Religion and Reproductive Access: Why All Employers Should Provide Birth Control Coverage for Women

The Department of Health and Human Services recently issued a rule requiring all employers, including those that are affiliated with religious organizations but are not religious organizations themselves, to provide health care plans that cover contraceptive services for their employees. This rule is an important step in ensuring that American companies provide comprehensive health coverage for their employees, regardless of the political or religious views of the employers themselves.

Unfortunately, the reaction to this new rule hasn’t been overwhelmingly positive. Religious organizations have protested against the rule, labeling it as an affront to their religious beliefs and traditions. Anthony Picarello, general counsel of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said the bishops would “pursue every legal mandate available to them to bring an end to this rule. That means legislation, litigation and public advocacy. All options are on the table.”

Seeking to compromise on the issue, President Obama initially announced that faith based employers would have an additional year to prepare for the change so as to allow them sufficient time to adjust to the new policy. Even this concession, which amounts to an official capitulation by the Obama Administration to the uncompromising opponents of this rule, was not enough to end the controversy surrounding contraceptive care.

Regrettably, the President then submitted even further to religious extremists by exempting employers affiliated with religious organizations from providing contraceptive coverage while mandating that insurance companies cover the costs themselves.  Women will still have access to the contraceptive care they need, but this will come at the expense of the insurance companies rather than being paid for by the religious employers themselves.

This is yet another example of religious organizations requiring special exemptions that allow them to enjoy the benefits of society without paying their fair share. Their employees deserve comprehensive health care, but the employers themselves should pay for it rather than forcing insurance companies and their customers (us!) to cover the costs.

At the end of the day, President Obama acquiesced to the demands of extremist religious organizations and empowered those who put their own interests first. Rather than working to ensure that all Americans are given the vital health services they require, religious organizations and some members of Congress spend their time trying to exempt faith-based employers from the same laws and regulations that apply to all of us. This religious favoritism shown by our government is bad public policy that threatens both our government’s credibility and the health of countless Americans.

The American Humanist Association believes that all Americans, regardless of religious belief or lack thereof, have the right to comprehensive health care coverage. Faith-based employers should be required to abide by the same health standards that apply to all employers, and shouldn’t be given special extensions and exemptions simply because they do not like the laws and regulations that were enacted by our collective representatives in government.

These organizations should not be given an extra year to conform to a rule that applies to all other employers, and they should certainly not be made exempt from the rule as a whole. To do so would signify that our government places the interest of select religious organizations over the health of its citizens.  We must therefore fight to ensure that our government remains a secular institution that is not swayed by the whims of religious traditions and practices so as to guarantee that its policies are devised solely upon pragmatic grounds and not religious ones.

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