Virgin Birth

There has been a controversy recently regarding new rules coming out of the Health and Human Services office.  Those rules require employers to provide contraceptive services with no co-pay as part of the basic services covered by the insurance policies that they offer their employees.

This decision was the result of recommendations of the Institute of Medicine.  This is an independent group of physicians and researchers that concluded FDA approved birth control is a medical necessity “to ensure women’s health and well being”.  Their recommendations are based on the facts that half of the pregnancies in this country are unplanned and 40% of unplanned pregnancies end in abortion.  They project that making birth control more accessible for working women of child-bearing years would reduce unplanned pregnancies and abortions.  Their studies added that women with unintended pregnancies are more likely to suffer from depression, smoke, drink, and less likely to seek prenatal care.  Those behaviors potentially harm fetuses and put babies at increased risk of being born prematurely with a low birth weight.

HHS has a four-part test to determine exemptions for churches and synagogues, primary schools, and some religious secondary schools.   Institutions like hospitals and secular colleges (like Notre Dame) that are affiliated with religious institutions but have a diverse set of employees/students that are not dominated by just one religion are not exempt.  It should also be noted that many of these “religiously affiliated” institutions receive significant amounts of federal funding and are accustomed to the regulations that go along with that funding.

The Catholic Church objected strongly claiming that this rule infringes on their constitutional rights to freely exercise their religion.

Because we are in an election cycle, this created a firestorm of criticism directed at the Obama administration coming from the flock of Republican presidential candidates.  Several have accused the Obama administration of waging a war on religion.

The final bit of data is that surveys have consistently reported that 98% of sexually active women of child-bearing years in this country who identify as Catholics do use contraceptives.  A new survey released by the Public Religion Research Institute says that 58% of all Catholics agree employers should be required to provide their employees with health care plans that cover contraception.

But let’s get back to the interesting questions that this issue raises.

The first is the constitutional right to freely practice religion.  The first amendment prohibits congress from passing a law respecting an establishment of religion or impeding the free exercise of religion.

The Supreme Court has determined that these rights are NOT unlimited.  Some examples of practices that are not allowed include polygamy and the use of illegal drugs in religious services.  At the same time the court has also held that an employee who was fired because she refused to work on Saturdays because of her religious beliefs, still qualified for unemployment benefits (which are funded in part by her previous employer).  So employees are not required to surrender their religious beliefs when those come into conflict with expectations of their employer.

In this case, you have the interests of the Catholic Church versus the interests of employees who are not Catholics.  The Catholic Church as an employer is required to follow many of the same rules as any other employer.  It can’t discriminate based on race, age, or gender.  That doesn’t mean that it has to hire women priests, but it does mean that it can’t discriminate against women in non-religious roles.  There are similar rules regarding the sort of insurance coverage that every large employer is required to offer.  These rules are part of the larger effort to bring down the costs by making sure that every American has access to affordable healthcare.

The basic question here is does the Catholic Church have the right to impose Catholic beliefs regarding contraception on employees who may not share that religion or those beliefs.  The imposition is that the Catholic Church is asking that it be exempt from covering expenses in their employee insurance plans that they feel violate some part of their beliefs even though other non-religious employers are not exempt.

The second question is much more practical.

The Catholic Church is advocating that all of their enterprises be exempt from requirement based on a religious belief that isn’t being practiced by 98% of female Catholics in this country.

An analogy could be the speed limit laws.  Highway speed limits are rarely enforced.  Enforcement begins somewhere above 5-10 mph over the speed limit.  That’s because of a number of factors, but the net result is that very few motorists drive at posted speeds on the highway and virtually all levels of government and law enforcement are fine with it.

In the same vein, a more practical response by the Catholic Church would be an opt in system where they would only be required to offer birth control to female employees who either self identified as non-Catholic or explicitly requested the service.

The final question is also much more practical.

The Catholic Church is also an ardent opponent of abortion.  One of the primary goals of reducing the co-pays for contraceptives is to reduce unwanted pregnancies and the high rate of abortions associated with them.  The data strongly supports the claim that even small co-pays reduce contraceptive use.   That leaves one part of Catholic Church in the position of advocating a policy which supports the current level of abortions.  Another part of the Church spends millions to reduce abortions and attack the current laws which allow them.

The bottom line is that HHS understood that this would be a challenge for Catholic institutions and provided them a year to work out an implementation plan with the government.  The White House has also signaled that they are willing to seek common ground where Catholic beliefs are respected but women are also receiving the care they need.  Whether or not they are going to be able to get a deal done is uncertain.

