Why Christians Should Be Concerned About the Obama Administration’s Contraception Mandate

The Story: Last week the Obama administration shocked and disappointed many church-affiliated institutions by announcing they will be forced to cover free birth control for employees in their medical insurance plans. According to the Washington Post, workplace health plans will be required to cover all forms of contraception approved by the Food and Drug Administration, ranging from the pill to implantable devices to sterilization. Also covered is the morning-after pill, which is considered by many pro-life groups to be the equivalent of an abortion drug.

The Background: Prior to the decision, several Christian organizations, including the National Association of Evangelicals and the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, sent letters to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) protesting the insufficiency of the conscience protections provided in the new rules. But the Obama administration dismissed their concerns, claiming that individual decisions about whether or not to use birth control, and what kind, remain in the hands of women and their doctors.

Why It Matters:: Experts I talked to pointed out three causes for concern:

Forces organizations to choose between conscience and healthcare coverage —“Any American who has moral or religious objections to contraceptives, including those that can function to destroy unborn life, should be deeply troubled that the federal government is forcing all health insurance plans to cover these with no co-pay to the patient,” says David Christensen, senior director for congressional affairs at Family Research Council. “Because the administration’s religious employer exemption is so narrow to only apply to churches, that means most Americans will either see their health insurance premiums rise to cover the increased cost of these services or see their employers dump their employer health care in order to avoid violating their conscience.”

Christensen added, “Evangelicals and other faith-minded Americans should be leery of the government giving a choice to either do what the administration wants, or face losing their health insurance.”

Poses a potential harm to women’s health — Dr. Angela Lanfranchi, a clinical assistant professor of surgery at Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in New Jersey told TGC that, “In 2005 the international agency on research of cancer, part of the World Health Organization, put oral contraceptives and hormone replacement therapy as a group one carcinogen for breast, cervical, and liver cancer.” However, she notes that, “In 2002, 15 million women stopped hormone replacement therapy, and the incidence of breast cancer went down 11 percent by 2007.”

A 2003 study sponsored by the National Cancer Institute indicated that the risk of breast cancer was highest for women who used oral contraceptives within five years prior to diagnosis, particularly among women ages 20 to 34.

Further restricts religious liberty — “The new rules are a full frontal assault on religious liberty at an institutional level,” says Wesley Smith, a bioethicist who serves as a senior fellow at the Discovery Institute’s Center for Human Exceptionalism, as a consultant for the Center for Bioethics and Culture, and with the Patients Rights Council.

Smith notes that until now controversies over conscience in health care have mostly involved doctors, nurses, and pharmacists, individuals whose “personal morality incidentally conflicted with the provision of legal medical procedures that either take life, e.g. abortion and assisted suicide, or dispense contraception and/or abortifacients.” But this rule goes much farther than creating a conflict of individual conscience, Smith says.

“Rather the rules assert a federal power to essentially veto religious institutions’ decisions to act consistently with their religious dogma and moral values anywhere outside of the church, synagogue, mosque, or temple.”

  • http://thislightshineseternal.blogspot.com George

    He’s a lawyer and a really good one at that, so it’s safe to say that his action was deliberate in every way.

  • http://worksofanselm.blogspot.com Naomi A.

    This is very disturbing, but sadly not all that surprising…

  • KBH

    Oral contraceptives can carry some risk to women, but it’s extremely minimal in low-dose contraceptives. The free provision of low-dose hormonal contraceptives could VERY likely lower the number of abortions occurring, which would be WONDERFUL. (I know Christians disagree over whether life begins at implantation, fertilization, etc…but regardless, oral contraceptives are not in the same league as abortion.)

    I am often repulsed at the image the Church presents to society at large–we go to war in the public sphere over contraception, while very few of us are willing to actively do something to help women who cannot afford contraceptives, become pregnant, and deliver babies. If every Christian who stood against contraception/abortion also could genuinely say, “Please, allow ME to support you and adopt the child you bear!”…..it would carry a lot more weight and change more hearts. I wish we’d fight abortion primarily by emphasizing the beauty of adoption.

  • Dr. Matt Pflieger

    The opinion on whether to mandate the coverage of birth control should be well debated and I think this article does discuss great view points on the controversy. However, the section on the health implications need to be taken carefully. The article is mixing two different conversations: oral contraceptives vs hormone replacement. They are the same medicine but used for different purposes which can lead to different outcomes. Also, we know there are a lot of complicated reasons why more women are getting breast cancer and earlier. We have to be careful of causation vs causality. In addition, oral contraceptives decrease the risk of ovarian cancer. I suppose, it was convienent to leave that information out of the article.

    • Phil R.

      re: Dr Pfleiger’s comment: Convenient? Indeed. Misleading? Perhaps.

      I am surprised at the lack of concern to be forthright and completely honest many evangelicals demonstrate when arguing over these issues. I’m also saddened by the subtle shift going on at the Gospel Coalition from a blog about gospel issues to one of assumed American Conservative politics. This article seems to directly contravene the sentiments found in the Gospel Coalition’s ‘About Us’ statement of ‘[being] troubled by…the politicization of faith’.

      I must say I agree with KBH entirely.

      • MRS

        Thank God Wilberforce, Bonhoffer and King didn’t avoid politics.

        • Phil R

          Amen to that but my point still stands. If the GC want to become more political they should change their mission statement and be upfront about it.

          • http://blogs.thegospelcoalition.org Collin Hansen

            I invite you to read TGC’s Theological Vision for Ministry, one of our two foundation documents. There you will see that our mandate includes encouraging churches to engage “with the social structures of ordinary people, and cultural engagement with art, business, scholarship, and government.” The statement also says, “God is concerned not only for the salvation of souls but also for the relief of poverty, hunger, and injustice.”

            If we’re going to fulfill these elements of our foundation documents, that necessarily involves TGC in so-called political issues such as life and social justice. That doesn’t mean, however, that we have any intention of falling into the destructive politicization that characterized the Religious Right. Hopefully we can learn from these mistakes.

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