Obama, Religious Institutions, and Birth Control

Obama, Religious Institutions, and Birth Control January 22, 2012

From Time.com by Rachel Zoll:

Workplace health plans will have to cover all forms of contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration, ranging from the pill to implantable devices to sterilization. Also covered is the morning-after pill, which can prevent pregnancy after unprotected sex and is considered as tantamount to an abortion drug by some religious conservatives.

At issue here is violation of the beliefs of religious organizations that think birth control wrong; entailed as well is that some forms of contraception, now required by law to be provided to employees, violate other moral beliefs.

Many church-affiliated institutions will have to cover free birth control for employees, the Obama administration announced Friday in an election-year move that outraged religious groups, fueling a national debate about the reach of government.

In a concession, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said nonprofit institutions such as church-affiliated hospitals, colleges and social service agencies will have one additional year to comply with the requirement, issued in regulations under President Barack Obama’s health care overhaul.

“I believe this proposal strikes the appropriate balance between respecting religious freedom and increasing access to important preventive services,” Sebelius said in a statement.

Yet the concession was unlikely to stop a determined effort by opponents to block or overturn the rule. If they fail, some predicted that religious employers would simply drop coverage for their workers, opting instead to pay fines to the federal government under the health care law.

“Never before has the federal government forced individuals and organizations to go out into the marketplace and buy a product that violates their conscience,” said New York Cardinal-designate Timothy Dolan, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops. “This shouldn’t happen in a land where free exercise of religion ranks first in the Bill of Rights.”…

The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a powerhouse law firm based in Washington that tackles religious freedom issues, predicted in a statement that religious groups “will never pay for abortion drugs in violation of their religious beliefs.” Many religious conservatives consider the morning-after birth control pill to be an abortion drug.

Liberals and women’s rights groups praised the decision, saying that women who work for religious employers should not have to accept a lower standard of health coverage….

At issue is a provision of the health care law that requires insurance plans to cover preventive care for women free of charge to the employee. Last year, an advisory panel from the respected Institute of Medicine recommended including birth control on the list, partly because it promotes maternal and child health by allowing women to space their pregnancies….

Although many of those employers had not traditionally covered birth control, the new regulation required them to do so. Catholic hospitals, which at a critical moment had defied the bishops to back Obama’s health care law in Congress, immediately sought a broader exemption. On Friday they were denied.

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  • The vast majority of health plans already cover birth control. Several states currently require it. While I get that Catholics do not officially support birth control, the vast majority of Catholics use it.

    I used to live in Chicago and the Chicago Public schools did not have insurance that covered birth control. Most people I know thought that it was because many women stopped working as teachers after they became pregnant and it kept their personel costs lower. (probably untrue). But it was only Illinois state law that required them to start providing it.

    I think that this is a bad fight. This assumes the employers as the purchaser of the insurance. But I think many people could consider themselves, not their employer as the actual person receiving the insurance. This seems to me again, the same fight of the church against health care for all.

  • scotmcknight

    Adam, thanks. The issue here is not whether or not ordinary Catholics use birth control, but it demands that Catholic institutions dispense something they are against.

  • Is the issue the dispensing or the paying for the insurance? Because the article seems to be all about the provision of health insurance, not the dispensing of contraceptives. And I think my point about what actual Catholics do, is important because it is the individual’s choice to use contraceptives, not the organizations that employ them.

    This seems essentially the same type of argument as when contraceptives were legalized. It is not the church, but the individual that makes the choice.

  • scotmcknight

    Adam, you are right on that. I was reading “provide” as dispensing as well, but is coverage if the person selects birth control for health care.

  • TJJ

    This is one of the things about Obamacare that make it so distasteful to so many. It was one of the things Republicans tried to keep out, and because they were in the minority in both houses, could not stop. Many Democrats did not support ths provision either, but in the end they voted for it under severe pressure from Obama/Pelosi/Reed and a false promise that this would not be part of Obamacare.

    A bipartisan health care bill would not have included this and it would have made it a bill more broadly accepted and supported. As it turned out, Democrats overreached, because they could, and as a result if Repulicans win the presidency this bill in most respects will be significantly repealed, will slowly die or be significantly changed.

