More on Contraception Battle

Start with this one, by Jodi Jacobson, at RH Reality Check. Here is a snip:

Contraceptive use is normal. It is used by 98 percent of sexually-active women in the United States at some point in their lives, including 98 percent of Catholic women; indeed many women rely on it for most of their reproductive lives. It is a public health issue, it is a medical issue, it is an individual health issue. Contraception is about maternal, infant and child health; it is about desired family size, family formation, and the most basic and profound choices individuals can make–whether, when and with whom to bear and raise a child. It is also about medically-indicated conditions which women face for which birth control is prescribed. It is a foundational issue for the social and economic participation of women. It is an individual human rights issue. And every domestic and international medical body with any legitimacy recognizes it as such. It is not about the religious freedom of religious corporations institutions a la Citizens United, but about the health and religious freedoms of individuals, the vast majority of whom clearly disagree with the teachings of the Catholic Church.

This needs to be said, over and over, to put the discussion about contraception to rest, to place it back in the realm of public health, and to stop the stigmatization of all reproductive health care, which has not surprisingly gone well beyond abortion to include contraception.

Amy Sullivan’s piece about what she believes is the need for the Obama administration to “compromise” on requiring religious institutions with a non-religious primary purpose to provide insurance coverage for contraception coverage at no cost to the employee, is a good example of what women’s health advocates are facing from some people who supposedly (according to them) support contraception:

Abortion rights organizations, pro-choice Democrats, and the media have all characterized the debate over this contraception coverage rule as a struggle between the White House and the Catholic bishops. In its editorial supporting the decision, the New York Timespraised the Obama administration for “with[standing] pressure from Roman Catholic bishops and social conservatives.” But that’s not accurate.

The list of Catholics who have lobbied the administration to consider a broader definition of “religious employer” than now exists — one that would cover institutions like Catholic universities and hospitals — includes politically progressive Catholics who have been close allies of the White House, like Father John Jenkins, the president of the University of Notre Dame who stood up to conservatives who wanted Obama disinvited from giving the school’s commencement address in 2009. It includes pro-life Catholic Democrats like Senator Bob Casey, who now faces an even tougher reelection campaign in Pennsylvania because of his vote in favor of Obama’s health reform plan. And it includes precisely those Catholic hospital officials and progressive nuns whose support of health reform provided reassurance and cover for the holdout Catholic Democrats who voted to make it law. In doing so, they made possible the largest expansion of contraception access in U.S. history.

Without the work of women like Sister Carol Keehan, president of the Catholic Health Association, and Sister Simone Campbell of the Catholic social justice group NETWORK, there would be no health reform and therefore no contraception coverage mandate to argue over — not just for the employees of Catholic hospitals and universities, but for the estimated 24 million other women who will benefit from this aspect of the law.

So, yes, a little gratitude from women’s health advocates and other liberals would be appropriate. Instead, when these Catholic sisters and others asked for some flexibility with regard to the mandate, the advocates pooh-poohed as irrelevant their concerns about religious liberty and insisted that “the bishops” were the only ones who had a problem with contraception coverage.

The best reason for the Obama administration NOT to agree to a “workaround” way to exempt religiously based hospitals, universities, and nonprofits from including free birth control in their employee insurance plans is that birth control is healthcare — no different from any other healthcare covered by insurance providers — and should not be singled out, punished, or stigmatized as somehow less legitimate than any other health-related procedure, treatment, medication, or protocol. A secondary reason for Pres. Obama to give a firm “NO” to ANY changes in the current policy is because the Catholic Bishops don’t want compromise themselves. They want to remove the mandatory contraception coverage from the Affordable Care Act for ALL employers, not just religious ones (emphasis is in the original):

The less shrill voices have implored Obama to “compromise” by broadening the religious exemption to let religiously-affiliated hospitals refuse women contraception. But the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has made it clear they’re not interested in compromise. According to a report in USA Today, they aren’t just demanding a broader religious exemption from the new contraception coverage rule — they want contraception coverage removed from the Affordable Care Act altogether:

The White House is “all talk, no action” on moving toward compromise, said Anthony Picarello, general counsel for the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “There has been a lot of talk in the last couple days about compromise, but it sounds to us like a way to turn down the heat, to placate people without doing anything in particular,” Picarello said. “We’re not going to do anything until this is fixed.”

