Surely, this commandment that I am commanding you today is not too hard for you, nor is it too far away. It is not in heaven, that you should say, “Who will go up to heaven for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, “Who will cross to the other side of the sea for us, and get it for us so that we may hear it and observe it?” No, the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart for you to observe.Deuteronomy 30:11-15a
Recently I found myself in the odd position of agreeing with the Roman Catholic Church on an issue related to birth control. I planned to write a blog in support of the Catholic hospitals and universities objecting to the government mandate, issued by Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, a practicing Roman Catholic, requiring them to provide free prescription birth control for all employees.
But two things happened as I headed down that road.
First, I thought about it.
And second, I did some research.
First, the thinking part.
From a Christian perspective, the Catholic Church has the high moral ground on the issue of abortion, just as the pacifists have the high moral ground on issues of war and peace. Those of us who defend a woman’s right to choose an abortion have to do some mental gymnastics to construct a Christian argument. We can get there, but we have to do some significant “work arounds.”
Birth control is another matter. The Catholic objection to birth control is that it contradicts the biblical mandate to “be fruitful and multiply,” and that the purpose of sex is procreation. This comes across as a mean spirited demand that you don’t have a right to enjoy the pleasure of sex unless you are willing to accept the responsibility of taking care of however many children such pleasure might produce. But it’s worse than that, because the church doesn’t really recognize the pleasure part as having any value at all. They affirm the intimacy of sexual relations only in the context of procreation.
The objection is biblically, theologically, and morally flawed. And almost no one agrees with the Catholic Church on this. A recent poll showed that 98% of all Roman Catholic women had used birth control.
And then the research part.
It turns out that twenty-eight states already have laws requiring Roman Catholic hospitals and universities, like other religious and secular institutions, to have health insurance coverage for prescription birth control. And in December 2000, the federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that failure to provide such coverage violates the 1978 Pregnancy Discrimination Act. And those determinations have already been tested in the courts and ruled constitutional. Most employers are already required to provide that coverage in their health plans.
What is new is the requirement that birth control prescriptions be provided without a co-pay or any other additional cost to the employee. So the whole argument comes down to the co-pay.
For employees at the lower end of the pay scale, the co-pays are significant. For employers, the co-pays actually reduce overall health-care costs by preventing complicated and unwanted pregnancies.
The problem with the co-pay from the perspective of Catholic hospitals and univesities is that without a cost to the employee they believe they are actually buying the contraceptives, rather than allowing the employee to buy them at a reduced cost.
The reality is that women who have access to birth control are healthier than those who do not. That sounds pro-life to me.
At the same time, when the real disagreement is really so small, I wish it had been handled with more sensitivity.