    It is sad because it did not have to be that way.

  • DRT

    TJJ, are you contending that there could have been a bipartisan bill?

  • I think the Administration is under-estimating the hornets’ nest they have opened up on this one. Whether we Protestants agree with the Catholic Church on birth control this is a non-negotiable in Catholic moral theology. I would not be surprised if Pope Benedict weighs in on this. The Catholic Church is simply not going to acquiesce on this. It’s quite unfortunate especially since the Catholic leadership supported the President’s program of health care reform.

  • It should be noted that birth control pills are prescribed for more than just birth control. It’s fairly common for women to take the pill for other therapeutic reasons. I guess my question/point is whether or not there would be an exception made for those needing the non birth control use f the drug?

  • DRT

    Dad told me that in the last election the RCC were told that factors other than pro-life could, on balance, outweigh the pro-life stance. I have not independently researched this, but Dad knows his stuff….

  • Dan Jones


    I am Catholic and I can also use anecdote to refute your claim that “the vast majority of Catholics use” contraceptives. There is no way you can know that and even if true, it’s irrelevant. Your point at #3 about individual choice v. organization is also not relevant and shows a misunderstanding of Catholic faith.

    Regardless, the real issue here isn’t even about faith imo. It’s about the marketplace of health insurance and the government selectively deciding how non-governmental bodies should spend their money. That is the economic definition of fascism.

    Why not weight loss surgery? Why not cosmetic procedures? Why not medical spa treatments? Why lasik surgery? These AND contraceptive treatments are ALL ELECTIVE. For the federal government (a Constitutional issue for sure – let alone state government) to force private intuitions to make available FOR FREE any elective medical treatment seems in clear violation of law. And @#8 Steve D, there are no non-elective treatments that demand the use of birth control pills. Use of birth control for menstrual regulations and acne control are considered elective.

    Finally, I find it ironic that we’re discussing this on the 39th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. Abortion IS more and more being considered ‘like’ a contraception and less an abortifacient (mainly because of the acceptance of medicinal abortifacients being considered contraception i.e. Plan-B). How many more legal steps before abortion is also considered ‘contraceptive’ and forced by government to be provided free of charge by private employers? Many state governments already forced Catholic women’s hospitals and wards to sell because of their refusal to perform (still) abortifacient procedures.

    Regardless, none of this matters. The log play here by government is to force those organizations who struggle to provide health ins. (like non-profits) to stop, forcing their employees to turn to the government ins. plans. Once that’s inevitable, it’s also inevitable that for profit employers will either choose to do so or likewise be forced. Whether you agree with that or not doesn’t matter. It’s already begun. There is no law that requires any business to offer health insurance, and in this economic climate, many businesses have dramatically shifted to HSAs and major-med or stopped completely or have plans to given the coming new regulations.


  • Gilbert Chesterton

    “Contraception” has become a code-word for abortion. The goal of PP is to get abortion out of clinics and on to drugstore shelves. To that end, they redefine contraception to include embryo-killing before implantation. And once they get that kind of embryo-destruction thoroughly ensconced as merely “contraception,” they won’t mind at all that the Plan B chemical abortion kills implanted fetuses.

    Protestants who have been accustomed to think “we have no problem with contraception, that’s a Catholic thing” need to wake up. “Birth control” today simply includes abortion, as far as Sibelius and the whole abortion lobby are concerned.

    You are being played for fools. They came for the Catholics (stupidly stuck on anti-contraception) and I didn’t speak up because I didn’t oppose contraception.

    Then they came for me.

  • Gilbert Chesterton


    You Dad was wrong. Abortion cannot simply be outweighed by “other factors.” That’s a common ploy used by pro-abort “Catholics.”

    The specific point made in the document on Catholic and voting in the last election was that one may on occasion, if a candidate advocates something less than a complete end to abortion, take other factors into consideration.

    But a candidate who openly and full-throatedly advocates abortion access, taxpayer funding, partial-birth abortion etc. under no circumstances, no matter what other “good policies” she advocates, be voted for.

