To those who are currently spouting outrageous remarks indicating the decision that all health plans should cover basic contraception services is anti-constitutional and impinges freedom of religion, I would like to offer a response based in fact, logic, and reality.
The True Purpose of the First Amendment
In addition to specifying the powers and structure of the government, the U.S. Constitution discusses how these powers should be limited to protect individual rights and liberties. The founders were particularly sensitive to religious persecution having emigrated from England at a time that this was problematic. They wanted to protect against the government imposing a particular religion or banning the development or practice of new faiths. This was an important part of the First Amendment along with freedom of speech. Again, the goal was to protect individual rights to religion and speech, not the rights of organized religion or other groups.
Requiring employers (Catholic or otherwise) to ensure that basic women’s health care including contraceptive services are a part of their health insurance coverage in no way prevents people from being Catholic or worshiping as a Catholic and, therefore, does not violate freedom of religion as described in the First Amendment. Catholic women who do not wish to pursue contraceptive services are not required to do so. To hear some conservative politicians talk you would think the current administration is outlawing Catholicism and force feeding birth control pills to Catholic women who object to family planning. Obviously, nothing could be further from the truth.
Imposing Their Beliefs on You
It is also completely reasonable to expect any person or organization who chooses to be an employer to provide a benefits package that is respectful of the wide range of religious traditions of their employees. Imagine if a Christian Science affiliated organization took the position that employee health plans would consist of church leaders praying for you to get well and resisting providing actual health coverage because of their religious belief that you should rely on prayer for healing. Although most people would argue for an individual’s right to take that position in their own lives, virtually no one would want another individual’s religious framework imposed upon them in this way. Similarly, non-Catholic employees or Catholic employees who embrace contraception should not have their personal freedom to basic health care squelched because of a dogma that they do not personally believe.
Protecting Individual Freedom
We must strive to protect individual freedom not the preferences or practices of a particular religious tradition. If anything is a potential violation of freedom and liberty, it is to allow the Catholic church to attempt to deny health coverage for those women who want or need contraceptive services because some hospitals or universities are Catholic-affiliated. Some might retort – “Well if they want it they can pay for it themselves. They still have the freedom to buy it.” But, quite frankly, some individuals do not have the money to pay for these services at out-of-pocket rates. It would be analogous to saying that we all have the freedom to buy a mansion in the Hollywood Hills or to buy a yacht. If the price tag is too high for you, it doesn’t matter if it is available. Freedom without appropriate resources leaves you right back where you started.
Desperation and Hypocrisy
I guess desperate times call for desperate measures. Given that too many good things have happened under the current administration (Bin Laden is dead, we ended the war in Iraq, job growth continues to climb, and unemployment is still falling), the opposition is grasping at straws trying to make an issue out of something….anything. Trying to promote this “war on religion” agenda is a loser. There is no war on religion here. Siding with a bunch of obstinate Catholic Bishops about a 21st century reality like birth control just leaves millions of American women wondering why conservative leaders care more about a handful of elderly, dogmatic men than about their health needs. It also leaves me wondering why some politicians who represent the party that talks so much about individual freedom and liberty are quite ready and willing to take our freedom away when it suits them. Their thinking seems to be – government should stay out of people’s lives…. unless they are imposing something I agree with in which case we should do everything possible to force people to conform to the “right” values and behavior. This is the height of hypocrisy and those who think in this way have no place in our country’s leadership.