Sunday, February 05, 2012

Contraceptives and Religious Freedom

The Obama administration is taking heat for a decision that requires all health care insurance plans to pay for contraceptive prescriptions. There is an exception for churches, but not for church supported institutions like hospitals and charitable organizations.

The objection is that this requirement infringes on religious organizations, especially Catholics, who believe any kind of contraception is a sin. The Church objects because they would be "paying" for contraceptives.

I think the rational for the requiring insurance plans to cover contraceptives is a women's health care issue. Most women will use contraceptives at some point and it is more likely that they will get contraceptives when needed if they are covered just like vaccinations. Religious institutions, like Catholic hospitals, are not exempted, because many of their employees are not Catholic.

The law would require that insurance plans cover contraceptives, but it does not require any woman to take contraceptives. If no employee used their insurance to pay for contraceptives, problem solved. Why can't the church just use its moral persuasion to convince women to not use contraceptives? Is the Catholic church's moral authority so weak that is must rely on its own version of the law to enforce its religious doctrine?

I appreciate strongly held ethical beliefs, but we live in a secular country governed by a constitution, laws, rules and elections. We all have to reconcile our personal beliefs with those of other people and the law. Why do we have a law that says no federal funds can go to support abortion, but we use federal funds to execute convicted felons? You may see a difference, but if the underlying moral concept is not taking a human life, what is the difference? The difference is that we, as a country, have decided to make that distinction. We all practice moral relativism, including the Catholic church. I'm not sure why they chose to fight this battle at this time in this way.

The Catholic hierarchy believes they should be exempt from the requirement that their insurance plans cover contraceptives because this is a religious and ethical issue. Excuse me, but that makes no difference. We don't allow Mormons to flaunt polygamy laws. We don't allow Muslims to escape punishment for honor killings. I'm sure we could find many examples of religious practices that are no longer accepted in the modern world. Times change. Values change. When I was a kid Catholics couldn't eat meat on Fridays. Now they can (at least most Fridays).

One argument I heard this morning is that Catholic hospitals provide much of the care for people in this country. I appreciate that Catholics provide this service, but what percentage of any Catholic hospital's cost are provided by the Catholic church? My guess is that these are self-supporting institutions. They may have started as charitable activities, but now they are businesses. Is it really Catholic religious money that goes to pay for employee health insurance?

I suppose I could change my position if Catholic hospitals only employed Catholics. And I would be even more swayed if they only provided services to Catholics. But then again, contraception being a sin, no one would be using contraceptives if these were purely Catholic only institutions so health insurance coverage of contraceptives would be a non-issue.

I heard one comment that said the church would be satisfied if they didn't have to pay for any contraceptives. Contraceptives could be provided if they were fully paid by the employee.
Most medical plans have the employer and employee sharing some portion of medical care costs. Why couldn't the church just state that any payments for contraceptives, by definition, come from the employees portion of the insurance payments and co-payments? Problem solved.

Or try this. If having the employee pay for their contraceptives is acceptable, presumably because the Catholic church is not directly involved, why can't you just push responsibility to the insurance company. The hospital pays an insurance provider to reimburse health care expenses. It the health insurance company pays for contraceptives, the sin is on their heads. Again, problem solved.

If this blog has seemed silly at times, that is intentional, but, seriously, I do not understand this issue. Catholic leaders are outraged over being forced to provide a service they believe is immoral, but most people, including Catholics, believe contraceptives are moral and provide health benefits for women. It might even be considered more moral to prevent a pregnancy when parents are not prepared to adequately care for a child.

If this is such as serious moral dilemma, why do the majority of Catholic women use contraceptives? If the moral authority of Catholic leaders can't convince Catholic women to not use contraceptives, why should we and therefore, the government, accept their moral authority? On what moral basis can they claim to be exempt from providing a health care service that citizens consider to be moral and beneficial and is required of other organizations?

The political line is this is an attack on religion and the First Amendment by the Obama administration. Once again, bull crap. This is a health care issue, not a debate about religious freedom. It might be politically expedient to grant Catholics an exception to the insurance requirement, but it would be morally wrong.


Politicizing Choice

After the re-ignition of political/cultural wars this week and inane comments by conservatives on talk shows this morning, I have to vent.

This week the Susan G. Komen Foundation walked into a self-inflicted firestorm by withdrawing its limited financial support to Planned Parenthood to provide breast cancer screening and referrals for mammograms. They then threw gasoline on the fire with an obviously unbelievable rational.

After being hit with scathing attacks on social media, Komen partially retreated. Several Conservatives whined this morning that this was somehow an attack on a private organization's right to spend their money the way they want.

That is not the way I see it. No one is arguing that Komen can't choose to fund Planned Parenthood or not (a cynic might say they have choices). The objection was to Komen's choice to attack Planned Parenthood over providing abortions (which is about 3% of Planned Parenthood's budget) at the expense of decreasing women's access to other health care such as mammograms.

No one forced Komen to make monetary grants to Planned Parenthood, although they have for many years. No one would have made a big issue if Komen had quietly stopped making grants to Planned Parenthood and used that money to provide mammograms some other way. The problem was that Komen tied their decision to a political decision to attack Planned Parenthood and indirectly abortion. And then denied that is what they did.

Komen's initial defense was that they had made a decision to not make grants to organizations that were under investigation and Planned Parenthood was under investigation. Bull crap. The investigation that sparked the defunding is one started in the House by a Republican Representative. Komen can't hide the fact that they made a political/cultural decision by hiding behind a politically based investigation. Add to that several reports of organizations under actual legal investigation that are still being funded by Komen. The defunding was clearly a political decision aimed directly at and only at Planned Parenthood and Komen's claims otherwise were unbelievable.

But to the spark that ignited my outrage, conservative claims that by some logic the attack on Komen is some extension of liberal, Democrat, Obama, whatever, attacks on personal freedom. They claimed that the attacks on Komen were attacks on Komen's right to make their own decisions. They even tried to tie Komen's problems to the Catholic insurance debate (to be discussed later).

Komen was free to make grants to Planned Parenthood or not. They did. Presumably they monitored those grants to make sure the the money was used properly and effectively. Now Komen is free to withdraw all those grants. Most people are not questioning that. But many people were outraged that an organization that asks for donations to provide better health care options to women chose to make a political statement that decreased options. Komen's choice was not based on what was best for women's health. None of the money from Komen went to provide abortions. All people were saying was that if Komen decided to not help Planned Parenthood provide mammograms, we can decide to send our donations somewhere else.

So how do conservatives tie my choice to not donate to Komen for any reason I choose, to an attack on personal freedom? I don't get it.  Sometimes I think that personal freedom is something that only applies to conservatives.

If Komen really thought their position was morally defensible, they didn't have to retreat. That is, if they really reversed their decision. What I heard was that Komen said they would allow Planned Parenthood to again apply for grants. We will have to wait and see if they actually make any grants to Planned Parenthood. Again, that is their choice, but now we know that Komen has another agenda besides breast cancer and people will be watching.

I have a suggestion for Komen. Don't fund Planned Parenthood. Start your own clinics and provide women, many with few health care options, access to the same kind of health care provided by Planned Parenthood. They can even choose to not provide abortions, if that is medically possible.