Birth control decision defends religious liberty

Anonymous ASSOCIATED PRESS The Obama administration Friday announced that religious institutions must cover birth control for employees. Recognizing the importance … Continued



The Obama administration Friday announced that religious institutions must cover birth control for employees.

Recognizing the importance of birth control to women’s health and lives, the Obama administration stood firm today against the political strong-arming of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and other religious groups that oppose contraception. This is a major victory for women’s health that we should all celebrate. But the path to today’s victory was not a foregone conclusion.

Last summer, following the recommendation of a non-partisan panel of medical experts, the Department of Health and Human Services issued guidelines requiring new insurance plans to cover contraceptives. The bishops, the political arm of the Catholic Church, immediately cried foul, claiming a right to use their religious beliefs to discriminate against millions of women of all faiths who use contraception.

To be clear: No one is requiring people of faith to stop preaching that contraception is sinful, if that’s what they believe, or forcing churches to buy contraceptive coverage for their ministry. In fact, the proposed guidelines included an exemption for religious institutions like churches or synagogues that hire people of the same belief for the purposes of advancing that faith. This didn’t satisfy the bishops and others. For example, the bishops have demanded that institutions like religiously affiliated hospitals and universities – institutions that serve and employ millions of non-Catholics – be allowed to deny coverage for contraception. But try as they might, the bishops could not prevail over the simple truth:

Religious freedom gives everyone the right to make personal decisions, including whether and when to use birth control based on our own beliefs and according to what is best for our health and the well-being of our families. It does not give religious groups the right to impose their beliefs on others.

Virtually every woman of childbearing age, including 98 percent of sexually active Catholics, practices some sort of contraception at some point. Women use contraception to prevent unintended pregnancies, plan their families and protect their health. Birth control medication is also commonly prescribed for a variety of treatments unrelated to pregnancy prevention. This is why the nonpartisan Institute of Medicine initially recommended to HHS that insurance companies be required to cover contraceptives in the first place.

Moreover, insurance coverage for contraception is not a radical idea. Most states already require coverage for contraceptives. And Catholic institutions across the country have been offering plans that include such coverage with apparently no detrimental effects to the Catholic faith overall. Catholic hospitals alone employ almost 800,000 people. For these employees, as well as teachers at religious universities and workers at other religiously affiliated organizations, taking a job at one of these institutions doesn’t mean they’re signing up to join the church.

After careful consideration of different views, the Obama administration stood firm for women’s health. It declined to expand the proposed exception.

The Obama administration’s duty is to American people of all faiths. We commend HHS for standing up for what is right. But we must continue to be vigilant because one thing is for sure — this will not be the last time the bishops try to use their bully pulpit to impose their religious beliefs on an unsuspecting nation.

Louise Melling is an expert in reproductive health and deputy legal director of the ACLU.

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  • amelia45

    You are right on this. What is important is to protect the right of individuals to decide to use contraceptives or not. That is religious freedom. It is not religious freedom to allow a religious organization to coerce people to follow a tenet of a faith, and that is what the Catholic Church is trying to do.

    I am Catholic and I support the health care regulations as they are currently written. I have written my federal political representatives to make sure they know that there are Catholics who do not think (and vote) as the bishops position would imply.

  • NeilAllen1

    The Catholic church (specifically) preys on the fact that their followers don’t read or think.

    Catholics, you have religious freedom, which means you can practice the religion that you want. It doesn not mean you can tell everyone else what to do. It does not mean you can take taxpayer money and keep it from gays just because you can’t cope with your own homosexuality.

    Or stop the rest of us from having sex. By the way, Catholic teens, sex is awesome, but don’t let priests do it to you.

    The country already allowed the Catholic church to run the world’s largest child rape cult with almost no arrests.

    Sorry, you used your mulligan on rampant child rape. Bad move for everyone.

  • Carstonio

    “taking a job at one of these institutions doesn’t mean they’re signing up to join the church” – Exactly. Employers should have no interest in the personal lives of employees as long as these aren’t affecting job performance.

  • Tsepho

    That’s not the point, Car. Employers should not even have to offer such things that go against their beliefs.

  • Tsepho

    How sad for you, Amelia. Jesus has nothing to do with coercion. He has everything to do with truth and love. Just because you believe something is right, doesnt mean that it is! You sound just like Eve!

  • Carstonio

    The idea that offering it would go against their beliefs is simply false. No one is requiring the employers to actually use the birth control themselves. What their employees do in their private lives shouldn’t affect the consciences of their employers. Th conscience argument falsely implies that employers have a paternalistic responsibility for their employees. It’s like saying that vegetarian employers have a right to require employees not to use their paychecks to buy meat for home consumption.

  • LoyalReader

    I have read this article three times and the content does not square with the title. Major screw up WaPo.

  • usapdx

    Of all the teachings of the RCC,the teaching on birth control is the teaching that most USA RCs DO NOT fully ( 100% ) agree with. Just ask them or look at the size of their family. Times have changed of the thinking of USA RCs and the Vatican knows it.

