Recently, the Obama administration protected a provision in the federal health reform law that requires health plans to cover preventive services without out-of-pocket costs. Birth control is included as a preventative service, which means that soon, women will be able to get their contraception with no copays. Certain religious employers, such as houses of worship, where promoting a religious message is the primary mission, are exempted from this provision. Opponents of this measure put pressure on the administration to expand this exemption clause to other organizations, such as religiously-affiliated colleges and universities. However, the administration did not back down, and created a compromise that will allow a woman to access her birth control coverage directly from her insurance, rather than through her employer. This ensures that millions of women — college students, female employees, and daughters of employees at these institutions — will be ensured coverage.
However, the Obama administration has been taking heat lately for protecting this access to affordable birth control for millions of women. I support the administration’s decision. Every woman deserves access to birth control — regardless of where she or her parents work.
The policy that the administration has upheld strikes a respectful balance between religious interests and individual conscience and freedom. It already includes a strong exemption, allowing approximately 335,000 churches and houses of worship to exempt themselves from providing this benefit to their employees.
I do not believe that religiously affiliated hospitals and universities should be exempt. These institutions are businesses, operating in the business world — their employees should be able to access complete coverage, like employees at other businesses. In fact, lots of religiously affiliated hospitals already provide insurance coverage for birth control. Beyond that, many people of different faiths work at these hospitals, and are served by these hospitals. I do not want to see a nurse or a woman on the janitorial staff be denied this benefit, simply because she works for a religiously affiliated hospital.
That’s the amazing thing about this benefit; it will make birth control more accessible and more affordable. That means more women can plan their families, more women can have healthy pregnancies, and more women can have healthy children. President Obama understands that for me and millions of women, birth control is both a fundamental health care issue and a serious economic concern.
The Obama Administration’s plan to universalize the rights of all employees to obtain basic health coverage, which includes contraceptives, does not prohibit individuals from making personal moral choices based on their religious beliefs.
Separation of church and state is not a principle that can stand on its own. The separation principle in the Constitution has been used in the past to justify blatantly immoral behavior such as slavery and polygamy. Church run hospitals and schools are the recipients of public funding. Those receiving public funding are not permitted by law to discriminate in hiring based on religion. Neither should they be permitted to limit the insurance benefits those they hire are able to receive.
Reverend Lisa Caton