In statement for the Catholic Church’s “Respect Life Month,” Cardinal Daniel DiNardo released a statement saying that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services is exhibiting antagonism toward religion and has displayed a “distorted view of sexuality.”

DiNardo, who is the chairman of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Committee on Pro-Life Activities, has taken issue with a decision by Health and Human Services to include birth control in a list of preventive care services.

Even though the department included a religious exemption in the decision, the Bishops’ feel it is “too limited.” The group recently released a 35-page comment claiming that the decision violates the First Amendment’s religion clause, and they requested that the mandate be rescinded “in its entirety.”

In his comment (.pdf) released yesterday, DiNardo criticized Health and Human Services and also went after birth control and contraception:

The same forces, aided by advertising and entertainment media, promote a selfish and demeaning view of human sexuality, by extolling the alleged good of sexual activity without love or commitment. This view of sex as “free” of commitment or consequences has no place for openness to new life. Hence contraceptives are promoted even to young teens as though they were essential to women’s well-being, and abortion defended as the “necessary” back-up plan when contraceptives fail. And fail they do. Studies report that most women seeking abortions were using contraception in the month they became pregnant. Again and again, studies show that increasing access to contraception fails to reduce rates of unplanned pregnancies and abortions.

Both these trends—a distorted view of sexuality and a disdain for the role of religion—are exhibited by the Department of Health and Human Services’ recent decision on the “preventive services” to be mandated in virtually all private health plans under the new health care law. The Department ruled that such mandated services will include surgical sterilization and all FDA-approved contraceptive drugs and devices—including the abortifacient drug “Ella,” a close analogue to the abortion pill RU-486.

The decision is wrong on many levels. Preventive services are aimed at preventing diseases (e.g., by vaccinations) or detecting them early to aid prompt treatment (e.g., screening for diabetes or cancer). But pregnancy is not a disease. It is the normal, healthy state by which each of us came into the world. Far from preventing disease, contraceptives can have serious health consequences of their own, for example, increasing the risk of acquiring a sexually transmitted disease, such as AIDS, increasing the risk of breast cancer from excess estrogen, and of blood clots that can lead to stroke from synthetic progestin. Mandating such coverage shows neither respect for women’s health or freedom, nor respect for the consciences of those who do not want to take part in such problematic initiatives.

The “religious employer” exemption offered by the Department is so extremely narrow that it protects almost no one. Catholic institutions providing health care and other services to the needy could be forced to fire their non-Catholic employees and cease serving the poor and vulnerable of other faiths—or stop providing health coverage at all. It has been said that Jesus himself, or the Good Samaritan of his famous parable, would not qualify as “religious enough” for the exemption, since they insisted on helping people who did not share their view of God.

The decision to include contraception in a list of preventive care forces insurance companies to cover birth control without requiring co-pays. For many women, steep co-pays have deterred them from purchasing family planning services.

Jon O’Brien, the president of Catholics for Choice, has previously pointed out that the majority of Catholic women have not been convinced by the Church’s hard line on birth control.

“What’s really going on,” O’Brien said, “is that they have failed to convince Catholics in their own churches. So, [the Bishops] have to go through political lobbying to stop Catholics from using contraception.”

Polling found that 66 percent of Americans agree with the federal government’s recent decision to include birth control in its list of preventive services. Furthermore, according to  research conducted by the Guttmacher Institute, about “98 percent of sexually active Catholic women have used contraceptive methods banned by the church.”

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