By Robert Schlesinger |
The Obama administration's decision to require employers—including religiously affiliated institutions that employ people of all beliefs—to provide insurance coverage for contraception was correct; neither the administration nor Congress should alter this stance—not if they care about fairness, women's health, or discrimination. According to the nonpartisan Guttmacher Institute, 98 percent of American women use contraception at some point in their lives, including Roman Catholic women. Clearly, contraception is a key component of basic healthcare for women of all faiths.
The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, the lobbying arm of the Catholic church, does not speak for the Catholics in the pews. Polls show that the majority of Americans, including Catholics, support the Obama administration's stance. For the bishops to claim a right to use their religious beliefs to discriminate against millions of women is against American values.
Let's be very clear. This is a public healthcare issue. This is not a religious liberty issue. No one is requiring any faith to stop preaching that contraception is sinful, if that's what its followers believe. No one is forcing anyone to buy contraception. And the church itself is exempt, as is any religious entity like a temple or mosque that exists primarily for the purpose of advancing the faith and serves and hires primarily people of the faith.
However, religiously affiliated institutions like hospitals and universities that serve and employ people of all beliefs must play by the same rules as any other employer that operates in the public. Catholic hospitals alone employ almost 800,000 people. No one would seriously suggest that these people, along with teachers, custodians, and administrative staff at religiously affiliated universities and other organizations, have signed up to join the church simply because they've taken a job.
This is not a new idea. Twenty-eight states already require employers, including faith-based institutions, to provide contraception coverage, to no perceivable harm to religious liberty. Courts in New York and California have already ruled that such requirements do not violate religious liberty. The bishops are in no place to cry foul.
Religious freedom means allowing everyone to make their own decisions, including the deeply personal decision of whether and when to start a family. It does not give religious groups the right to make these decisions harder by imposing their beliefs on others by denying access to vital services.
About Louise Melling Deputy Legal Director for the American Civil Liberties Union
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