Contraception Rules

May 22, 2012

The Michigan Catholic Conference filed a federal lawsuit yesterday, charging that their freedom of religion has been violated because of a new rule regarding health insurance policies.

And on the basis of logic alone, I have to say, what they are claiming makes absolutely no sense to me. This is not an issue that only involves Michigan. Forty-three Roman Catholic dioceses, social service agencies, schools and even the University of Notre Dame filed similar lawsuits across the nation. Their issue is simply this.

The Obama administration's Department of Health and Human Services has a rule requiring all employers that provide health insurance to have that coverage cover contraceptives.

The Roman Catholic Church opposes any use of contraception, and says being required to cover this violates their religious freedom.

This is not, by the way, part of the Affordable Care Act, the constitutionality of which is due to be decided by the United States Supreme Court next month, This is entirely a different case.

The Michigan Catholic Conference and other Catholic groups across the nation say that requiring them to insure contraceptive coverage violates their rights under both the First Amendment and under a bill called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

They want the federal courts to make the Obama Administration drop this requirement.

But here's why their argument seems illogical. The government is not requiring that anybody approve of or use contraception. That would be a tremendous violation of religious freedom. What the government is saying is that if someone does choose to do so, insurance plans have to cover it.

That makes logical and legal sense, given that nearly half a century ago, in a case called Griswold vs. Connecticut, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that a state could not outlaw the use of contraceptives. Incidentally, every survey I have ever seen shows that the majority of American Catholics do in fact use contraception, even though it is against their church's teaching.

More importantly, there are some employees of Catholic institutions who are not themselves members of that faith. To me, not allowing them coverage for services they have a Constitutional right to violates their rights.

Now, you can perhaps make a case that requiring a Catholic employer to pay for such coverage does violate their right.  To try and solve that, the government offered to require insurance companies, not the employers, to pay for and administer birth control coverage.

But the nation's Roman Catholic bishops refused this compromise. Actually, my feeling is that to grant what they are asking would violate the principle of separating church and state. The laws, like them or not, apply to everybody. I live in a small, very liberal Michigan city. I have reason to think that the residents here would happily outlaw possession of handguns in our homes.

However, we can't do that, because the government has said that handgun possession is a fundamental right. The same principle applies here. Nobody can make me buy a gun, though I am sure my  insurance rates are affected by those who do.  Nor can anybody make anyone use contraception. But requiring the same insurance rules for all seems like a matter of fair play, and common sense.