In the August 20 issue of the Catholic Voice, the newspaper of the diocese of Oakland, Archbishop Salvatore Cordileone introduces the first of a new series of article on Natural Family Planning. Here is an excerpt from  His Excellency’s column:

This year the question of religious liberty has emerged as a central issue far beyond what any of us would have imagined just a couple of years ago. I am grateful to all of our pastors who promoted the US bishops’ call for the “Fortnight for Freedom” and have continued to educate our people on this very important challenge to us at this time, and for all of our people who have been actively engaged in advocating for this God-given and constitutional right of ours.

Of course, it is the mandate of the Department of Health and Human Services that all employer-provided insurance coverage include contraception, with only the narrowest of exceptions for religious organizations, that has brought this issue to the fore with fever-pitch intensity. This, though, is only the latest and most blatant challenge in the area of freedom of the exercise of religion and of conscience.

Surveys that ask people their opinion on whether insurance providers should include contraception in their coverage are missing the point. We would certainly hear different results if, instead, the pollsters asked: “Who should decide for a religious organization what its mission is, the religious organization itself or the government?”; “Who should define for a religious organization the people to whom it is to extend health, education and social services, the religious organization itself or the government?”; “Who should define for a religious organization who its members are, the religious organization itself or the government?”

While the leadership of faith communities throughout the country has rightly kept the focus on religious liberty and freedom of conscience, nonetheless, the HHS mandate has put the Church’s teaching on responsible parenthood and the legitimate regulation of birth front and center.

Another question lurking in the background in this whole debate is this: Why would the government require, for the sake of women’s health, insurance coverage of a medication the World Health Organization classifies as a Class 1 carcinogen? Yet, this is exactly what the WHO has done after dozens of studies over a period of many years have demonstrated a link between hormonal contraceptives and increased risk of breast and cervical cancer (as well as heart disease) in women (….