New York’s Catholics at the Forefront of Recent Church News


New York’s Catholic organizations have found themselves at the forefront of church news recently, as a controversial healthcare provision is fought over in heated public debate with the president.

In January, President Obama signed into law a federal regulation which would require employers to cover contraception in their health insurance plans, even if they are religious organizations. When the Catholic Church complained, Obama proposed a compromise based on an existing New York state law, and now local Catholic charity groups and women’s health organizations find themselves at the center of the most recent birth control debate.

The law in New York allows religious organizations to eschew contraception coverage so long as they notify their employees, in writing, of other options. However, both sides of the debate maintain that it doesn’t go far enough in either direction.

Critics of the New York law (and a similar one on the books in Hawaii) say that it places too much onus on employees, who are forced to go outside their existing healthcare system to get access to birth control, and might face ridicule and pressure from their employers for doing so. John O’Brien, the president of Catholics for Choice, told Religion Dispatches magazine:

“It may seem reasonable on the surface, but it sends the wrong message, namely: that an employer’s personal beliefs may interfere with an employee’s conscience and therefore make it more difficult for him/her to access the healthcare coverage that he or she needs.”

Several public opinion polls show that most Catholics actually agree with Obama’s decision — one survey by the Public Religion Research Institute found that nearly 98 percent of self-identified Catholic women had used some form of birth control, despite it being against church doctrine. Still, the church itself continues to condemn the president for abusing religious freedom.

This attention comes just as Cardinal Edward Egan, the former archbishop of New York state, withdrew his 2002 apology for any sex abuse scandals that took place under his leadership, saying also that the church has no obligation to report allegations abuse to the police. All of this means that the Catholic community in New York is likely to face much more media coverage in the coming weeks.