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.”