaders' hypocrisy and lack of respect for women. She detailed her anger in a letter to Bishop Peter Jugis of the Charlotte diocese and copied it to the Observer.
Here is her letter. Does she represent the thinking of many Catholic women, or Catholics in general? Or is she an outlier in a generally unified Church?
Dear Bishop Jugis:
Show me a single bishop in the Catholic Church who has give up his insurance on the grounds that it will pay for an elective vasectomy (which if you investigate, you will discover that it would), and I would support this unjust campaign against the President's healthcare reform policy. No, bishops will not go without insurance in this discussion, only poor lay persons who donate to the welfare of the Church. It is beside the point that most bishops will never get a vasectomy - most women will never get an abortion either.
I have read your article objecting to employee healthcare coverage on the grounds that it would require coverage of women's health services, including, but not limited to abortion, contraception and sterilization. It would also include Pap smears, mammograms, routine cancer prevention and screening, routing prenatal and obstetric care which many women now go without. In the Church's fight against abortion, why can you not trust your employees to do the right thing? My health care coverage covers abortions also, but in all my life, I have never had one. Women have consciences. Ninety-nine point nine percent of Catholic women never get abortions either, and less than a third use birth control, of those who do, they frequently do not do so throughout their entire reproductive lifetime, but only for a few years. Many listen to the Church's teachings and change over to other means of natural birth control after a few years. Life is a learning experience - people make mistakes, and they have to make their own mistakes to learn from them. That's why we need to forgive sins as we wish to be forgiven.
So the Church proposes to throw out coverage for the unborn (prenatal care), the elderly (dependent care), children, all because you don't trust your own employees? After all, we are talking here about a very specific group of people, not the nation as a whole, just people who are employed by the Catholic Church. You can stand to learn something from married couples about the importance of trust in a relationship. Either you don't trust them or you just don't want to spend the money, which I believe they donated to you.
More and more I realize that the Catholic Church is a Man-made church. In fifty-six years of being Catholic, I have not yet heard one sermon about the evils of rape, or pedophilia, or fathers who rape their daughters, or of the men who abandon women after casual sex, leaving them unsupported and hopeless, feelings so helpless that they feel they have no alternative but abortion. No sermons about irresponsible sex by men, but plenty about women who get pregnant out of wedlock and then get abortions. Bishops are very quick to cast stones against women, very slow to forgive or trust.
Now you are asking me to join you in objecting to elder care, child healthcare including immunizations, prenatal care, cancer prevention programs, healthcare for mothers who have diabetes or hypertension, so that they can continue working to support their families, when they may have been abandoned by the "gentlemen" who fathered their children. I can not in good conscience agree with you. There is more to being pro-life than merely being opposed to abortion.
The thing is, as a doctor, I am going to take care of these women anyway. I, too, have taken a vow - one I take very seriously. I pledged the Hippocratic Oath twenty-four years ago, and I have been taking care of patients regardless of their ability to pay ever since. That is what doctors do. Everyone in our country gets healthcare already, but many delay entry into healthcare because they don't have the means to pay for it, since their employers refuse to insure them. Of course, it makes insurance rates go up for those who do have insurance, such as bishops. But of course their insurance is paid for by donations from Catholic women.
Deborah S. McRoberts, MD