A reluctant opinion on contraception and religious institutions

I’m somewhat reluctant* to weigh in on this subject, and much has been said about the refusal of Health and Human Services to broaden the religious exemption (specifically on contraception) to include certain faith-based organizations. Sarah Kliff has an excellent FAQ here, but the basic gist is this:

The health reform law requires that insurance companies cover preventive services for women without any co-pay beginning this summer. It did not, however, specify what services to cover — that was left to the Obama administration. With guidance from the Institute of Medicine on the issue, Health and Human Services published a regulation on Aug. 1, 2011 that included birth control as part of the preventive package. That regulation also had a conscience clause, which allows religious employers who object to birth control — and also primarily employ those of their own religion — to be exempt from the requirement. That would allow churches to opt out of the new requirement.

So if you are a church or faith-based organization that primarily employs like-faithed individuals then you are exempt. If, on the other hand, you are a faith-based hospital or university that mainly employs people of all faiths then you are not exempt from the requirement.

Like Jonathan Cohn, I have genuinely mixed feelings about this ruling. I understand that reasonable people can disagree on this for reasonable reasons. Yet for the Obama administration it seems like a political win that has policy justifications behind it – I find the political part distasteful. Obviously this appeals to a segment of women, who tend to be politically active, that are very supportive of female reproductive health issues. Those who are really (and I mean, really) upset about this were probably not politically supportive of the administration’s efforts in the first place.

However, from a public policy perspective, this strikes me as a no-brainer. Employer-provided insurance is essentially a form of compensation, whereby part of your wage is diverted to pay for health insurance. Employers who are big enough offer this form of compensation because employees demand it, and they do not have to pay taxes on the portion of wages they uses to provide insurance. The point I’m trying to make is that I see no compelling policy reason to exclude Catholic institutions that don’t meet the existing conditions for exemption. They may be faith-based, but they 1 – provide a public good, 2 – take tax-payer money to do it, 3 – employ secular and non-Catholic people to provide the service. Furthermore, they do not restrict the way in which employees choose to utilize their non-insurance compensation, therefore I fail to see why this particular benefit that employees would choose to allocate their wages towards should be different. At some point there is a line between faith-based organizations that use public money from a secular institution and the accommodations of the first amendment to the Constitution. For these organizations that is an awfully blurry line.

* My reluctance stems from wading into something I can generally respect both sides on, and specifically concerns religion. Generally speaking, I don’t feel comfortable opining authoritatively on the role of religion and it’s interactions with government. Though the subject does interest me, it’s not something I’ve spent a lot of time on. Thus, I hesitate to inject an opinion where I may do a deserve to either side of the issue.


3 responses to “A reluctant opinion on contraception and religious institutions

  1. Pingback: More on faith and the pill | Punditocracy·

  2. Pingback: No longer reluctant on the church vs contraception brawl | Punditocracy·

  3. Pingback: Return to sender | Punditocracy·

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