    Moreover, the “other good policies” are in almost all cases, prudential judgment matters: is the Democrat or the Republican or the Libertarian candidate’s policy on how to help the poor better? There’s no absolute there, but rather a weighing of HOW to achieve the same goal sought by all the candidates. In the case of abortion, it’s a simple matter of taking of innocent human rights, not a prudential dispute over how best to take innocent human life or how often to do it. So a candidate who advocates legalized abortion is advocating an intrinsic wrong, not a prudential matter. If all candidates advocate such, one may not vote for any of them. One cannot say, well, A, B, and C all advocate legalized abortion but A’s better on the environment so I can vote for A but not for B or C.

    That’s what the bishop’s document said. But yes, a lot of priests and teachers spun it the way your Dad apparently heard it spun.

    Spin is spin.

  • @10 Dan,

    A couple of thoughts. First I didn’t make up the idea that most catholics use birth control. Here is a study on reported on another Patheos blog that says that RCC and non-RCC use birth control at virtually the same rates. That matters in this discussion. You cannot say that nearly 70 percent of RCC women using birth control does not matter. http://www.patheos.com/blogs/deaconsbench/2011/04/guttmacher-most-catholic-women-use-artificial-birth-control/

    Second, you completely misunderstand my point about personal choice. Insurance is the product of the user, not the employer. So the user should have the right to choose whether or not to use birth control. This is a fundamental issue. If my employer can say what I can and cannot do with my medical care, then it is a clear violation of the ADA. Yes, the church is not bound by the ADA, but hospitals and others are.

    I am all for RCC and others to protest the use of contraception and to have theological issues with it. But that is not the issue here. The issue here is that the RCC and some others want to prevent their own employees from using it. And that is not their right.

  • Dan Jones


    Read the link you posted. I’ll do more research, but I think even the blog you linked to argues the study you’re referencing is weak at best and biased most likely. It’s certainly not my modern Catholic experience, which is more and more becoming like the old Catholic stories of yester-year. Many kids. Catholicism is becoming more conservative, more observing, and more educated than when I was growing up. I find it encouraging.

    As for the ADA argument you make, no employer anywhere is saying what you can and can’t do with your health care. What they are doing is offering you a benefit to join the group insurance they freely subscribe to. What’s included in that group benefit, of which they very often pay some if not a lot of the premium for you (as well as administrative costs) is whatever they choose to subscribe to. If you want greater benefits, your employer isn’t going to stop you. Further, just because contraceptives aren’t covered doesn’t mean you couldn’t pay for them yourself.

    Your argument that group employer provided health insurance is a product ‘for’ the ’employee’ is completely wrong. It is a product acquired by the employer FOR the employer to attract a certain employee. It absolutely is the the decision of the employee what they wish to include in that benefit.

    Again, employees always are allowed to opt out and if they would have had a premium amount withheld, instead use that premium and whatever else extra they need to pay, get purchase their own personal/individual insurance.




  • Richard

    It seems to me that if the RCC doesn’t want women working for them that utilize birth control (whether they pay it or the RCC covers in healthcare is moot since the money they pay it with comes from the RCC) then they should consider a return to hiring celibate women or married women that don’t use birth control (not sure how HR screens out the second but that’s not my problem). No one said standing on moral principle would be easy or free.

  • Amos Paul

    Contraceptives aren’t even that expensive… honestly, I say this as a poor young adult who’s been paying for them with my wife *without health insurance* for 3 years.

    But hey, thanks for forcing your idea of morals upon us once again Nanny State!

  • David

    What the Catholic Church is trying to do is to avoid cooperating in evil acts. The Catholic Church teaches that both contraception and abortion are evil. Yes, they really do teach that. The Church believes that providing the insurance funding for these things would be to cooperate with evil. I realized that most readers of this blog do not believe that contraception is an evil, so for all of you who think contraception is actually a good, you will have to set that belief aside for a minute if you want to see how big a problem this kind of ruling could be for all Christians.

