According to Cardinal Timothy Dolan, the current Archbishop of New York, women don’t need insurance coverage for birth control because they can purchase it at “any shop on the street,” including a gas station like 7–11.
Dolan appeared on CBS’ Face the Nation over the weekend to defend for-profit companies’ right to deny birth control coverage to their workers, an issue that’s at the heart of a pending Supreme Court case. The archbishop argued that the most prominent plaintiff in that suit, Hobby Lobby, should have the right to refuse contraceptive coverage to thousands of its employees based on the owners’ religious beliefs.
When asked whether allowing for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby to claim religious liberty could set a “dangerous precedent” for the rest of the country, Dolan deferred, claiming it’s not a problem because birth control is already widely accessible.
“Is the ability to buy contraceptives, that are now widely available — my Lord, all you have to do is walk into a 7–11 or any shop on any street in America and have access to them — is that right to access those and have them paid for, is that such a towering good that it would suffocate the rights of conscience?” Dolan said in an exchange uploaded by Raw Story. “I don’t think so. I hope the Supreme Court agrees.”
Dolan is likely referring to the male condom, which is typically available for purchase at gas stations. But that’s not what’s up for debate in the Hobby Lobby case. Hobby Lobby’s owners object to Obamacare’s contraception mandate, which requires employers to cover the full range of FDA-approved birth control methods at no additional charge to their workers, because they believe emergency contraception and certain types of IUDs are “abortion-inducing drugs.” That’s not scientifically true, but Hobby Lobby is seeking an exemption to this Obamacare provision anyway.
“This demonstrates once again why we need to leave decisions about birth control between a woman and her doctor, not her boss at an arts and crafts store,” Cecile Richards, the president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund, said in a statement. “Ask any woman that has had to fill a prescription for birth control and she’ll tell you: it’s not nearly as convenient as getting a pack of gum or chips at 7–11.”
Indeed, despite Dolan’s assumption that women can simply walk into a store and buy the type of birth control they need, a Hobby Lobby win could seriously compromise women’s access to reproductive health care. The majority of women in the U.S. opt to use the birth control pill as their primary method of contraception, which requires a doctor’s visit and a prescription. Nearly 60 percent of women have used hormonal contraception for a medical reason other than avoiding a pregnancy, which means that a condom definitely won’t cut it. And this is a serious medical expense for women, running up more than $1,000 per year on average.
As women in the U.S. are increasingly delaying marriage and childbirth, they need access to reliable birth control more than ever before. There’s a widening gap between the time when women first become sexually active and when they want to have their first child. The typical American woman spends more than three quarters of her reproductive life trying to avoid pregnancy — and, when women successfully prevent unintended pregnancies, it saves the government money and reduces the need for abortion services.
The Catholic Church has been one of the primary opponents of Obamacare’s birth control coverage, so it’s no surprise that Dolan — who is notoriously conservative — is speaking out in favor of Hobby Lobby. But there’s evidence that the Catholic leadership doesn’t actually reflect its constituents on this issue. Most religious Americans use hormonal contraception at the same rates as non-religious Americans do, and more than 80 percent of U.S. Catholics believe that birth control is “morally acceptable.” Recent global polls of the world’s Catholics have found that the vast majority of respondents support birth control.