A blog of politics, law, religion, and the tricky spots where they collide.

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“In August, the administration announced new rules requiring all new insurance plans to cover birth control and emergency contraception by 2013. At an early October fundraiser in St. Louis, President Obama himself hailed the rule. And when President Obama appeared before the U.N. in September, the administration touted the contraception rule as an example of America’s commitment to women. So when Carney says “this decision has not yet been made,” he’s wrong. It has been made—and by reopening it, President Obama is succumbing to pressure from anti-choice groups.

Even worse, Carney says President Obama is trying to “strike the right balance between expanding coverage of preventive services and respecting religious beliefs” without acknowledging the fact that the rules announced in August already included an exemption for churches.”

White House says Obama considering rolling back mandatory insurance coverage of contraception

This issue is not that simple.1

First, let’s get some facts straight. The rule issued previously was an interim rule, effective August 1, 2011. Public comments on the interim rule were accepted through September 30, 2011. The whole point of issuing an interim rule with request for comment is that you read the comments, and consider whether or not to amend the rule. The real scandal would be if the Obama administration didn’t consider the comments it solicited.

Second, I think it’s misleading to suggest that an exemption for churches is enough to satisfy all concerns about religious beliefs. Religious organizations also operate hospitals, schools, universities, etc.. That’s what the Catholic church is concerned about..

The Catholic church opposes contraception in pretty much all cases. While I disagree with them on this—I can’t deny that they’re sincere about it. We have a history of protecting religious beliefs from undue governmental interference. It’s part of that separation of church and state thing enshrined in the first amendment. And that’s where the issue gets messy.

Co-pay free access to contraception is extremely important for a whole slew of important societal ends. (Because I’d be preaching to the choir on this one, I won’t reiterate all those reasons here.) On the other hand, forcing Catholic organizations to provide services they believe are religiously prohibited is a serious burden on religious liberty. It raises some serious constitutional concerns as well.

  1. Like many things, I haven’t made up my mind on this one. Yes, I think employers and insurance companies should be required, in general, to provide access to birth control without a copay as part of a full health insurance plan. That’s good policy. And yes, I think that organizations should follow suit. But whether they should be required to provide insurance that provides access to birth control or sterilization even if it violates strongly held religious beliefs is a much tougher call. 

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