This will likely end up being decided in the courts and in the meantime will be just one more divisive issue that will be passionately argued and widely misunderstood.

10 Responses to “Virgin Birth”

  1. Keith says:

    Hey Jeff,
    One thing to be sure of, this will not be a non-partisan uproar.

    Lets skip ahead in time……… The case;

    The court rules gay marrage to be the law of the land, over the voters will, as happened in Calif this week. Like abortion the supreme court upholds, over the will of the people.

    Two gay gentlemen want to join a church, pick any and the religon, muslum, protestant, hindu etc, it doesn’t matter as this lifestyle is opposed by all. The church says no. Is this now discrimination? Lets say 50 % of all church goers say its ok.

    Further the same Pastor, Rabi, etc is asked to marry two members of the congragation that are gay. He denies them also. Is this discrimination? Lets even assume 50% of all church goers say they have no problem with it. Can he be thrown in jail for not joining them in marrige?

    Our belief in our faith, the standard thats set IS THE HIGHEST bar. ALL fail it and therefore all are sinners. This IS THE POINT WITH THE LAW!!!!!!!! We must never lower the bar and say our sin is ok. EX, 90% of Christians are not virgins on their wedding day. Does that mean the Pastor should teach something less? Should he hold us to a lower standard then Gods? NO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    If the gov’t deems gay marrage acceptable, then will they, the gov’t have the right to put pastors in jail, or the pastors will have to marry them. How is this freedom of religion?

    If the Catholic church doesn’t want to provide certain kinds of health care then so be it. It isn’t relivent if there are those who think its ok. The church doesn’t and thats that!

  2. Jeff Beamsley says:


    Take a deep breath.

    Sounds like you are suffering from an anxiety attack.

    Try breathing into a paper bag.

    1. The purpose of the Supreme Court is to interpret the law, not reflect the will of the people.

    In the case of abortion here is the result of the latest poll reflecting the current “will of the people”.

    Generally, 57 percent in this ABCNEWS/Washington Post poll say abortion should be legal in all or most cases, and 54 percent favor the U.S. Supreme Court’s 1973 ruling that made it so. While 42 percent want the government and the courts to make abortions harder to get, more either support the status quo, or favor fewer restrictions.

    2. Churches are exempt from laws covering discrimination. The Catholic Church isn’t required to ordain women as priests. Mormons are not required to elect African Americans to their highest offices. No churches are required to marry people they don’t want to marry.

    The issue is not what churches do, it is what non-religious businesses that churches own do with regard to rules that apply to all other businesses. The hospitals that these churches operate have to comply with local, state, and federal regulations regarding hospitals – but they already aren’t required to offer surgical procedures like abortion or sterilization.

    Not suggesting that the Catholic Church change its teaching. Just saying that the Catholic Church is asking the country to allow the church to impose Catholic beliefs on non-Catholic employees in non-religious businesses, and those particular beliefs are widely ignored by the vast majority of women who DO belong to the church.

    The Catholic Church within reason, can do pretty much whatever it wants in its churches, elementary schools, and seminaries. If it buys a grocery store, however, and employs a diverse set of employees at that grocery store, I think it entirely reasonable to expect the church to follow all of the rules that every other grocery store is required to follow. The fact that it is owned by the Catholic Church shouldn’t give it any special treatment. The fact that is exempt from taxes should be enough.

  3. Jeff Beamsley says:

    Just a little bit more information.

    The Catholic Church is ALREADY complying with state regulations in 28 states that require it to offer insurance coverage for women’s health issues including FDA approved contraception for employees in its non-religious businesses. They have been providing that sort of coverage in NY for a decade. That was after they lost their court case to overturn this regulation in the NY State Supreme Court.

    So why the outburst now?

    The church has exhausted its legal options in these 28 states.

    Given these precedents, it is likely to lose in the federal courts too.

    So instead the church has decided to use the current election cycle to see what they may be able to win the court of public opinion.

  4. Jeff Beamsley says:

    So now we see the arc of this particular controversy. The NYT probably has the most in depth coverage of how we got here.

    The compromise has been struck.

    The influential Catholic Church officials have what they were looking for which was some indication that the government respects the sensitivities of institutions like the Catholic Church.

    What we are likely to see now is the more conservative factions of the Catholic Church and their supporters dig in for something more substantive and conservative Republicans continuing to beat the “war on religion” drum. But as soon as there is something else to talk about, the whole thing will fade from memory.

  5. Keith says:

    This my friend isn’t partisan, this one is bipartisan…

    Its clear two things are fundemental in politicals today.

