The National Coalition of American Nuns has announced their support for women’s right to access contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act as the Supreme Court prepares to hear the historic Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases. While the plaintiffs in these cases are Mennonites and evangelical Christians, opposition to the contraceptive mandate was largely spearheaded by the Catholic bishops. Several key cases of Catholic non-profits, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, are making their way through the lower courts and may well end up in the Supreme Court themselves.
“NCAN is dismayed that the Little Sisters of the Poor, the University of Notre Dame and other Catholic organizations are challenging the Affordable Care Act. Spurred on by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops these organizations are attempting to hold hostage all women by refusing insurance to them for contraceptives,” said the 2,000-member group in a statement.
“This has gotten out of hand,” Sister Donna Quinn, head of NCAN, told RD. “It isn’t ‘faith and freedom’ when reproductive autonomy isn’t extended by the Catholic Church to women. Now we have other Christian religions seeing what the bishops are doing and saying we will do likewise. It isn’t freedom when a woman can be held hostage by the owner of a business.”
The nuns are seeking support for their stand through an online petition. The Rev. Debra Haffner of the Religious Institute is helping NCAN coordinate the effort. “When I saw the brave stand these nuns were taking on the mandate, I started to think about what we could do to amplify their voices. So we launched a social media campaign asking people to ‘Stand with the Nuns’,” she said.
“We really need to counter the idea that faith is opposed to family planning,” said Haffner, who’s also helping to coordinate a Faith Rally at the Supreme Court on March 25, the day of the oral arguments for the mandate challenges. “All too often the media only shows a Catholic bishop to offer the faith perspective. More than 14 major religious denominations have statements supporting birth control and birth control access. People need to understand that this is not only an affront to women’s moral agency but opens the door to denying a whole range of services, from other kinds of reproductive health care to services to LGBT people,” she said.
NCAN has a long history of reproductive justice and Catholic reform activism. Quinn has volunteered as an abortion clinic escort and was one of the leaders of a delegation of women religious to Rome 1994 to hold a parallel discussion about the role of women religious during the bishops’ synod on religious life, which largely excluded women.