Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Violation of Religious Freedom or a Prevention of Religious Domination? - part three, Engaging A Catholic Argument

This is the last installment in this series of posts.  This issue has obviously interested me greatly, as I can understand why it appears, on the surface, to be a question of religious liberty.  But I do not think this is the case.  No individual is being required to take birth control, and no doctor is being required to prescribe it.  However under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance policies will be required to provide birth control free of charge (though, of course, people still pay for insurance policies).

Here is an argument against the Obama administration’s position.  I took it from a Facebook page called “Stand With the US Bishops Against The HHS”.
“ make the case that the state can force the Church to pay for contraception for employees requires at least three premises to be true: 1) that all people have a right to contraception under natural law, 2) that all people have a right to receive that contraception free of charge, and 3) that employers have the duty to pay for the contraception.  The 1st premise is false because contraception violates nature by ceasing or altering natural bodily functions. The 2nd premise is false because no one can say that his rights must be secured by another. The 3rd premise is false because employers provide health care as a matter of convention and a part of wages, but it could also be that an employer pays enough for an employee to acquire independent insurance. Further, the 3rd premise is false because while employers do have an interest in the health of employees, they have no interest in the sex lives of employees, and contraception, which is a violation of the body's health, is about sex, not healthcare.”
Here are a few brief criticisms.
One:  If access to contraception is considered an essential part of a woman’s health care, then can we argue that a person has the right to it?   This seems to be the case, as the criticism of the premise offered is one that debates the validity of birth control as an aspect of health care.  They argue against this because the pill “violates altering bodily functions”.  

Death is a part of nature. Our bodies are programed to self-destruct over time. Is it wrong to “alter” this bodily function when you have the chance?  

Perhaps a better example is pain.  For instance, a woman’s body is designed to feel pain during childbirth.  Is altering this bodily function OK?
So health care is not about what one considers natural per se.  It is about promoting health and well-being.  When a woman is able to have an intimate relationship, setting the stage for the possibility of a family, but can also have access to education and career opportunities by delaying child-bearing, then this contributes to her well-being.  When she can wait to have children until she is financially ready, then this contributes greatly to her and her child’s well-being.  When a woman can choose to have a relationship but not to have children, then her freedom and well-being (and that of her partner) is enhanced. The list goes on and on.  When considering the status of women in less developed countries, access to birth control becomes an even more dire issue.
Two:  The individual mandate enacted by the Affordable Care Act supports the idea that all people must contribute to paying for their own health care.    Participants in health insurance are paying for their insurance policies.  Obviously these policies must offer  coverage for prescriptions that promote well-being.  Whether the policy covers a portion of birth control costs or all of it, the policy would still be paying for birth control.  So this criticism seems irrelevant to me.

Three: Here is where they may have a good argument.  I don’t think that employers should have to provide health coverage to employees.  I think it is a bad way to facilitate the coverage required by the individual mandate.  But this is how things are set up, so until (and if) it is fixed, health coverage must include birth control.
Here is an argument in support the administration’s position:
One:  All people have the right to life, which includes health care.
Two:  The government has decided that all people must contribute to the practice and the preservation of this universal right by taking responsibility for their own health insurance.  This is called the individual mandate.
Three:  The government must therefore decide what constitutes adequate insurance coverage to satisfy this individual mandate.
Four:  Access to birth control is recognized by the government, the public and the medical community as being an essential part of a woman’s health and well-being.
Five:  The government must therefore require insurance policies to cover birth control.

My conclusion is that most of the arguments about this controversy can be reduced to arguments about whether birth control is really health care, whether the invidual mandate is a good idea, and whether the individual mandate should be satisfied through employers.   Arguments about religious liberty are off point.

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