Conscience Exemptions

Today the US House of Representatives Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health had a hearing on whether the requirement that all insurance policies must cover birth control without a co-pay violates the conscience rights of people who do not believe in contraception. The main opponents to this requirement are clergy of the Catholic Church who argue that Catholic hospitals and universities should not have to use policies that cover contraception because the Catholic dogma says that contraception is wrong. Though they are the most vocal opponents many other extreme conservatives also oppose the requirement. While this argument may be valid in that the Vatican does in fact say that using contraception is immoral; the argument has some major flaws.

The first is that most of the people employed by Catholic hospitals and universities are not actually Catholic. This means that the people using the insurance policies provided by these institutions are not actual participants of the religion that bans contraception. While Vatican and other heads of religions that oppose the use of contraceptives can say “contraception is immoral, don’t use it” they cannot expect to force this opinion on other people simply because they happen to work for an institution that is run by a religious group. Certainly the argument can be made that if people want contraceptives to be included in their work sponsored insurance policy then they can choose to get a job somewhere that is not a religion sponsored institution; but given the fact that the majority of people who ALREADY work at these places are not Catholic it seems like a moot point. Unless people making this argument think that the current economy would allow for these employees to easily find new jobs.

A second flaw is that in spite of the Vatican’s official position on birth control 98% of Catholic women have or will have used contraception at some point in their lives. 70% of them will use sterilization, the pill or an IUD which are all methods condemned by the Vatican but covered by this new requirement. So if the participants of the religion would benefit from the coverage the arguing against it on their behalf makes no sense. It is true that the religious leaders may not agree with the use of contraception, but that clearly isn’t stopping the women who practice Catholicism. These numbers stay relatively the same across other religions so allowing a religious exemption makes no sense regardless of the religion of the people participating in the policy.

Finally, and perhaps most importantly, is that the U.S. is not a theocracy. The religious beliefs of some citizens should not dictate the laws that govern the rest of the population. Maybe, though I don’t think so, it is unfair to make religious groups provide contraceptives in their insurance policies; but it is even more unfair to deny that coverage to working families.

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