    Grover Norquist makes repbulicans promise not to raise taxes. Now a second, which has always been know but now being clearly articulated, the head of N.O.W. is on record as saying in “if anyone acts to restict in anyway a womens right to an abortion the will not be re-elected.” This was in response to a question she was asked two nights ago wondering her thoughts if President Obama caved on this issue…..

    Repub’s, which I completely disagree with, can never support raising taxes. (I’m for LOW taxes) Dems can never act in any way to raise the bar to get an abortion. Both are on notice by their own bases that they WILL NOT BE RE-ECLECTED if they do…….

    The screaming and shouting from each side only grows louder and more nosensical every cycle. God help us and send us resonable leaders.

  6. Keith says:

    And your thoughts on Obamas Budget.
    He has not cut the deficet as promised. It doesn’t matter what Bush left him which was a disaster as he made claims as to what he would do.
    He owns this and has crafted as direction which takes us further in debt at an increasesing rate more significant, by far, then he said he would.

  7. Keith says:

    Surely you accept this data.

    I certainly tremble when I hear the words “pay their fair share. I understand our progressive tax policy. Not the issue. Whats at issue is “must pay their fair share comments. The bottom 40% not only DONT PAY fed taxes but receive from the treasury!!!!!!!!!! Surely they should have a fair share correct?

    If we are ever going to be reasonable then we all MUST pay.

  8. Jeff Beamsley says:


    Sorry, but I don’t see any good reason to trust anything that Daniel Hannan has to say. He seems to be primarily interested in self-promotion.

    I really haven’t had a chance to dig into the new budget proposal very much. Similarly, I can only speak from memory regarding the President’s promise to reduce the deficit, but if this budget doesn’t reflect that promised reduction, I happen to agree with him.

    We need jobs and economic growth. That will do more to put us on a sound economic footing at this point than anything else.

    If the voters this fall want to hold him accountable for changing his priority from deficit reduction to job growth, then that is their right. But the polls show that the majority of Americans want to know what the government is doing to create more jobs, and they don’t think that just cutting taxes is sufficient.

    What I do know is that we have already taken a $1T bite of the apple in order to pass the debt ceiling increase. There is another $1.2T automatic cut scheduled because the deficit reduction committee failed to act. The Bush/Obama tax cuts are also going to expire next year. We have wound down the war in Iraq and are winding down the war in Afghanistan. Now it’s time to invest in creating jobs and getting the economy going.

    By the way, those Republicans who claim to be the last remaining soldiers in the battle for fiscal discipline – they are also beating a hasty retreat because they read the same polls that the Obama administration reads.

    They are folding quietly on revenue increases to pay for the payroll tax relief bill. Rather than raise even a dollar by closing tax loopholes, they are just going to add this bill to the deficit with a promise to fix it sometime in the future.

    Similarly the Republicans have also introduced a bill to spare the pentagon from the $600B in automatic cuts scheduled for next year as part of the $1.2 T in automatic cuts. They are proposing to pick up that $600B elsewhere, but that wasn’t the deal that everyone agreed to.

    So when it comes to hard choices, the Republicans are no more capable of making them than the Democrats.

    Finally, the discussion about “fair share” and who pays what is really comical on both sides.

    It is evidence of the “magical” thinking of both parties. The Democrats are saying that just raising taxes on the rich will allow us to reduce our deficit, grow the economy, continue the current level of federal spending, and support Medicare and Social Security as we know it. The Republicans are saying that they are unwilling to entertain even a dollar increase in federal tax revenues, but we can reduce the deficit, grow the economy, maintain the current level of defense spending, by just reducing the size of government, and restructuring entitlement programs.

    The math simply doesn’t work and both parties are lying.

    We have to reform the current tax system to INCREASE federal revenues in order to bring the deficit down to safe levels. That means that taxes are going to go up for everyone. We also have to grow our economy by making wise investments in infrastructure, education, and R&D. We have to reduce government spending in other areas like defense. Finally, we have to restructure our entitlement programs with most likely some form of means testing.

    These are the debates that we should be having, but we don’t seem to have the political parties that we need in order to have an informed discussion.

  9. Keith says:

    agree with your last two sentences.

    I was only using the tax data to point out the “fair share mantra of the left. Its silly. Fair would have everyone envolved.

    My concern with “we need to spend more to create jobs” is this. Thats what he’s been doing to the significate debt we’ve created, over the last three years, nows its proposed for the next two. Our debt is already over 100% of the economy which every ecomomist would sya is the breaking line. SO, what he has proposed to “fix the economy” hasn’t worked. It is fair to say his policy has failed. He promised to cut the deficet in half. He has not, and further hasn’t attempted to.

    I agree both sides are now offically nuts.

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