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.


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