By Teresa Welsh |
Yes, Catholic hospitals and other religious institutions should be required to cover birth control for their employees. Millions of women are employed by or attend school at religious institutions in this country, and to exempt these institutions would leave these women without coverage for a basic preventive health service that can cost $600 a year.
Family planning results in better health outcomes for women and their children—a woman who has a planned pregnancy is more likely to be in better health when she gets pregnant and more likely to seek prenatal care, and children who are born at least two years apart are healthier. Family planning is also the most effective tool we have in reducing unintended pregnancy and the need for abortion.
Houses of worship are exempt under the Health and Human Services rule guaranteeing no-cost contraceptive coverage. But nonprofits, like hospitals, that serve the general public, employ people of all beliefs, and engage in secular, commercial activities must offer the same health benefits to their employees that any other business must provide. No right is absolute and this is a fair balancing of the competing interests at play.
Freedom of conscience is a bedrock American principle and religious exemptions can be a useful way to protect conscience, but they must be employed judiciously. Otherwise, issues of conscience become trivialized and turn into excuses for discrimination. If religious employers are allowed to object to contraceptive coverage now, will they one day be able to opt out of covering HIV services, HPV tests, blood transfusions, or end-of-life care? If we are not careful, claims of religious liberty could be exploited by religious organizations to justify noncompliance with laws they prefer to ignore.
The small minority in this country that opposes contraception is entitled to its opinion and is free to preach it as often as it wants. But this very dispute belies the fact that only a fraction of followers practices what is being preached. Only 2 percent of sexually active Catholic women have not used some form of modern birth control. Contraception opponents must not be allowed to resort to economic coercion where persuasion has failed.
The HHS rule rightly honors the conscience of women and gives them the freedom to decide whether using contraception is morally correct.
About Jessica Arons Director of the Women's Health and Rights Program at Center for American Progress
Hannah Smith Senior Counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty
Jeanne Monahan Director of the Center for Human Dignity at the Family Research Council
Nancy Keenan President of NARAL Pro-Choice America