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February 14th, 2012
Freethought San Marcos: The Catholic Bishops, women’s health, and politics

Freethought San Marcos: A column
by LAMAR W. HANKINS

An issue that could benefit from some cool reflection has instead gone toxic virtually overnight. It is the proposed rule about which employers must cover contraceptive health services under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). A trifecta of circumstances have melded into a cesspool of invective toward President Obama: a long-running Republican race for a presidential nomination, the false claims by evangelicals that the government is at war against religion, and the hatred of Obama by a large group of people from right-wing loonies and racists to ordinary Republican politicians. I haven’t seen so much hate directed at someone or some thing since the anti-communism of Sen. Joe McCarthy.

Out of the past week of invective, I’ve tried to cull a few points that I hope people of all persuasions are willing to consider, though I’m not holding my breath. Health insurance is an employee benefit, which is one thing that opponents have against the Affordable Care Act (ACA). These opponents don’t want all Americans to have access to affordable health insurance. Unfortunately, they got their way in 2009 when the ACA was passed. Not everyone will have affordable coverage, but for those who are employees, the Act seeks to assure that they all get the same benefit opportunities. Such equality offends many people.

What has been much-debated this past week is the requirement that all employers – except for religious institutions like churches and synagogues, whose primary business is promoting their religious beliefs – should afford all of their employees the same level of health insurance coverage, including access to birth control. For all other employers, including hospitals, universities, and other institutions engaged in mostly non-religious activities, the rules about health insurance apply.

This rule has infuriated the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which opposes the use of contraception based on Catholic religious doctrine. Conservatives and evangelicals have piled on for their own political reasons. The Bishops want to expand the exemption from the rules so that the exemptions include religiously-affiliated hospitals, universities, and other institutions engaged in mostly non-religious activities offered without regard to a person’s religion or lack thereof. If the Bishops get their way, millions of women who work at such institutions could have inferior health insurance–insurance that will not cover birth control, which has been recognized by the Institute of Medicine as preventative healthcare.

Should a Baptist female English teacher who works for a university owned by Christian Scientists be offered health insurance that covers only services provided by Christian Science Practitioners, who eschew modern medicine in favor of prayer? Should a Jewish female nurse’s aide who works for a Jehovah’s Witnesses hospital be denied health insurance that covers blood transfusions because that denomination opposes them? If the law is attempting to bring equality and fairness to the health insurance market, women who perform jobs which do not involve teaching religious doctrine or promoting it should not be disadvantaged by those religious doctrines unless they choose to be.

The Bishops, reacting to the fact that at least 98 percent of Catholic women have used contraception sometime during their lifetimes, responded with an illogical statement: “If a survey found that 98 percent of people had lied, cheated on their taxes, or had sex outside of marriage, would the government claim it can force everyone to do so?”

The point is not that the government is forcing employees to violate the law or their personal moral beliefs. Catholic hospitals, universities, and charities are not people. They are institutions doing the same kind of work done by secular institutions. The law merely attempts to assure that all of their women employees are offered the same health insurance coverage offered to women working in similar jobs elsewhere. And church funds needn’t be used to pay for the health insurance of employees. The earnings of the institutions can pay those costs. The earnings come from the people who use the services, as well as the government.

All of us, including Catholic bishops, pay taxes that are spent for a host of things we disapprove of. As much as I might dislike paying for war, for instance, if taxpayers could choose what their taxes can be used for based on conscience, the entire structure of government would fail.

The Bishops seem to believe that it is fine to engage in activities supported in large part by private individuals and the government without treating all of their female employees, Catholic and non-Catholic alike, with the equality guaranteed by law. The Bishops want to force their religious beliefs on non-Catholics who work for Catholic institutions. Understanding that 98 percent of Catholic women don’t follow that religious doctrine makes their position hypocritical at best.

The Bishops are not compelled to provide birth control at their hospitals. They are required by this ACA rule only to provide full health insurance benefits to female hospital employees, who are then free to choose which of those benefits to use. It seems that since the Bishops have lost their argument about birth control with Catholic women, they want the opportunity to force their views on non-Catholic women, or to punish them by forcing them to pay extra for contraception.

