A dispute over a proposed Wisconsin law mandating emergency contraceptive coverage for rape victims has resulted in a clash between a group calling itself Catholics for a Free Choice (CFFC) and Bishops Robert Morlino and Jerome Listecki. The pro-abortion organization is calling opposition to the bill a violation of patients’ rights, while the bishops assert that the bill violates the rights of doctors and the freedom of conscience.
At issue is whether the emergency contraception law will include conscience clauses exempting Catholic hospitals and medical practitioners with objections to such treatment, because it could endanger the life of a newly conceived child.
In a January 11 letter to a member of the Wisconsin legislature, Catholics for a Free Choice president Jon O’Brien attacked Catholic support for exemptions given to conscientious objectors and lobbied for the bill to be passed without conscience clauses.
O’Brien cited the stance of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference (WCC), which originally took a neutral view of the law, and contrasted this neutrality with the opposition of two Wisconsin Catholic bishops, Bishop Robert Morlino and Bishop Jerome Listecki of the Diocese of Lacrosse.
Calling the two bishops’ protests an “opposition tactic,” O’Brien wrote, “Under the guise of protecting religious freedom, opponents of contraception and abortion aggressively use the political process to allow health-care professionals, including emergency room doctors, nurses, and even pharmacists to opt out of providing essential reproductive health-care services and medications.”
O’Brien claimed that the refusal to provide such services “violates the rights of both patients and health-care providers” who consider the services moral and medically necessary.
Bishop Morlino responded to the CFFC letter with his own letter, sent to the Wisconsin legislature on January 15.
The bishop reaffirmed a 2000 declaration from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops that CFFC is not a Catholic organization and promotes positions contrary to the teaching of the Church. “‘Catholics for a Free Choice’ is not, in fact, Catholic because its members don’t accept basic Catholic teaching. So, it comes as no surprise that when I teach basic Catholic doctrine, which they don’t recognize as such, they call it “political maneuvering” – a claim that is as frivolous as their claim to be Catholic is irresponsible,” the bishop wrote.
Bishop Morlino addressed the neutral stand of the Wisconsin Catholic Conference, saying the CFFC used the conference’s position against two of the objectives the conference had sought to obtain. “While I am certain that the WCC sought to protect pre-born life and the rights of conscience, CFFC is clearly pro-abortion and anti-conscience protection.”
“Irresponsibly claiming to be Catholic, while rejecting the basic Catholic values that are to be embodied in emergency contraception legislation, is yet another source of scandal and confusion for faithful Catholics and all those who claim to be pro-life,” Bishop Morlino wrote.
The Catholic approach to emergency contraception, the bishop reiterated, rested on the three concerns of compassionate care for victims of rape, concern that possible pre-born life not be destroyed, and concern that the rights of conscience of individuals and institutions be protected.
Bishop Listecki of LaCrosse also warned against the pending legislation and called on Catholics to contact their state representatives.