Despite what some overly excitable white, middle-aged men will tell you, recent federal rule changes that mean women will be able to get free birth control don’t infringe on religious liberty.
That’s “don’t,” as in, “do not.”
The conservative politicians listed above all are parroting the line fed to them by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which is trying to work people of faith into a frenzy to serve its own interests. The group is upset that the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced last month that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act — known informally as “ObamaCare” — would require nearly universal coverage of contraception.
The new rule becomes effective Aug. 1, 2012, for most insurance plans. But it is delayed a year — until Aug. 2, 2013 — for “certain nonprofit religious employers.” Generally, that means some religious hospitals and schools.
Under the rule, birth control is reclassified as a preventative health measure, which means most employers must cover contraception in their insurance plans with no cost-sharing like co-pays or deductibles.
Catholic teachings prohibit the use of artificial birth control such as birth control pills, condoms and intrauterine devices.
Contraception isn’t being singled out. Other items that the feds are mandating must be provided for free to women include screening for gestational diabetes; testing for the human papillomavirus (HPV) as part of cervical cancer screening for women age 30 and older; counseling and screening for HIV; and counseling on domestic violence.
The items were included after a review by the Institute of Medicine, which advises the federal government.
When it comes to matters of science and public health, I will defer to the guidance of doctors rather than priests or archbishops, thank you. The former has expertise with matters of the body, and the latter (presumably) with the soul.
Here’s what the rule actually states.
“Specifically, the Departments seek to provide for a religious accommodation that respects the unique relationship between a house of worship and its employees in ministerial positions,” it reads.
“Such an accommodation would be consistent with the policies of States that require contraceptive services coverage, the majority of which simultaneously provide for a religious accommodation.”
Later, the rule adds, “Consistent with most States that have such exemptions, as described below, the amended regulations specify that, for purposes of this policy, a religious employer is one that: (1) Has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose; (2) primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets; (3) primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets; and (4) is a non-profit organization under (the tax code).”
In other words, churches, synagogues and mosques won’t have to cover contraception for their employees. But if a religious organization operates a service that isn’t explicitly religious in nature, or mostly employs or serves people of other faiths, it would need to include birth control in its coverage.
That exemption, however, wasn’t enough for Catholic bishops.
“Surely it violates freedom of religion to force religious ministries and citizens to buy health coverage to which they object as a matter of conscience and religious principle,” wrote New York Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan in The Wall Street Journal.
Dolan added, “Coercing religious ministries and citizens to pay directly for actions that violate their teaching is an unprecedented incursion into freedom of conscience. Organizations fear that this unjust rule will force them to take one horn or the other of an unacceptable dilemma: Stop serving people of all faiths in their ministries — so that they will fall under the narrow exemption — or stop providing health-care coverage to their own employees.”
What Dolan doesn’t mention is individuals aren’t compelled to consume birth control. Even if it’s included in a plan, the devout will refrain. The legislation is aimed at insurance companies, not at religions; the central issue is equal treatment for employees.
As one online critic of the church has noted, “Look at it another way: In states with the death penalty, the church is being ‘forced to pay’ for executions via payroll taxes. Is that also a violation?”
If Dolan is so concerned about the rule, he can advise Catholic hospitals and social service agencies to stop employing non-Catholics and stop accepting non-Catholic patients.
Dolan won’t, of course, because that would make the Church even more irrelevant to society and drain revenues provided by federal programs like Medicare and Medicaid.
Federal officials have said contraception’s inclusion is designed to reduce the number of unintended pregnancies, which make up almost half of all pregnancies in the United States.
Please note: Birth control used by women who do not want to become pregnant is a cheaper alternative than unintended pregnancies. And it’s much cheaper than having a low-income woman and her child use government services like Temporary Assistance for Needy Families.
Nevertheless, Cincinnati Archbishop Dennis Schnurr is urging his flock to write to Congress and ask for legislation to overturn the rule. Schnurr’s faithful servant, U.S. Rep. Steve Chabot (R-Westwood), already has complied.
Meanwhile, Hamilton County Auditor Dusty Rhodes — another West Side Catholic and allegedly a Democrat — said he wouldn’t vote for President Obama in the fall. He told The Enquirer, “Obama’s declared war on my church.” (Hey, Dusty: Churches are exempt.)
The American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other progressive groups say politicians like Chabot and Rhodes are distorting what the rule requires.
“To be clear, the rule does not require churches or other houses of worship that hire people of the faith to carry out religious practices to purchase birth control coverage for their employees,” said Anthony Romero, the ACLU’s executive director.
“It does require organizations like hospitals and universities that operate in the public sphere to play by public rules.”
That seems entirely fair and reasonable to me.
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