To the Editor:
The federal rule requiring that large employers cover contraceptive services prompted an outcry. Arguing in the name of religious liberty, religious leaders argued that the requirement violates their First Amendment rights. This argument is misguided for a number of reasons. Contraceptives play an important role in women’s health and religious liberty does not extend that far.
Religious liberty does not allow religious groups the freedom not to follow rules or laws that have compelling benefits to society. For example, religious liberty did not exempt religious groups from laws that ban the practice of polygamy (Reynolds v. US, 1878) and did not allow Native Americans who used peyote in religious ceremonies to be exempt from employment rules against drug use (Employment Division of Oregon v. Smith, 1990).
Conservatives argue that religious groups that object to contraceptives should not be required to pay for it. This argument is also misguided. We are all required to pay taxes and in turn inadvertently support policies we don’t agree with. Co-pays act as a deterrent for the insured – especially the low income. Inability to pay for contraceptives could result in a range of detrimental health consequences and choices that are more objectionable than contraceptives.
The Obama administration compromised when the first version of the rule caused controversy. The new version requires that insurers not charge more for plans that cover contraceptives, to avoid requiring direct payment by a religious institution of coverage they find objectionable. While this was welcomed by the insurance industry, it was called an "accounting gimmick" by those who continue to rally against required contraceptive coverage. Religious leaders are still free to preach against contraceptive use. Since insurers and doctors are providing the service, not religious leaders, there is no interference with religious liberty. Religious women are also free to refuse the service for any reason. However, since large employers employ women from a range of faiths contraceptives should be a covered benefit.
Title VI of the Civil Rights Act prohibits sex discrimination. Since contraceptives are exclusive to women it is inarguable that this is a women’s issue. To prevent these medicines from being as readily available as any man’s medicine violates our nation’s anti discrimination laws.
Conservatives who opposed Obama’s Affordable Health Care for America Act are taking another shot at the health care law by jumping on this bandwagon. They should be careful though. It has been well cited that contraceptives are used by the mainstream. Should they continue to fight this battle it may backfire in November.