    Archbishop Dolan also said something to the effect that the US government has given the Catholic Church one year to figure out how to violate its conscience. If the government can force the Catholic Church to violate its conscience, it can force any church or church organization to violate its conscience in another area, such as funding abortions, providing facilities for homosexual marriages, placing adoptive children with homosexual couples, etc. Some of these things are already happening.

    Having the Catholic Church drop health insurance is likely to fail as a long term solution. Right now the penalties for not providing insurance are trivial, but for the Obama’s healthcare bill to work, most of the population has to purchase, or have their employer purchase insurance. The government does have the money to provide health insurance to all the people whose employers have failed to provide it. To provide the money for all those people’s insurance the government will continue to increase the penalties until it becomes cheaper for the employer to just buy insurance.

  • David

    I agree with you Amos Paul. Contraceptives are dirt cheap. And if you are poor, even if you don’t have Medicaid, there are dozens of federal and state programs that will provide you contraceptives for free or at trivial cost.

    I think though that this is more than the government acting as a Nanny. I think this government cannot tolerate an organization that teaches something different from it, particularly concerning these sexual issues. The Catholic Church has been consistently teaching the same thing on contraception, abortion and homosexuality for 2000 years. The government has changed its position very recently. Now it is starting to coerce the church to change its position. Of course, the government hasn’t demanded that the church actually change its teaching. But the government says the church must fund the government teaching and actions.

  • Fish

    The pill was illegal here in my lifetime and I expect it will be illegal here again in my lifetime (and I live in a state where Catholics are a small minority). Allowing women to choose whether they have a child or not is to put them in authority over men. Or to play God, take your pick.

    If we didn’t tie health insurance to employment, the topic of this thread would be moot. We the people are the ones who consciously put the RCC in this position, not Obama. Single-payer not only is more effective and efficient, the gold standard of health care plans, it also avoids moral issues of employers.

  • Richard

    @ 19


  • RobS

    I hadn’t heard the President take a strong stand on the abortion argument til recently: http://cnsnews.com/news/article/obama-defends-roe-v-wade-way-our-daughters-have-same-chance-sons-fulfill-their-dreams

    He does make some statements that support reducing abortion, but to call the right to an abortion a “fundamental Constitutional right” doesn’t sound like someone who is disheartened by what abortion does.

    To then see other elements in a healthcare bill is certainly not surprising. I don’t try to guess about the President’s relationship with Jesus Christ, but it would be nicer if he might be stronger in his speech on this issue, despite many of his supporters who support the other side.

  • @Steve D. I was just about to make the same comment. I noticed no one responded to you, either. Several of my friends take birth control, although they are not sexually active, and one even had to fight her insurance company to get her prescription covered because they assumed it was being used as a contraceptive when in fact it was prescribed for other medical reasons. Thanks for bringing up that point.

  • Robert A

    Well if the Obama administration wanted to give social conservatives and lingering moderate Republicans a toe-hold they certainly have done it with this one two punch.

    This is going to blow up in the re-elect camp’s faces. If you want to galvanize religious groups against you (including Muslims, Catholics, evangelicals, etc) just do this. It’s a terrible rule to force religious organizations to be forced to provide something they don’t agree with and, frankly, it is not what our founders intended. I’m all for women having access to and using birth control methods. The argument that they are quasi-abortifacients isn’t a good one. Yet there needs to be religious freedom to disagree and dissent.

    Then to couple with the President’s remarks about the nature of Roe v Wade…I mean this was not a good weekend. How are the RNC’s candidates not jumping up and down on this one? Crazy.

    It’s a bad decision. We should always push for religious liberty.

  • Richard

    @ 23

    Just remember that rationale when the shaman doesn’t want the kid’s vaccinations to be covered under the insurance plan.

    This is not the sort of religious liberty the founders were concerned with – they were more focused on people not being imprisoned or killed for their beliefs.

  • DRT

    Robert A#23, I worked for a company owned by a Scientologist. Do you think he should be allowed to pick what medical procedures I should be allowed to get?

  • DRT

    …and what a kick. I worked for his company when we were doing research into special materials composites, here are his patents:


    But this is what he is doing now, what a kick!