NOW President: Bishops Want 'Police Power of State to Prevent Women from Taking Birth Control'

March 1, 2012 - 5:54 PM

National Organization for Women president Terry O’Neill

Terry O'Neill, president of the National Organization of Women, spoke on March 1, 2012 at the National Press Club about how the Catholic Church and other faiths are trying to restrict women's access to birth control. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) – Roman Catholic bishops and other religious leaders have failed to keep women from using birth control and now want the "police power of the state" to stop women from doing so, National Organization for Women President Terry O’Neill said Thursday at a gathering of feminist activists.

“The bishops have not been able to convince Catholic women to not take birth control,” O’Neill said. “We know this because 98 percent of sexually active [Catholic] women take birth control at some point in their lives--just like 98 percent of sexually active non-Catholic women take birth control at some point in their lives.

“So the bishops have failed,” she said. “And the evangelical preachers that don’t want their women to take birth control--they have failed.”

As a result, O’Neill argued, these religious leaders are now “demanding that the government step in and use the force and power and police power of the state to prevent women from taking birth control because the bishops have failed.”

O’Neill’s remarks came in response to a question from CNSNews.com about a large photograph on display at the press conference. It depicted five faith leaders, including a Catholic bishop, who testified at a Feb. 16 House hearing into the Obama administration’s controversial health insurance mandate.

CNSNews.com noted that Bishop William Lori was the only faith leader--the others were Jewish, Lutheran and Baptist--who opposed all forms of birth control and pointed out that the hearing was about whether the government mandate violated the free exercise of religion.

“It’s just like a man to say birth control is not about women,” O’Neill responded. “Birth control is not about women? ‘Birth control is about my religious freedom,’ says the bishop. Excuse me?

“This is how wacky the right wing has become,” she said, adding that restrictions on birth control “violate women’s fundamental religious freedom rights.”

The HHS regulation, issued under Obamacare, will require all health-care plans in the United States to cover sterilizations and all FDA-approved contraceptives, including those that cause abortions. The Catholic Church has objected to the regulation because it will require Catholics to buy and/or provide the sterilization-contraception-abortifacient coverage even though doing so violates the teachings of the Catholic faith. The church has not called for outlawing contraception, or preventing people who want to buy or provide insurance coverage that covers contraception from doing so.

The House Oversight hearing at which Bishop Lori testified was about the religious liberty issue raised by the regulation.

Feminist Majority president Eleanor Smeal

Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority, center, leads a coalition of feminist and other activist organizations dubbed HerVotes and spoke about its women's rights mission on March 1, 2012. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

At Thursday’s gathering at the National Press Club, O’Neill charged that the hearing had been sexist in nature.

“For these men to have the gall to say that birth control is about their religious rights and it’s not about women is just completely flabbergasting,” she said.

The event was held by a coalition of feminist and activist organization, headed up by Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority. Smeal said some 50 groups were part of the HerVotes coalition, made up of women who, she said, were going to take a stand against those who were “trying to drive us back.”

Others represented at the event included Advocates for Youth, the American Association of University Women, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, NARAL Pro-Choice America, Planned Parenthood Federation of America, the National Congress of Black Women, National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health and the National Women’s Political Caucus.