If this were a completely new rule, the Bishops’ response might be more understandable, but the basic rule has been in place for twelve years, based on an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruling that employers who provide prescription drugs must provide birth control. The decision was later upheld by the courts. The Bishops had all eight years of the Bush administration to raise objection to the rule, but they did not do so. Instead, they have been planning this attack on the Obama administration for at least the past seven months.

This situation reminds me of the position taken by some pharmacists who refused to fill prescriptions for the morning after pill because it violated their consciences. Such a position is as foolish as mine would be if I decided that I wouldn’t represent thieves, murderers, and rapists because their alleged behavior offends my moral sensibilities. The job of a pharmacist is to dispense prescriptions. The job of a criminal defense attorney is to represent those accused of crime. If such professionals don’t want to do their jobs, they need to find other kinds of work.

There are two minor differences in this latest rule that extend the old rule slightly. In the current proposed rule, contraceptives must be provided without a co-payment. This doesn’t mean that insured women pay nothing for their coverage. Like virtually everyone who has health insurance, they pay premiums each month, to supplement the amounts paid by their employer. And the new rule does not exempt small employers as the old rule did. Employers with fewer than fifteen employees will be covered under the new rule.

The Bishops should forthrightly acknowledge that, in pursuing Catholic doctrine, they have never been concerned about women’s health, especially when it comes to life-threatening pregnancies and pregnancy caused by rape. They have always put doctrine above conscience. If the Bishops are so concerned about their own consciences, perhaps they should be more sensitive to the consciences of others, and make it possible for such women to make their own decisions, exercising their own free will, when faced with such circumstances. They might also be sensitive to women’s efforts to lift their families out of poverty by limiting the number of children they bring into the world. But for the Bishops, such sensitivities would intrude too far into their own patriarchal mindset and behavior.

Early in this controversy, I thought that perhaps the Bishops could rid themselves of this dilemma by contracting out to a third party all decisions about employee health benefits at Catholic-run universities, hospitals, and charities, thus not participating in health insurance decisions. Now, the Obama administration has decided to direct insurance companies to provide, without exception, the coverage needed to afford women who do non-religious work at Catholic-run institutions full health care services, insulating the Bishops from having to make a decision on the matter. But even this has not mollified the Bishops, who have rejected this new approach. The Bishops’ position leads me to wonder whether they will be satisfied only when all women are once again denied birth control, as was the case fifty years ago in some states.

For the sake of honesty and integrity, the time has come for the Bishops to admit their contempt for women’s self-determination and the exercise of their free will in matters that concern Catholic doctrine. Such an admission may clear the air enough so that the Bishops’ consciences can focus on the other things the government does that violate Catholic doctrine – like war, torture, and capital punishment.

© Lamar W. Hankins, Freethought San Marcos

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8 thoughts on “Freethought San Marcos: The Catholic Bishops, women’s health, and politics

  1. Lamar Lamar, where to start. You did recognize that the women who decide to avail themselves of this service outside their churches should get this service free. Do you honestly think the insurance companies will provide these services “free”. No, it will be passed down to taxpayers to cover the costs, Catholics as well as the general public. Next, what about personnel responsibility. If a woman can have the responsibility to control her life as you so eloquently put it, then she should also take the responsibility of her actions and pay for it herself. Obama has taken it upon himself to impose his will on the public. He dismissed auto maker executives when the auto bailout was imposed. He has told the universities that they are not to charge more for their services. Now he has told the insurance companies they will have to foot the bill for contraceptives. This sound like stores coming out of the mouth of Chavez when he took over the oil companies, newspapers etc., and we American were appalled at his actions. Now, our own president is attempting to take us down the same road. Wake up Lamar, your being left behind.

  2. “I haven’t seen so much hate directed at someone or some thing since the anti-communism of Sen. Joe McCarthy.”

