Contraception, Co-Pays, and the Church

The Obama administration took some hits last week after it announced that employers with religious affiliations would not be exempt from the Affordable Care Act's mandate to cover preventive services without a co-pay—including contraception. At The Washington Post, E.J. Dionne* was quite peeved at the administration's insensitivity to the Catholic Church. Yesterday, the White House set up a news media conference call with senior administration officials to go over the decision's basic talking points. When I asked for a link, they pointed me to the following White House blog post, written by Cecilia Muñoz. Let me excerpt the bullet points, which are essentially what was covered in the call:

  • Churches are exempt from the new rules: Churches and other houses of worship will be exempt from the requirement to offer insurance that covers contraception.
  • No individual health-care provider will be forced to prescribe contraception: ... For example, no Catholic doctor is forced to write a prescription for contraception. 
  • No individual will be forced to buy or use contraception....
  • Drugs that cause abortion are not covered by this policy....
  • Over half of Americans already live in the 28 States that require insurance companies cover contraception: Several of these States like North Carolina, New York, and California have identical religious employer exemptions.  Some States like Colorado, Georgia and Wisconsin have no exemption at all....

Here's what's key: If you're a choir director or religious school teacher, the church that employs you doesn't have to cover contraception. But if you're a janitor, nurse, cafeteria worker, security guard, administrative assistant, doctor, professor, or some other employee of a hospital or university or adoption agency owned by the Catholic Church, contraception has to be covered by your insurance. Period. 

Really, I don't get what's so controversial about it. If the Catholic Church wants to own institutions that are not primarily religious, then respect their employees' rights and freedoms. No Catholic doctor has to prescribe contraception. No Catholic university has to teach that it's OK. But Boston College, Notre Dame, and St. Elizabeth's Hospital (pick a city, any city)—unlike, say, Bob Jones University—regularly employ and serve large numbers of non-believers.

If they only hired Catholics or only served Catholics, that would be different. But they don't.

One Catholic spokesperson said that expecting a Catholic institution's health insurance to cover contraception was like expecting pork at a Jewish barbecue. But that's not quite right. It's more like expecting that the pay that you get by working at Yeshiva University can be used to buy pork, if you want. Which it can. 

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*On the "E.J." question, which I know has been preoccupying you: Had I known, when I was 16, that I would grow up to be a left-leaning public opiner in a world that already had a famous left-leaning opiner named "E.J.," I might have chosen a different name for my brand-new college-age self. But yes, this is really what everyone calls me. Ah, the advantages of hindsight!

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