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Good Question: Why Are Catholics Against Birth Control?

MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) -- The Obama Administration's decision to force all employers to provide birth control coverage in their insurance plans, including religious-affiliated institutions like hospitals and universities, is creating incredible controversy.

"The Federal Government does not have the power to force religious organizations to pay for things that that organization thinks is wrong," said Sen. Marco Rubio, a Florida Republican.

The nation's 300,000 churches are exempt from the rule, but religious-run hospitals, nursing homes, and colleges will no longer be exempt.

"The church doesn't think it's wrong for Catholics to use contraception, the Church thinks it's wrong to use contraception," said Dr. Steve Heaney, a philosophy professor at University of St. Thomas who serves on several boards and advises the Catholic Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis.

"So when we put things into our bodies, or snip parts out to make them not work right, we're attacking ourselves. Not just our bodies -- ourselves," said Heaney.

The Catholic Church essentially stands alone on this policy, with most other Christian churches allowing at least some types of artificial birth control in some circumstances starting in the 1930's.

Catholic popes have always been opposed to anything other than natural birth control, whenever the Popes have spoken on the topic.

It doesn't come out of the Bible, rather, "It's a philosophical tradition known as natural law," said Jim Laine, Director of the religious studies program at Macalester College. Laine said he's also a Catholic.

"Natural law suggests any conjugal act, any sexual act, should be open to the transmission of life," said Laine.

Basically, the theory is that God made our human bodies with parts that are designed to create life, and so having sexual intercourse and artificially blocking that process is wrong.

The church crystallized its position in 1968, when Pope Paul VI asked a commission to analyze the issue of birth control. Many American Catholics hoped that the Church would change its position, as it has on other topics over the years.

Two groups issued reports to the Pope: the majority opinion was that the church should leave the decision about birth control up to individual married couples.

"Already from the very beginning of this, in 1968, it was clear there were differences of opinion," said Laine.

The minority opinion argued that church tradition required the Pope to stay the course, and not allow artificial birth control. The Pope landed on the side of the minority, against birth control, but his reasoning was based not on tradition, but on the concept of natural law.

"It doesn't make sense to say with my body I give myself totally to you, but I'm withholding something. So it turns sex into a lie. It's fraudulent," said Heaney.

A recent Guttmacher research report found 98 percent of sexually-active Catholic women said they have used artificial forms of birth control -- like the pill or condoms.

Only 2 percent of Catholic women rely on the church-endorsed natural family planning (NFP), which used to consist of the rhythm method.

Today, Catholics generally teach the Sympto-Thermal Method for determining fertility. It looks at three signs that a woman's body gives: waking temperature (called "basal body temperature"), cervical mucus secretions and physical change that occurs in the cervix.

Heaney said the church isn't opposed to having people plan their lives; rather, the belief is that every time there's sex, people must leave open the chance that God will intervene with a child.

He said that women are made with a space in time where biologically they are unable to conceive a child.

"You can make use of that space as long as we're open to the possibility and you're living in the truth," said Heaney.

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