  • EdMurray1

    I am a left-leaning, longtime Catholic. I am the product of 20 years of Catholic education. I believe that decisions about the use of birth-control (those that are not abortafacients) are profoundly moral ones but ones which must be left to individuals and their consciences. At the same time religious freedom is a matter that is at the very heart of our Constitution and one which no government buracracy should come close to violating. I believe in an individual’s right to choose whether or not he/she will use birth control. At the same time, I believe that a religious tradition has the right to absent itself from engaging in any way in a practice, policy or program which IT deems contrary to its beliefs. We all have to pay taxes and some of those taxes support activities which an individual might find morally objectionable. But religious institutions must never be required to pay for services they abhor within the confines of their private institutions.

    This is a very, very bad decision at a very inopportune time.

  • acroth5

    Go to parishes in places like Lincoln, Phoenix, and Arlington. You’ll find more and more couples are having larger families.

  • Dakota9

    Yes, let’s be clear. You are right. No one is requiring people of faith to stop preaching that contraception is sinful. But the rule is requiring people of faith to fund activities that they consider not only to be wrong but to be immoral. It would be the equivalent of telling Planned Parenthood that they were required to NOT provide insurance that covers birth control. And again, let’s be clear. This new requirement is so stringent, that very few of the Catholic ministries would be excepted–not schools, not hospitals, not churches. Contraception is a choice. It’s not a medicine that cures cancer. And last time I checked, the right to use contraception was not covered in the Constitution. I am a supporter of contraception. But I am also a supporter of religious freedom. And only a truly disingenuous person with an agenda would claim that this new rule provides religious liberty.

  • Dakota9

    Quite frankly, from your post, I’m thinking it’s not the Catholics that don’t read or think. The catholic church is not trying to stop you from having sex. Do what you want. But don’t choose to accept a job with the church and then expect it to fund your activities that it finds immoral. If you read more, you would know that’s what this issue is about–requiring the church to pay for something it teaches against. You would also know that the Catholic church is one of the largest providers in this country for helping the poor, the homeless, the sick, and the aged. While it is not perfect and it has made a lot of grievous mistakes, it does a lot of good for this world.

  • Dakota9

    Again, the church is not trying to force you to do anything. It just doesn’t want to fund your decision by being required to provide insurance that covers contraception for its employees. If you’re not an employee of the church, this has no effect on you whatsoever. So the only one who is being coerced is the church. So much for freedom of religion.

  • usapdx

    acroth5 I am speaking of USA citizens that are RCs NOT the unlawful entry people in the pews that are RCs.

  • Carstonio

    In the moral sense, the institutions aren’t “paying” for the services they abhor because benefits equate to another form of compensation. Arguing otherwise wrongly implies that employers have the right to dictate to employees what to do with their pay, or that they have the right to withhold pay from employees who would spend it on contraception.

    The other aspect to this issue is that these are male-run organizations that are effectively telling women that they shouldn’t have sex if they don’t intend to become pregnant. I suspect that access to contraception is almost a necessity for any society to have true social equality of the sexes.

  • onecor13_13

    But to require someone to pay for something that is against their personally held beliefs is wrong. The Catholic Church is NOT against health care, they are against paying for something that they believe is wrong. As a woman, and a student of history, I cannot believe that we as a country are pushing institutions to go against their religious beliefs.

  • onecor13_13

    And furthermore forcing them to pay for something that goes against their conscience.

  • onecor13_13

    Your statement that these are male-run organizations is a misunderstanding of the Church. The Catholic Church is filled with women who work within, in fact more so then any other denomination. I for one work in the Church, and am a woman highly educated who likes to use her brain for decision making. The Church has a deep and beautiful understanding of marriage and sex. It is not telling women to not have sex. And social equality cannot be meet when we insist on terminating large percentage of our population on a daily basis. You are mixing a couple different arguments though in your comment.
    This is about whether or not a religious institution has the right to run its organization by its own beliefs. This is effectively saying that contraception & sterilization are rights that are greater than religious liberty. I cannot believe this to be true, and it is not true.
    The government cannot force these institutions to pay for something, and yes they would have to pay for it in insurance coverage increases, that it is against morally and religiously and in conscience. (For the Church it is a matter of faith, the dignity of the human person, the dignity of woman, and natural law.)

  • Carstonio

    Benefits are another form of compensation, so there’s no practical distinction between refusing to provide coverage for contraception and trying to prevent employees from using their paychecks to purchase it. Whether or not employees have non-procreative sex is not the business of their employers. One’s conscience is limited to one’s behavior only and not the behavior of others.

  • Carstonio

    There’s no basis for deeming non-procreative sex to be objectively immoral. That’s because morality is about whether an action helps or harms others. Non-procreative sex would be immoral only if there was a massive crisis of infertility and the survival of the entire human race depended on every fertile person reproducing. Otherwise, the prevention of contraception is a private matter between couples and no one else should have an opinion about it.

  • Carstonio

    By “male-run organizations,” I mean that all Catholic organizations are under the Church’s all-male hierarchy. You might have a point if women were eligible to become priests and cardinals and popes.

    ‘And social equality cannot be meet when we insist on terminating large percentage of our population on a daily basis.” – You might have a point if we were talking about abortion. But we’re talking about non-procreative sex, which is entirely a private matter for individuals and couples. It’s not the place of Catholicism or any other organization or belief system to say that non-procreative sex is wrong for everyone. All the Church should say is that it’s against Catholic practice, meaning that you must not do it if you want to be a Catholic.