    I guess you have forgotten those eight years that Bush was President then. The rhetoric from the radical left who never forgave him for beating Al Gore in 2000 was 10x worse than anything I have seen about Obama.

    Now on to the broader point of your rant…you seem to be making the point that Big Brother (our government) has the right to dictate to private businesses what benefits they must offer, regardless of that organization’s religious beliefs. “Make the choice that of the individual” you cry.

    But then you offer up a story (the pharmacist refusing to fill a script for the morning after pill) and gleefully deny that individual the right to make her choice – in THIS example, the will of the corporation is more important.

    So in review, a corporation should be free to enforce its standards and values….as long as they agree with yours. Typical liberal rubbish. For a group who’s supposedly about tolerance, you folks sure seem to have a problem dealing with anyone who disagrees with you….

  3. I suspect that encouraging birth control (and providing access to it) ultimately saves the insurance companies money. Not sure how much the average pregnancy costs in routine visits, delivery, complications, follow up care etc. but it wouldn’t take many to offset the cost of birth control pills. It’s not hard to imagine the insurance companies pressuring the Obama regime to keep this in.

    From another angle, the more consessions we make for the catholic (or any) church, the more you empower EVERY religion to obtain special waivers from other federal laws. The solution is for gov’t to get out of the health care business and any other business it can possibly avoid being in. This would include the marriage business.

  4. This is one of the most rational articles written about the recent health care proposal. The comments are quite interesting, no one seems to understand this is to afford the same benefits in a health care package that others are afforded. It’s a shame that we have to legislate this type of care. As a tax payer myself, afforded birth to all women who chose this is should not be such a big deal. Since Obama has been elected the conservative media has continued to negate anything that he has said and suggested. Affordable health care should be a right for all citizens. Thanks for the good points, Mr Hankins.

  5. FA, Lamar, some of your best work to date.

    “The Bishops had all eight years of the Bush administration to raise objection to the rule, but they did not do so.” Why not? Why now?

    War, torture and capital punishment? They are as silent as one hand clapping. What a woman should do with her body? The roar is deafening. Hello? We Wimmin pay for our health care with premiums. You either chop those unbalanced tripods off or give us protection. If men got pregnant…oh yea, what a different song we would be hearing.

    Rhetoric – the ability to use language effectively.
    Hatred – the feeling of one who hates; intense dislike or extreme aversion or hostility.

    Another way of looking at this is:
    Jon Stewart is funny and gets his point across.
    Glen Beck is NOT funny and gets his hate across.

    It is not merely that an entire segment of society has seemingly lost their minds but they are addicted to hate.

    Just say NO to hate and YES to educate.

  6. To Paula B and especially Dano,
    The article was very well articulated and explained the writer’s rationale for his assertions. As Dano said, you folks seem to have problems dealing with those who disagree, but at least we read the entire article and critically consider the arguments of the other side. It is obvious that neither of you actually understand what Lamar said. If you did, you would make logical and rational arguments showing why what he said was incorrect in your view. Instead you simply spew what everyone is saying now — “government takeover”. Well, I say if everybody behaved ethically and all citizens and businesses had a level playing field, then the government would never have to intervene. It is only when the free market fails to create equal opportunities that regulations should occur. After all, we are human and we think of ourselves first. But somebody has to think about all Americans. That person right now is President Obama.

  7. To Dr. Witch,
    It seems that my offering a different view of Lamar’s opinion has prompted you to assert my belief is that this is a “government takeover”. Indeed you are right. If you had read what the original founders believed, i.e., free enterprise and self responsibility, you might be able to understand “the other side”. If this was a perfect world, your right, everyone would be taken care of and share all things. That is not the case. This is not a perfect world and never will be. So responsible people will have to try to hold the tide of Obama and his ideas of how to change America to his idea of perfection.

  8. Once again, you fail to understand what I said. I never said anything about a perfect world, nor about “everyone being taken care of.” I feel very strongly in favor of free enterprise and individual rights. I said if the playing fields were level, meaning that all individuals and businesses had equal opportunity and power in the marketplace, then free enterprise would always work.

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