Sunday, August 31, 2014

The Contraceptives Controversy

Reader: if you are a practicing Catholic who believes the Pope has a right to define women’s sexual behavior, please do not read this essay; it will only piss you off.

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Have you caught the spat about contraceptives between the Obama administration and the Catholic Church?  Church doctrine forbids contraception and the Church objects to the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”) providing information about and access to and coverage for contraceptives to its faithful.  Newt Gingrich – a third wife convert to Catholicism – called it the biggest assault on freedom of religion since … well I am not sure, maybe since Martin Luther hammered his 95 Theses to the door of his church.  Rick Santorum, a one wife Catholic, has said equally nasty things about it too.  The Obama administration, as its first response, offered to allow the church, as an employer providing health insurance to its employees, not to have to pay for that part of the insurance package; but the insurance company would still have to provide contraceptive services to the church’s employees and insurance policy holders.  I suspect that will not satisfy everyone as the church may want to deny its members information and access to contraceptives (despite the fact that many of them already use contraceptives, doctrine be damned).  So, for Gingrich, Santorum and others, freedom of religion in the USA seems to mean the right of the Catholic Church (the employer) to deny freedom of choice to individuals who work for them (employees).  Ironic.

So, putting temporarily aside the argument that contraception aids should not be covered at all by a comprehensive health care insurance policy (and I believe that a good case could be made to that effect), if religious freedom is the real issue here, we ought to consider whose religious freedom is being attacked, because Gingrich and Santorum, and maybe even President Obama, seem content to fight for the religious freedom of employers, all the while denying the same religious freedom to their employees, who may or may not have the same religious scruples as their employers.  And what if the Catholic employer decides that it will handle this issue by not paying for any health insurance as a benefit of employment; will it elect to redistribute the monies it saves to its employees?  Maybe not.

If the Church has its way and wins the right to deny this coverage to its employees (some of whom are not even Catholic), then I can foresee the possibility of some employee suing her health insurance company and perhaps the Obama administration for denying her contraceptive coverage just like everyone else.  I think she would have a good case.  I can also foresee other religious employers being upset over the favorable treatment being afforded the Catholic Church.  I think they would have a good case.

Notwithstanding these easily imagined possibilities, I can foresee the further possibilities of various churches demanding that their version of Obamacare not cover HIV/AIDS, as their religious doctrine forbids “sodomy.”  I can see the possibility of some employers demanding that pregnancy costs for unwed mothers not be covered because … well, they have religious scruples.  I can see the possibility of religious faith-healing employers demanding that they be exempted from providing health insurance altogether as they do not believe in medical science.  Shouldn’t Quakers have the right not to pay taxes for wars?  Shouldn’t Grover Norquist have the right not to pay any taxes at all as he doesn’t believe in them?

Ah, this spat opens up all manner of controversy.  There’s no end to the possibilities.  And, yes, the recent Hobby Lobby decision just adds more fuel to this fire that seems intent to consume more than anyone ever imagined.