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After many frustrating years of searching for answers to various health symptoms, I was diagnosed with a hormonal disorder, the cause of which is still unknown. After four years of marriage, I've finally accepted the painful reality that I might never become pregnant or give birth to a child who has my husband's wit and generous, loving heart. So the recent federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate that would force me to pay for other women's contraceptives and sterilizations as part of the new health care law's "preventive services" mandate adds insult to my injury.
Healthcare is about healing and restoring the body to good and proper functioning. Sterilization, abortifacients, and contraception communicate the irrational message that the healthy, natural state of fertility is somehow wrong and diseased. Mutilating healthy organs and distorting a woman's natural hormone levels in order to avoid pregnancy have nothing to do with preventing and treating diseases. Contraception promotes an impoverished view of a woman's body and the gift of her fertility. It is an affront to God's design for life and love because it deliberately separates a married couple's loving union from their ability to be open to life. God wove humanity into an incredibly delicate but splendid intricacy. We should celebrate and protect the capacity of women to join with their husbands in becoming co-creators with God.
Although Catholics and others recognize that hormonal contraceptives can harm a woman's body, her relationships, and her soul, the personal decision to contracept is not the public policy issue that is currently being debated. The bishops object to the HHS mandate mainly because it violates religious liberty and conscience rights by forcing all who conscientiously object to these drugs and procedures – whether they are religious or not – to pay for them against their will. The Catholic bishops recognize that increased access to contraception does not reduce, and often increases, abortions. They also objected to the final version of the new health care law because it allocates billions of dollars in new funding that evades longstanding laws against federal funding of abortion. The HHS contraceptive mandate is a dangerous step towards mandating that everyone carry insurance coverage for abortion. The bishops are calling for the mandate to be dropped.
Instead of undermining their natural capacity to accept children lovingly from God by using contraceptives or sterilizations, married couples are encouraged to use Natural Family Planning (NFP) as a way of cooperating with God's plan for their family size. NFP promotes responsible parenthood by working with the couple's natural fertility cycle; it is a healthy and morally acceptable way of spacing or delaying the gift of children. NFP can also be used to achieve pregnancy, and is a useful tool to help identify hormonal imbalances and other health issues.
Women need not feel alienated, but rather honored and protected, by the Catholic vision of sexuality and reproduction. Blessed John Paul II's Apostolic Letter "On the Dignity of Women" (1988) presents a vision of women's unique role in society and in the Church. Women are called by the Church to use their particular gifts to glorify God.
While I may have to bear the pain of childlessness, I am heartened by the Church's courage in advocating for my freedom to live out my beliefs without government interference and control. To learn more about how to promote and protect conscience rights and religious liberty, visit www.usccb.org/conscience.
Mary McClusky is Special Projects Coordinator at the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities, U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. To learn more about the Catholic bishops' activities on conscience protection, visit www.usccb.org/conscience.
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