It's Contraception for God's Sake!

So--the Obama administration is struggling to explain why it's reasonable to require Catholic hospitals and schools to cover contraception in insurance policies for their employees.  Why should Catholics  have to spend their money in ways that run counter to their religious beliefs?  Isn't that a violation of their religious freedom? Romney and Santorum want to think so.

Background fact:  we have a strange healthcare system in this country, where we get insurance coverage through employment.  So private businesses have to function partly like public entities, covering whatever types of health care are currently considered standard and mainstream.  Health coverage comes to be somewhat government managed, though not government run. 

This crazy public/private system can lead to problems for religious institutions that decide to go into business.  Consider the poor Schmatholics.  Their religous belief is that the body is a sacred vessel.  It is an abomination for a surgeon to cut into it, they think.  So they're fine with various kinds of medical care, but surgery, no.  Thou shalt not perform surgery!

The Schmatholics happen to like to run businesses. They have bookstores, bowling alleys, golf courses, lots of businesses.  Given the way health care works in this country, can they really be permitted to provide their employees with their weird, surgery-free insurance policies?  Why no, they can't.  The health care system we have makes it impossible to grant total religious freedom to Schmatholics who run businesses.

Is that ... awful? Is it an infringement on freedom of religion? No, not really. Schmatholics don't have to run businesses. Surely that's not intrinsic to their religion.  They can practice their religion with complete freedom, but when they enter the sphere of business, they have to comply with the rules.  In fact, there are lots of rules.  If their religion requires swindling people, well too bad, the rules of the business world apply.

Oh but wait, surgery is obviously moral, those Schmatholics are simply insane.  Contraception, on the other hand, is debatable.

But no, it isn't.  Not even Catholics disagree about it ... not really. Or you wouldn't have the lowest birthrates in the world in mostly Catholic countries like Italy. Surveys show that almost all Catholics disagree with the official position of the church on contraception. If the Catholic church weren't so hierarchical, we'd have to say that Catholics believe in contraception.  Because they do. When you go and ask them, they say they believe in it and use it.

What if a procedure really were debatable? Like sex change surgery, for example, or abortion?  I can see that it would be overreaching for the government to insist that every insurance policy in the land must cover these procedures.  But just like every policy must cover surgery, whatever the Schmatholics think about it, it seems equally straightforward that every policy must cover contraception, whatever Catholic priests think about it.  It is simply standard medical care--not controversial at all, except for within a certain (frankly) lunatic fringe.

Nobody seems to be saying that, but it needs to be said. 


Wayne said...

But is it really relevant that most catholics believe X? I mean most Catholics are really terribly catholics. They don't wait for marriage to have sex, don't have sex only for procreation (as evidenced by their use of contraception apparently). The laundry list can go on and on. Surely there is a difference between doctrine and practice, and what the Church supports is doctrine, and just prays that their followers will practice the doctrine.

Deepak Shetty said...

What if a procedure really were debatable? Like sex change surgery, for example, or abortion?
I fail to see the reasoning. How is abortion different from contraceptive use (they are both debated and no one forces a religious person to do either - they opt for it)

Jean Kazez said...

It's different, because you have to be completely nuts to debate whether contraception is OK. There is no serious discussion about that in any ethics program in the US, outside of religious institutions. Debating whether contraception is OK is like debating whether surgery is OK--it's beyond the pale. So I think it makes good sense for both contraception and surgery to be a standard part of what the state requires insurance policies to cover.

There are plenty of reasonable people who do debate the ethics of abortion and sex change surgery. I think that's a good reason for the state not to step in and decide that these things should be covered in the standard insurance policy.

When you have public rules about what insurance has to cover, they do have to reflect public discourse about what's ethical and unethical--and there is none to speak of about contraception. Everyone thinks it's just fine, apart from a few bishops and Rick Santorum.

Jean Kazez said...

Wayne, OK, religions are aspirational, but even so, why identify the creed with what bishops think people should aspire to, instead of with what they actually aspire to? I don't think most Catholics even aspire to avoid contraception!

Deepak Shetty said...

There is no serious discussion about that in any ethics program in the US, outside of religious institutions.
Is there any serious discussion on why first trimester abortion or pills taken after the fact are unethical?

Jean Kazez said...

Absolutely. Lots of discussion. There are hundreds of courses all over the US where the pro-life argument is taken seriously. There is smart writing on the pro-life side, from good, non-religious philosophers. And yes, including discussion of abortion in the first trimester, or even the morning after pill.

Deepak Shetty said...

Can you point out any good books (non religious arguments for pro-life)?

Jean Kazez said...

A very well known and highly respected pro-life article is "Why Abortion is Immoral" by Don Marquis. It's taught constantly in ethics classes. If you google his name and that title, you'll find a pdf. Of course, there are objections ... but still, the article is certainly respectable (and non-religious).

Deepak Shetty said...

sigh. will need multiple readings. Another time then.

Scott said...

1. Contraception is not medical care. "the pill" is dangerous, ok, but its purpose is fun sex. If condoms are medical than so are medical grade 10 inch black silicon dildos.
2. This debate is an intentional deflection from the real issue which is that there are no economic arguments in favor of tying medical care to work. Zero. It is simply a terrible idea that was created by power politics and deal making and our freedom is suffering because of it. And that...is immoral.

Jean Kazez said...

Some people need to avoid pregnancy for health reasons--they are carriers of a disease, or can't carry a child, or had one recently, or are very young (which increases risks), etc. In fact, a lot of people are in that situation. So contraception is a medical device that allows people to use their bodies without suffering bad consequences--sort of like devices or physical therapies that might be prescribed to an athlete, so he/she can continue engaging in a sport without injury. Nobody's suggesting that insurance plans should cover sex toys ...!

Re: (2). Yes, the whole idea of tying medical care to employment is crazy.