Christian Leader: Government Exemption from Contraceptive Coverage is Still Persecution

The Affordable Care Act requires employers to, in general, include contraceptive coverage in their healthcare plans. Exemptions for religious organizations exist, though, just as they do for for-profit employers who personally oppose women’s reproductive care access on religious grounds. (Thanks, Hobby Lobby.)

Those exemptions are easy to request, too: All you have to do is fill out a short form, indicating your intent to take advantage of the exemption, and file it.

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But to the conservative “religious freedom” crowd, that’s a burden too big. It’s an assault on religious freedom to put pen to paper. This is the basis of the lawsuit currently being considered by the Supreme Court, filed by the Little Sisters of the Poor.

Their belief is that the form essentially allows employees to get birth control coverage elsewhere, making them “complicit” in that access. In other words, it’s not enough to get out of covering birth control themselves; they want to prevent employees from qualifying for coverage at all.

When you listen to the rhetoric of Christian conservatives, however, it’s apparent that filling out a form isn’t the real issue here. This is about jackbooted government thugs forcing nuns to hand out birth control like candy at Halloween and, my God, are we going to stand for that?!

Consider, for instance, the opinion piece in The Hill, written by Russell Moore. Moore is president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention and serves on the board of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty which represents the Little Sisters along with several Baptist ministries in this case.

Before the Court, our federal government will argue that it can force religious ministries to help provide things the government itself can and does provide. The “things” in question are abortion-inducing drugs and other contraceptives. And the religious ministries sincerely believe that they cannot do what the government demands. Some of these ministries are, like me, Baptist. Others, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor are Catholic. This really shouldn’t be an argument.

On that last part, I at least can agree: there should be no argument here. There is a complete exemption for religious groups that in no way forces them to “help provide things.” Any things. A simple acknowledgement that they intend to take advantage of the religious exemption is all that’s needed and voila: they’re off the hook.

But if you examine the way Moore describes this accommodation, you’ll notice that he’s remarkably light on the details.

After all, whatever our disagreements in America, most of us agree that the government shouldn’t force our fellow Americans to violate their deepest religious convictions for no reason at all. Now, we all agree there are sometimes going to be some hard calls — where the government has a very good reason to override religious conscience and where there’s no other real alternative. This is not one of those cases.

The government isn’t really arguing that it has no other choice. The government instead is arguing that the ministries misunderstand their own faith; that they can participate in its complicated contraceptive delivery scheme without disobeying God. Setting aside the un-American idea of government officials instructing citizens on what God wants, this argument is insane. Is the government really more Catholic than nuns? Is the government more Baptist than the churches and theologians telling them we can’t in good conscience follow their so-called accommodation?

Again, there’s no detail in there at all. Literally none. He refers to the exemption as a “so-called accommodation,” but that’s it. There’s no mention that the accommodation is nothing more than telling the government that you’re going to take advantage of the accommodation. At no point are nuns providing birth control, not are they in the direct line between employees and their doctors. The objection amounts to the fact that, if the nuns won’t provide contraception coverage, the government will. And some religious groups simply want to control the reproductive health of all women.

In another one of his duplicitous efforts in framing the issue, Moore suggests that the government is persecuting the nuns when they could instead just select the “win-win” solution in which employees can personally purchase other health plans on the state exchanges. So instead of utilizing employer-covered health benefits, employees could instead purchase (presumably out-of-pocket) one of the plans that “already comes with the drugs that the government insists the ministries provide.”

Aside from the obvious lie — the government is not insisting ministries provide these drugs, but rather exempting them from doing so — this is an entirely new and absurd hurdle for women to overcome in order to get contraceptive coverage. They shouldn’t have to forego employer insurance benefits altogether if they want access to contraception. In fact, that requirement, depending on the woman’s location and income range, may prove prohibitive to that coverage. In short, it’s no more a solution than paying for contraceptives out of pocket — bringing us right back to the original problem.

No matter how discriminatory they may be, conservative Christian religious beliefs about women’s healthcare are already shown an extraordinary degree of deference, both in public discourse and in the law. But, as we see, not even full exemptions are good enough if they still don’t offer some hurdle to make it as difficult as possible for women to gain access to reproductive healthcare options.

Moore and his colleagues already have the ability to say “No, I’m not going to follow that legal provision because I’m a Christian.” The government has made that a possible option. And yet these Christians want even more power. They’re not looking for “freedom.” They just want the ability to suppress others from having any of their own.

(Image via Shutterstock)

About Rachel Ford

Rachel Ford is a programmer, and since 8:00 to 5:00 doesn't provide enough opportunity to bask in screen glare, she writes in her spare time. She was raised a very fundamentalist Christian, but eventually "saw the light." Rachel's personal blog is Rachel's Hobbit Hole, where she discusses everything from Tolkien to state politics.


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