More than 2,000 women signed an open letter opposing the Obama administration’s contraception mandate in a sharp contrast to those who have sought to represent all women in supporting it.
“Don’t claim to speak for all women,” the Feb. 17 letter tells President Barack Obama, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius and members of Congress.
Women from a wide span of political, religious and educational backgrounds joined together to back Catholic organizations protesting a new federal mandate that will require employers to provide health-insurance plans that cover contraception, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs.
Organizers said the letter has received about 2,300 signatures in less than a week.
The signatories include women from a variety of professions, including doctors, teachers, lawyers, mothers, business owners and community volunteers.
Although the signatories are not all Catholic, they all proclaimed that they are “proud to stand with the Catholic Church and its rich, life-affirming teachings on sex, marriage and family life.”
Many have worked for Catholic schools, hospitals and social-service organizations at some point and “are proud to have been part of the religious mission” of those institutions.
They noted “the shared sense of purpose” with which employees performed their service for the community and observed that “in a religious institution, a job is always also a vocation.”
The letter was initiated by Helen Alvaré, associate professor of law at George Mason University School of Law, and Kim Daniels, former counsel to the Thomas More Law Center, where she focused on health-care-related conscience rights.
It was written as a response to House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and other supporters of the mandate who have repeatedly suggested that few if any women in the U.S. oppose it.
“We listened to prominent women purport to speak for us,” said Alvaré and Daniels in a Feb. 21 National Review Online article explaining the letter.
“We watched them duck the fundamental religious-liberty issues at stake,” they added. “And we saw them assume that all women view cheaper contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs as unqualified goods.”
Alvaré and Daniels circulated their letter of protest to a few dozen friends. Within days, it had spread to thousands of women who were eager to make their voices heard.
“Almost every email contained a letter expressing the woman’s enormous relief at the chance to speak for herself,” said Alvaré, who also serves as the chair of the Witherspoon Task Force on Conscience Protection and a consultant to the Pontifical Council for the Laity.
She said that it was “moving” to read the emails expressing “gratitude for the Catholic Church’s willingness to stand down the government’s claim to speak for all women and women’s health.”
Notable signers of the letter include Janet Smith, professor of ethics at Sacred Heart Minor Seminary in Michigan; Angela Pfister, associate director of the Notre Dame Center for Ethics and Culture; and Joan Desmond, writer and senior editor for the National Catholic Register.
The signatories called it “more than a little mistaken, and more than a little dishonest” to try to silence those who disagree with the mandate by invoking “women’s health.”
They noted the serious side effects of many contraceptives, as well as the killing of embryos and the fact that government contraceptive programs have led to “more empty sex, more non-marital births and more abortions.”
“It is women who suffer disproportionately when these things happen,” they explained.
“No one speaks for all women on these issues,” the signatories said. “Those who purport to do so are simply attempting to deflect attention from the serious religious liberty issues currently at stake.”
The women called on the administration “to allow religious institutions and individuals to continue to witness to their faiths in all their fullness.”