By Kevin J. Jones

Washington D.C., Jan 25, 2012 / 05:52 pm (CNA).- A Democratic-leaning Catholic group’s favorable reaction to the Obama administration’s new contraception mandate is being criticized for neglecting the threat to religious freedom and wrongly claiming that contraception lowers the abortion rate.

“This is a real attack on the religious freedom of millions of Americans. People who care about the future of our country should not stand idly by,” said Eric Rassbach, national litigation director of the D.C.-based Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

James Salt, executive director of Catholics United, responded to the HHS ruling on Jan. 20.

“Although we recognize the authority of Catholic teaching on the issue of contraception, we also acknowledge that there is a silver lining in today’s ruling,” Salt said. “Increased access to contraceptive services will dramatically reduce the abortion rate in America. Reducing abortion should be a goal recognized by both sides of this highly polarized debate.

“Furthermore, we look forward to working with the administration in finding a win-win solution that will both meet the medical needs of women while protecting the religious liberty of Catholic institutions.”

Rassbach, whose organization represents two universities challenging the mandate, questioned Salt’s depiction of the conflict.

“The problem is that for our clients, paying for abortion drugs or contraception or sterilization is an absolute evil. The comment seems to take a utilitarian approach of the ‘greater good’ that is anathema to our clients’ religious beliefs. It is not a ‘win’ if our clients are being forced to help end lives.”

The Department of Health and Human Services’ new rule requires that all employers who do not meet a narrow religious exemption provide insurance coverage for sterilization and contraceptives, including a drug that can cause abortions. The rule could cause Catholic health systems, universities, and other organizations to pay for procedures and drugs whose use they consider sinful.

Rassbach challenged contemporary arguments that there is a balance between religious liberty and other rights.

“Unfortunately it’s not even a balance. Wherever push comes to shove, ‘reproductive rights’ always trump religious liberty, which is supposed to be protected by the First Amendment,” he told CNA on Jan. 24.

Jennifer Roback Morse, president of the San Diego-based Ruth Institute, said there is “absolutely no evidence” that increased contraception access lowers the abortion rate.

Catholics United’s claim, she said, assumes “a very naïve, unsophisticated, superficial model of human behavior that doesn’t take account of any longer-term social consequences of introducing something as radical as the idea that you can separate sex from childbearing,” Morse told CNA on Jan. 24.

“Because contraception reduces a person’s probability of getting pregnant, people presume that increased access to contraception will reduce problem pregnancies. But that turns out not to be true.

“What happens with contraception, and a contraceptive culture, is that people engage in more sexual acts than they otherwise would. If you have something that has a low probability, if you do it enough times, sooner or later the low probability event will happen.”

Morse cited the investigations of Nobel Prize-winning economist George A. Akerlof, who found that the widespread use of contraception and abortion significantly changes the relationship between men and women.

“The pressure on women to be sexually active, just to have a date or compete in the marriage market, just goes through the roof.”

While sexually active unmarried women once could rely on an implicit promise of marriage if they became pregnant, that is no longer the case.

“So you end up with more abortion, more out-of-wedlock childbearing,” Morse said.

Morse also challenged the claim that contraception is medical care. Oral contraception, she said, is “a very powerful pill given to people who are perfectly healthy to stop a perfectly normal healthy process from taking place.”

Oral contraceptives also have medical side effects, she said, and do not prevent STDs.

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