As debate surrounding the HHS mandate continues, some Catholic women have hailed the controversy as a chance to present the “fullness of truth” the Church offers through its teachings on contraception.
Sr. Prudence Allen, R.S.M. of the Saint John Vianney Seminary in Denver, Colo. said that the “great gift of this discussion” is that people are speaking about “whether contraception helps or harms women.”
In an interview with EWTN News, Sr. Prudence observed that many Catholic women “are really trying to speak about the fullness of truth” offered by Church's teaching on human sexuality, but that it's “going take a little time” to get the message across.
As part of the effort to spread that message, her order, the Religious Sisters of Mercy of Alma, Michigan, recently launched a website featuring information about the medical risks associated with birth control and abortion.
The move comes amid the Health and Human Services mandate, announced on Jan. 20, which will require almost all employers to provide insurance coverage for sterilization and contraception, including some abortion-causing drugs.
Although the Obama administration has billed the mandate as an increase in “preventive care” for women’s health, the rule has caused conscience problems for Catholics and others who have moral and religious objections to providing the required coverage.
Despite the Church's stance on the issue being characterized by some in the secular media as part of an overall “war on women,” Sr. Allen said that “throughout history, the Church has always tried to defend the great dignity of woman as a whole integral being.”
This can be easily seen in Church writings, she added, from St. Augustine, the fourth century Doctor of the Church who sought to show women as individuals with a free will rather than sexual objects, to Pope Paul VI's encyclical, “Humane Vitae” which highlights the cultural and moral dangers of contraception.
Terry Polakovic, founder of ENDOW – an non-profit women's organization based on Pope John Paul II's papal “Letter to Women” – said that much of the debate centers around “the idea that people are seeking freedom.”
However, what many women fail to realize is that birth control and abortion is essentially “seeking freedom from biology, from the way God made them.”
“What I have seen is the greatest freedom you have is within the Church,” Polakovic told EWTN News, “I would look at people who don't have a clear understanding of this as almost being in bondage, I don't know that they can conceive of the freedom that (the Church) gives you.”
The two made their comments after a recent Huffington Post blog post gained national attention when author Soraya Chemaly was featured on National Public Radio explaining why she left the Catholic Church.
In her post, Chemaly said her decision to leave the Church was because “the Catholic hierarchy … believes that women's bodies are the living manifestation of their inferiority.”
She also said that the recent opposition to the HHS mandate is just another example of the U.S. bishops “refusing to accept women as fully human.”
Her remarks contrast sharply, however, with Polakovic's experience educating women about the Church's teaching on what she called their undeniable and innate dignity.
When presented with the Church's view on women, especially found in Pope John Paul II's “Letter to Women,” people “really respond,” Polakovic said.
Far from relegating women to a subhuman category, the late Pope “underscored our dignity” of being “made in the image and likeness of God.”
In her piece, Chemaly also charged that the Church promotes “systematized misogyny,” as seen by the lack of female priests. This, she claimed, is due to “early Christian doctrine formulated by men, obsessed with dualism, who hated women and despised their own sexuality.”
In response, Sr. Allen acknowledged that often times in history, some vocations tend to gain more prominence than others.
But the idea that one vocation, such as the priesthood as Chemaly asserts, is more important than the others, is “just false” because all vocations, lay, clerical and religious, have equal dignity in the Church.
In her own experience as a Religious Sister of Mercy, Sr. Allen said she has been able to see the “richness” of the three types of vocations “being in service to one another.”
For her part, Chemaly recognized that women have opposed the mandate but claimed they all belong to the same category of “conservative lay women fighting (the bishops') battle.”
Polakovic said that many secular people who attempt to speak on behalf of the Church “are just ill-informed” which is why her organization works so hard to spread awareness about the Church's true teaching on women.
Since the mandate was announced, over 26,000 women from nearly every sector of the workforce have signed George Mason University law professor Helen Alvare's Feb. 17 open letter telling the Obama administration, “Don't claim to speak for all women.”