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Matters of the Womb: Birth Control Coverage and the Catholic Faith

 

Matters of the womb have sparked a recent national conversation about the necessity of HPV vaccines, sanity of TLC serial breeders and never-ending abortion controversy. The U.S. Health and Human Services Department (HHS) recent decision to uphold the Affordable Care Act mandate requiring religious organizations to provide employees insurance coverage for FDA-approved contraceptives highlights the women’s rights and healthcare public discourse. The decision ignited uproar from Catholic leaders, like Atlanta Archbishop Wilton Gregory who complain the mandate violates religious freedom as guaranteed in the First Amendment.

Although churches, defined as “religious employers” by the mandate are exempt, religiously-affiliated hospitals are not — as it should be. The Affordable Care Act amendment  classifies an organization as a religious employer when:

  • The inculcation of religious values is the purpose of the organization.
  • The organization primarily employs persons who share the religious tenets of the organization.
  •  The organization serves primarily persons who share the religious tenets of the organization.
  • The organization is a nonprofit organization

Catholic-affiliated hospitals serve the primary purpose as a healthcare provider care, not as a proselytizing entity that saves diligent followers. Catholic leaders claim otherwise and demand hospitals, schools and charities affiliated with “the church” made eligible for exemption.  The HHS has given such entities one additional year to comply.

Saint Joseph’s Hospital of Atlanta, represents one of the many Catholic affiliated hospitals affected by the law. As outlined in its Patients Rights, the hospital must provide patients: care regardless of  “creed”, respect of  “spiritual and personal beliefs” and “support to practice their particular faith.” By inclusion of these rights, it is evident that the hospital doesn’t serve primarily people of its own faith nor press its values upon those it serves.

The allegation that the federal law’s secular intentions are an intrusion upon religiously-affiliated organizations is unfounded. The free exercise clause of the First Amendment states “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” According to the LA Times, the 2004 Catholic Charities vs Superior Court ruling established a precedent by ruling in favor of medical coverage being provided by religiously-affiliated organizations. Judges referred to the “Lemon Test” derived from Lemon v Kutzman (1971), which was created to insure prevention of government meddling in religious affairs.

  • The government’s action must have a secular legislative purpose
  •  The government’s action must not have the primary effect of either advancing or inhibiting religion;
  • The government’s action must not result in an “excessive government entanglement” with religion.

Because the government has a compelling interest to ensure equitable healthcare options for women and isn’t primarily inhibiting upon the religious rights of said organizations, the mandate is constitutional.

If Catholic leaders desire no interference by the government in private affairs, then they can commence initiating a forfeiture of government benefits. Benefits that include tax exemptions, federal and state grants, and  Medicare/Medicaid reimbursements given to the hospitals of the Catholic Health East (CHE) like Saint Joseph’s, as outlined in its 2010 audited financial statement. Taking advantage of benefits is optional as well as providing health insurance.

There is no active federal or state law that requires an employer to provide employees with insurance. Insurance is merely a nice recruiting perk employers use to maintain market competitiveness. Increased compensation for healthcare staff as a substitute for insurance is a viable alternative that would empower the employees to make the decision whether or not to purchase insurance coverage of birth control.

At stake is not religious suppression, but rather gender equitability. The 2010 act marked the arrival of universal healthcare in the U.S and more equitable, affordable healthcare options for women. For years, men enjoyed insurance coverage without co-pay for prescription drugs, like Viagra. As listed on the HHS website, the act entitles women to co-pay free birth control and preventative care services including: STI counseling, cancer screening and gestational diabetes testing. As HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius stated earlier this month, these provisions of the act are endorsed by the scientific community and believed to reduce healthcare costs while improve the health of women.

Although the Catholic church repeatedly stands against birth control, it has fudged its own rules prohibiting the use contraceptions. In Directive 36, an ethics document uploaded by  CHE, contraception is allowed in emergency cases like rape. Saint Joseph’s Traditional Research Institute even participates in adult stem cell biology research.

Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan of New York, the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops told the New York Times, “… we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences.” The Catholic church already has.

 

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image by: Simon Jenkins