Contraception should not be treated as issue of religious liberty


The Obama administration’s move to require religious institutions to include contraception in their health coverage plans has predictably been met with a lot of controversy. Catholic bishops and Orthodox rabbis have been testifying before Congress claiming that their religious freedoms are being violated.

By trying to fight back with the First Amendment, the religious wing is missing the point of religious freedom.

For one, this issue only became controversial in the first place because contraception seems trivial in the range of health issues. I very much doubt we’d even think twice about employers’ religious freedom if there were a more serious health issue at hand.

For example, how many of us would support the right of a Jehovah’s Witness organization to refuse to cover blood transfusions on their own religious grounds? It’s the same principle, but the Jehovah’s Witness case seems a lot less justifiable when someone’s life could be on the line.

If we can require Jehovah’s Witnesses to cover blood transfusions, why couldn’t we require Catholics to cover birth control?

Maybe we could say that the former case would violate someone’s right to life, a right more important than the Jehovah’s Witnesses’ religious protection, while lacking birth control wouldn’t violate anyone’s medical rights at all.

Birth control is hardly trivial, though, since it has other uses in addition to preventing pregnancies. It can also be used to prevent ovarian cysts or regulate a relatively severe menstrual cycle. The stigma linking birth control to sex, or worse, promiscuity, often overrides its other, more serious medical purposes in the public mindset.

Even if birth control were only used for preventing pregnancy, the Catholic Church still doesn’t have any grounds for refusing to cover it in health plans. If a person’s religious beliefs prevent him from using contraception, he is free to do so in his personal life, but that doesn’t give him the right to extend the same restriction to anyone else, especially to people with different religious beliefs.

If Catholics were forced by the government to use birth control, they would have a legitimate case of religious freedoms being breached, but they’re not forced to use it. They’re only being forced to cover it on health plans if others with different religious beliefs choose to use birth control.

If Catholic employers can deny their employees birth control coverage, people of other faiths (and even moderate and liberal Catholics who reject Humanae Vitae) are subject to a custom from conservative Catholic doctrine, and therein lies the real conflict. The Obama administration’s proposal isn’t meant to curb employers’ religious rights; it’s meant to protect employees’ medical rights.

If you were a Christian working for a Jewish employer and the company health plan only covered Kosher medication, wouldn’t you feel discriminated against if your employer refused to pay for your non-kosher insulin injections or dental implants? The kosher restrictions aren’t part of your own religious system, so why should you have to abide them? Because the employer with the purse strings says so?

If certain medications and procedures do have religious conflicts, the decision as to whether religious beliefs permit it should be up to the individual receiving treatment, not to the one who has to pay for it. Someone else’s conscience doesn’t have the right to govern your body. Freedom of religion doesn’t give you carte blanche to make religious rules that others have to follow. It prevents others from making religious rules that you have to follow.

The Catholic establishment is acting as though the Obama administration has declared war on Catholicism by making them cater to other religious beliefs, which makes me think they’ve lost sight of what discrimination would really look like.

Christianity has had a strong majority foothold in America for hundreds of years, and at times, this has helped Christianity and Christian institutions through a bit of legal favoritism. Christians often feel as though they’re under attack from the government when they lose that benefit. This isn’t an example of a religion being degraded from equal treatment down to government discrimination; it’s going from favoritism down to equal treatment.