That means removing the provision from the health care law altogether, he said, not simply changing it for Catholic employers and their insurers. He cited the problem that would create for “good Catholic business people who can’t in good conscience cooperate with this.”

“If I quit this job and opened a Taco Bell, I’d be covered by the mandate,” Picarello said.

In short, Catholic bishops are saying that federal laws shouldn’t apply to anyone who claims to have a religious objection to them. Houses of worship and other religious nonprofits are already completely exempt from the rule. It is only when religious institutions choose to go into business as hospitals and serve the general public that they are bound by the same laws as everyone else. Yet the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has promised a legal challenge.

I pointed out in my previous post on this subject that opponents of including free contraception coverage in employer insurance plans, religious employers or otherwise, love to invoke the Free Exercise clause of the First Amendment but studiously ignore the Establishment clause. Well, here is Gail Collins on what the Catholic Bishops and others of their ilk really want from government (emphasis is mine):

Catholic doctrine prohibits women from using pills, condoms or any other form of artificial contraception. A much-quoted study by the Guttmacher Institute found that virtually all sexually active Catholic women of childbearing age have violated the rule at one point or another, and that more than two-thirds do so consistently.

[…]The church is not a democracy and majority opinion really doesn’t matter. Catholic dogma holds that artificial contraception is against the law of God. The bishops have the right — a right guaranteed under the First Amendment — to preach that doctrine to the faithful. They have a right to preach it to everybody. Take out ads. Pass out leaflets. Put up billboards in the front yard.

The problem here is that they’re trying to get the government to do their work for them. They’ve lost the war at home, and they’re now demanding help from the outside.



Filed under Breaking News, Civil Liberties, Health, Law, Politics, Religion, Society

2 responses to “More on Contraception Battle

  1. Largely lost in the fuming over some supposed moral dilemma is that THE HEALTH CARE LAW DOES NOT FORCE EMPLOYERS TO ACT CONTRARY TO THEIR BELIEFS–unless one supposes the employers’ religion forbids even payment of money to the government (all of us should enjoy such a religion). In keeping with the law, those with conscientious objections to providing their employees with qualifying health plans may decline to provide any health plans and pay an assessment instead or, alternatively, provide plans that do not qualify (e.g., without provisions they dislike) and pay lower assessments.

    No moral dilemma, no need for an exemption. That the employers must at least pay an assessment is hardly justification for an exemption. In other contexts, for instance, we have relieved conscientious objectors from required military service, requiring them instead to provide alternative service in noncombatant roles or useful civilian work. In any event, paying assessment does not pose a moral dilemma, but rather a garden-variety gripe common to most taxpayers–who don’t much like paying taxes and who object to this or that action of the government. Should each of us feel free to deduct from our taxes the portion that we figure would be spent on those actions (e.g., wars, health care, teaching evolution, subsidizing churches, whatever) each of us opposes? The hue and cry for an exemption is predicated on the false claim–or, more plainly, lie–that employers otherwise are forced to act contrary to their religions.

    Questions about the government requiring or prohibiting something that conflicts with someone’s faith are entirely real, but not new. The courts have confronted such issues and have generally ruled that under the Constitution the government cannot enact laws specifically aimed at a particular religion (which would be regarded a constraint on religious liberty contrary to the First Amendment), but can enact laws generally applicable to everyone or at least broad classes of people (e.g., laws concerning pollution, contracts, fraud, crimes, discrimination, employment, etc.) and can require everyone, including those who may object on religious grounds, to abide by them. Were it otherwise and people could opt out of this or that law with the excuse that their religion requires or allows it, the government and the rule of law could hardly operate.

  2. I know. And thank you for making this point, Doug.

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