Christian M. Stempert
July 31, 2012
The Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice (RCRC) held a press conference on the morning of July 30 to announce a new “Celebration and Education Campaign” as the HHS-mandated contraception coverage will take effect on August 1. Representatives of the United Church of Christ, the United Methodist Church, and the Reform Jewish community, plus Roman Catholic dissidents, all spoke in support of the RCRC’s new campaign.
RCRC’s recently-appointed President and CEO Rev. Harry Knox gave a brief introductory word and served as the moderator of the press conference. Knox is the former senior pastor of Resurrection Metropolitan Community Church in Houston, Texas. Until he recently served as the Interim Executive Director of Integrity USA, the biggest pro-LGBTQ caucus in the Episcopal Church.
Knox expressed the RCRC’s support for the Affordable Care Act (ACA), and the HHS directive that mandates that birth control and “family planning services” be made available by all employer-provided healthcare plans at no cost to the employees. Those who oppose the HHS mandate, according to Knox, are “false prophets” misleading the public about healthcare reform with their “frivolous lawsuits and campaigns.”
“There is a moral imperative that the government ensure healthcare is available to all,” Knox said. The people opposed to the ACA are wrong about both how contraception works and about religious liberty. Knox dismissed the idea that abortifacient drugs effectively cause abortions. He also said that conservatives on this issue are trying to overrule true religious liberty, which is the individual conscience, and replace it with a broad institutional policy against contraceptive use.
“These groups do not represent women, families, or people of faith as a whole,” Knox continued. Instead, they “substitute religious beliefs for contemporary science” and try to deny others the right to abide by their own consciences.
Knox then introduced Jon O’Brien, the President of Catholics for Choice, who quickly spoke out against opposition to the HHS mandate. Further exceptions, he said, sanctions discrimination by for-profit, private companies. “It allows the executives’ religious beliefs to trump the individuals’ beliefs and consciences,” he explained.
The Catholic bishops, according to O’Brien, “will not rest until every single worker must ask their employer to use… life-saving contraception…This shows just how far the Catholic hierarchy and its conservative allies are willing to go in eliminating contraception.” The idea that this position can be based on “freedom of conscience,” said O’Brien, is “one of the most disingenuous things to ever come out” of the American bishops’ office. “Freedom of religion and freedom from religion in America is a good thing,” he said, “and that needs to be defended.”
Rev. Geoffrey Black, General Minister and President of the United Church of Christ also spoke, saying that issues of reproduction “are very personal matter, but become public policy issues when…contraceptive access is cut off or restricted.” Conservative are off-base in referring to religious liberty on this issue, because “religious doctrine has no place in determining public health policy.”
Rabbi Jessica Oleon of the Central Conference of American Rabbis applauded the HHS mandate, saying the “providing for healthcare is not just the obligation of the patient and her doctor, but it is an obligation for all of society.” She continued to rebuke those opposed to the mandate, saying that “anything less [than full access to contraceptives] is a violation of religious liberty, privacy, and conscience.”
The Rev. Dr. Christine Wiley, of Covenant Baptist UCC in Washington, DC echoed that assertion, saying that any opposition to the full availability and use of contraceptives is a “blatant misinterpretation and misrepresentation of what it means to meet people where they are and minister to them.” It is a relief, she said, to think that “the playing ground in one arena may finally be leveled out.”
Rev. Cynthia Abrams of the United Methodist Church’s General Board of Church and Society affirmed “the right of men and women worldwide to have the ability to choose if and when to have children.” Healthcare, in the eyes of the United Methodist Church, is a “basic human right” that all deserve equal and full access to, regardless of economic or social status.
Finally, Rev. Knox returned and announced the beginning of the RCRC’s “Celebration and Education Campaign,” which, among other things, will “provide clergy around the country…with talking points they can use in sermons,” as well as handouts, bulletin inserts, and other things of that sort. The Coalition does not plan to reach out to employers who may resist the HHS mandate. Instead they will focus on churches, pastors, and employees in an education drive that they hope will boost enrollment in the contraceptive and family planning program beginning August 1.