If you ever wondered just how ridiculous election year debates can get, look no further than the continued row over the President’s compromise on access to birth control. President Obama may have gone just too far this time, having been much too reasonable and understanding of the opposition. Last week, in the midst of shrill cries about religious liberty, the President announced that he would protect the health insurance reform that guarantees access to free birth control, but that out of concern over Catholic Church doctrine, insurance companies, not Church-affiliated employers, would pick up the tab.
And it’s not a bad tab to have to cover. It turns out that providing all the standard FDA approved contraceptive services generates no net cost to insurance plans. Prevention saves money. So forget the arguments that this is somehow an accounting gimmick – that the Pope and other opponents of women’s rights will actually end up paying for The Pill because of cost shifting. It’s simply not true.
And yet the religious right and some cynical Republicans want to continue to have this fight, hoping for an election year advantage by pitting the President against religion. Pending legislation in the House and Senate, and even some state legislatures, will move to allow ANY employer to shirk contraception coverage based on personal beliefs. In fact, to help gin up the cause for this, House Republicans actually held a hearing on this “attack on religious liberty” featuring a bunch of male clergy who happened to be in favor of restricting contraception, while not a single woman in favor of contraceptive access was allowed to speak.
Really? Do we want ANY single self-professed religious person defining for his employees what is and is not an allowable health care expenditure? Would these same bishops and rabbis be ok with their congregations working for a Jehova’s Witness who refused to cover blood transfusions in the company insurance? What if you work for a Christian Scientist? Shall it be permissible to deny health care coverage all together just because someone’s boss thinks she should be able to pray her illness away?
No, the fact is that religious liberty does not mean that we get to impose our beliefs on everyone else. In this society, in our Republic, we make democratic decisions about how to balance the public good against individual rights. As a result you can’t marry multiple wives, you pay taxes even though much of that money goes to funding wars and other objectionable projects, and, yes, employees of religious charities get their preventative care like everyone else.
In exchange, our society lets all religions worship as they want, teach their theology openly, even discriminate on hiring in certain contexts. But when the faithful leave their cleric to see a doctor, their treatment is up to them as individuals. A patient’s insurance coverage ought to reflect her needs, not the dogma of her faith community, or, least of all, the whims of her employer.