Monday, January 23, 2012

Contraception and religious freedom

In what seems like a surprising move given some of Obama's disappointments, his administration did something good in having preventative care fully covered under the ACA:

To recap: the Affordable Care Act requires that “preventative care” be fully covered, with no co-pay, under new insurance plans, and the Department of Health and Human Services accepted recommendations that put all forms of contraception in that category. If you care about lowering the rate of unintended pregnancies, making birth control affordable and accessible should be one of your major goals, right? Wrong. Catholic and other antiabortion organizations immediately raised a stink, demanding a broader opt-out from the new regulations, since they wouldn’t qualify under the limited “religious organization” exemption. In other words, they wanted to deny birth control coverage to the women and men who work for Catholic hospitals or universities, regardless of their personal views on contraception.

Credit to them for doing this because it is a touchy political issue. They could have easily done what they have on other issues and cave so as to avoid controversy. Nevertheless, they opened themselves up to arguments like this:

This started with a decision by the Obama administration last summer listing the “preventive” services that must be covered by health plans under Obamacare without charge to patients, and the list included contraception.

This is another assault on the Constitution and the First Amendment’s guarantee of religious liberty. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) called the federal regulation an “unprecedented threat to individual and institutional religious freedom.” ...

The Catholic Church historically has been a vital part of the safety net — providing aid for the poor, care for the sick, shelter and food for the homeless, and care for mothers in need, as a few examples.

The health-care law threatens to tear gaping holes in that safety net by forcing Catholic health plans to cover contraception, by denying funds to Catholic adoption agencies, and ultimately by forcing taxpayers — including Catholics — to fund abortion.

I'm not sure why preventative is in quotes. That's weird. Anyway. Basically, the argument is that the exemption is too narrow for some religious organizations to meet. That's fair enough I guess. I would certainly dispute what merits the label of religious organization and therefore what kind of protections or privileges it should get. For instance, the "Methodist" hospital my mom works at is not a religious organization equal to an actual Methodist church. And I think that is why the Obama administration decided. But what I find more interesting is the argument that a belief against using contraception is a religious or faith based belief that should be protected against the interest of the gov't in this case.

The gov't interest is what the first article says; lowering the rate of unintended pregnancies by making birth control affordable and accessible. And I would add that it's about people's health in general. Having sex and giving birth are risky things. Contraception allows people to control when they choose to enter into those risky situation. So I think any court would say that the gov't has a legitimate interest in providing these services. But why is the belief that contraception is wrong a religious belief, and should it be protected under the 1st amendment?

One of the things I think the catholic church would argue is that contraception is not natural, thus it is not moral. That contraception isn't natural is true. But just because something isn't natural doesn't mean it is morally bad. Driving a car isn't natural. God clearly intended for us to walk to places. Yet I don't think the church has a problem with cars, nor do I see them lobbying as hard against pollution that unnatural cars cause as they do against contraception. So I don't see how the "natural" argument has any legs as a legit argument.

Believing that there is a god that created everything is a religious belief. Believing that Jesus, Moses, or Muhammad are prophets sent by god to help save us is as well. So is believing that Jesus walked on water or Moses walked across the middle of the Red Sea. But what does your stance on whether a person should use contraception have to do with any of that? Basically what I'm asking is, what is a religious belief?

Would it constitute a religious belief to state that it's my religious belief that women who aren't 100% sure they want a child should use contraception? Or what if I said that it's my religious belief that Duke is the most sacred of all basketball institutions and Maryland is the embodiment of evil? What is the difference in those two "beliefs"? The catholic church would probably say that the issue of contraception is a moral one, since they believe some or another about what constitutes life. But hey, I would respond. Why isn't my belief in Duke's inherent goodness over Maryland's a moral one as well? I can make any belief a moral one if you give me enough room. So I think you have to go beyond it being a moral issue to meet the standard of a religious belief, and thus be protected by the religious clauses of the 1st amendment.

Back to the current issue, what if the catholic church all of the sudden reversed itself and said it's not it's belief that it should support the poor? Let's say they started to believe that being poor was a purely individual choice that only reflected individual weakness and they didn't want to perpetuate dependency on others by helping people who chose not to help themselves. Would religious organizations such as the religiously affiliated hospitals in question in that second article then be exempt from treating people who don't have insurance? Would the gov't requirement that all hospitals have to treat emergencies then become unconstitutional on the same grounds that the second article argues the contraceptive requirement is?

I think it would using their argument. But what I have been trying to get across is that their claim of religious freedom infringement hinges on a belief that is not strictly a religious belief. At what point is a belief protected under freedom of religion? I think a church's view on contraception really blurs that line and calls into question what is protected under the 1st amendment.

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