NEW ORLEANS — Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Dec. 13 editorial in The Wall Street Journal, where he called for contraceptives to be available for sale over the counter, prompted a wave of criticism from several Catholic officials and organizations.
Though describing himself in the editorial as "an unapologetic pro-life Republican," Jindal, who is viewed as a potential 2016 presidential candidate, argued that "everyone who wants contraception should be able to purchase it."
Democratic lawmakers and abortion-rights organizations have framed the religious-liberty objections of the nation’s Catholic bishops over the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ contraceptive mandate as an attack on birth-control access. Jindal said his proposal would remove politics from birth control, while protecting the conscience rights of individuals who are morally opposed to paying for its coverage.
The only rationale for requiring women to obtain a prescription for a drug that "research says is safe," the governor asserted, is that "big government" says they should and that large pharmaceutical companies benefit from the status quo.
"It’s time to put purchasing power back in the hands of consumers — not employers, not pharmaceutical companies and not bureaucrats in Washington," said Jindal, who also chided his Republican Party for being "stupid to let the Democrats demagogue the contraceptives issue."
The Archdiocese of New Orleans and the Louisiana Conference of Catholic Bishops have taken Jindal — a self-described pro-life practicing Catholic — to task for his comments.
"Gov. Jindal is taking a political position on this issue and perhaps does not fully understand Catholic Church teachings on this matter," Ana Toujas, communications director for Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of New Orleans, told the Register.
"The Catholic Church does not support artificial contraception. In many instances, artificial contraception can be abortifacient. Rather, the Catholic Church supports natural family planning," Toujas said.
The Catechism of the Catholic Church teaches that "every action which, whether in anticipation of the conjugal act, or in its accomplishment, or in the development of its natural consequences, proposes, whether as an end or as a means, to render procreation impossible is intrinsically evil" (2370).
The Catechism also states, "Legitimate intentions on the part of the spouses do not justify recourse to morally unacceptable means ... for example, direct sterilization or contraception" (2399).
Jindal’s communications office did not return messages seeking additional comment about his views.
Lack of Understanding?
Richard Doerflinger, associate director of the U.S. bishops’ Secretariat for Pro-Life Activities, told the Register that the Louisiana governor’s proposal may be well intentioned, "but he doesn’t understand this issue."
Doerflinger said that a central purpose of the federal government’s new health-care mandate, which requires employers to provide co-pay-free birth control, sterilization and abortifacients in company health-insurance plans, is to move women and girls away from what the Obama administration sees as less reliable birth-control methods and toward more permanent and expensive methods that few women now use, such as surgical sterilization, intrauterine devices and long-lasting implantable contraceptives.
None of those methods, Doerflinger noted, can be reversed without further medical intervention. "If daily contraceptives are made available like candy, sold over the counter to young people, then the mandate will still be there and will consist entirely of these even more controversial and long-lasting interventions and of drugs like Ella that cause early abortions," Doerflinger said.
"This does not solve the moral or policy problems at all," added Doerflinger. "It makes the worst of it a reality even faster."
Father Tadeusz Pacholczyk, director of education for the National Catholic Bioethics Center, told the Register that, while Jindal’s proposal to end "birth-control politics" sounds like a clever idea on first hearing, the governor’s analysis is "actually simplistic and defective on several issues."
Father Pacholczyk said Jindal fails to acknowledge that birth control is an important subject of public debate because it touches on fundamental human and societal goods such as life, family, children, commitment and women’s health. Jindal also does not acknowledge the safety issues and health issues associated with the pill, he said, and fails to recognize how contraception is only one element of the problems posed by the Health and Human Services’ mandate.
Jindal also argued that since abortifacient morning-after pills like Plan B are already available over the counter, then the birth-control pill should be made available in the same way. This is not morally defensible, according to Father Pacholczyk.
"In a pluralistic society like ours, Jindal, a committed Catholic, should not be minimizing medical and moral risks associated with the expanded promotion of contraception, nor encouraging decreased oversight by making it available ‘over the counter,’ but should, rather, opt to confront the fundamental injustice of the HHS mandate itself, arguing for its revocation and abolition," Father Pacholczyk said. "By focusing on the critical issues of respect for conscience and protection from governmental coercion and intrusion, he could have offered a superior set of insights that would have genuinely advanced the public discourse surrounding contraception."
In his editorial, Jindal cited a recommendation from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists to allow women to purchase birth-control pills over the counter. Women currently need a prescription to buy such contraceptives from a pharmacy.
The recommendation was released Nov. 21 and published in the December issue of Obstetrics & Gynecology.
Jindal wrote that contraception was a drug that had been determined to be safe, but some medical experts reject that judgment.
"Making contraceptives available over the counter is generally not a good idea because it is a potent medication that needs oversight," said Dr. Joseph DeCook, executive director of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians and Gynecologists.
DeCook declined to comment specifically on Jindal’s op-ed, telling the Register that he had not examined it. But he said the potentially harmful side effects of birth control require monitoring by a physician.
"You don’t want to turn this loose on teenage girls or adult women," he said.
The annual checkup with a physician, when women typically renew contraceptive prescriptions, also "saves lives" because oral contraceptives are contraindicated for many female patients due to the increased risk of cancer, heart attacks and strokes, said Susan Wills, assistant director for education and outreach for the Secretariat of Pro-Life Activities.
"The visit may also be the only opportunity for doctors to test for and treat STDs," said Wills, adding that 60 million Americans have sexually transmitted diseases, with 19 million new cases occurring annually.
Wills also noted that the World Health Organization has declared synthetic estrogen — an ingredient in oral contraceptives — to be carcinogenic in humans, raising risks of breast and cervical cancer.
"Instead of basing public policy on insult avoidance and reducing the price of a harmful product, wouldn’t it be refreshing for policy to be based on sound science and the true good of our citizens?" said Wills, reacting to Jindal’s arguments.
In addition to removing contraceptives from the political debate, Jindal said his proposal would also cut health-care costs.
But conservative Republicans and Catholics note that Planned Parenthood and other organizations that support legalized abortion have expressed support for his proposal.
"We welcome Gov. Jindal’s thoughtful contributions to the conversation on women’s health," Cecile Richards, Planned Parenthood’s president, said in prepared remarks.
Judie Brown, president and co-founder of the American Life League, wrote on her blog that the politics of contraception have become an "endgame" for "quasi-Catholics" in public life who do not want to risk their political careers by publicly defending the Church’s teachings on life issues.
Paul Rondeau, executive director of the American Life League, told the Register that Jindal’s op-ed is making it "more and more clear" to him that political leaders in the United States will never effectively foster a pro-life culture.
"Anybody truly pro-life and making that kind of statement should know the true nature of contraceptives before writing in The Wall Street Journal," Rondeau said. "What [Jindal] is really doing is saying, ‘Rather than educate the public as to why this is a bad idea, it’s more politically expedient to sweep it under the rug.’"
"That is what happened in 2012," Rondeau said, referring to the presidential election. "You couldn’t get candidates to talk about anything other than the economy because they thought it was a winning strategy."
Brian Fraga writes from
Fall River, Massachusetts.