Insurance Coverage of Birth Control: It’s Not About Religious Freedom

See all our coverage of the 2012 Contraceptive Mandate here.

I’ve always appreciated that The United Methodist Church has never claimed to be a victim of religious persecution. Even though we imposed our religious views on others when we pushed through an amendment to the U.S. Constitution prohibiting sale and manufacture of alcohol nearly 100 years ago, we did not insist our religious liberty was infringed when Prohibition was repealed.

We strongly oppose gambling and find war incompatible with Christian teaching. We don’t suggest, however, that the spread of gambling and the constant warfare around the world represent persecution of Methodism.

Why is it that the liberty of those who are denied basic health-care services is not at issue?

Yet, when the General Board of Church & Society agreed that religiously affiliated employers have an obligation to provide contraceptive services through the health insurance plans they offer to their employees, we have been accused of thwarting the religious liberty of various groups such as evangelical Christians and the Roman Catholic Church.

Why is it that the liberty of those who are denied basic health-care services is not at issue? Contraception benefits society. It reduces the spread of sexually transmitted diseases, reduces the need for abortions, and assists families to plan the number and spacing of their children.

Doesn’t make it so

Just because someone says their religious liberty is being infringed upon does not make it so. Just because the Catholic hierarchy says that birth control is a sin against God does not make it so.

This is one area where The United Methodist Church is in clear disagreement with the Roman Catholic Church: “People have the duty to consider the impact on the total world community of their decisions regarding childbearing and should have access to information and appropriate means to limit their fertility” (United Methodist Social Principles, 162K, 2008 Discipline). “We affirm the right of men and women to have access to comprehensive reproductive health/family planning information and services that will serve as a means to prevent unplanned pregnancies, reduce abortions, and prevent the spread of HIV/AIDS” (Social Principles, 162V, 2008 Discipline).

A compromise has been offered that enables religiously affiliated institutions to refuse basic contraception coverage to their employees by mandating that insurance companies offer these services to women who opt for them. Catholic leadership has rejected the compromise.

Why? Because they don’t want women to have the liberty to choose to use birth control. They want to deny that freedom to women.

Wrong then and now

There were those who argued that racial segregation was biblically mandated, that keeping women out of church leadership was sanctioned by God, and that destruction of the environment is approved by God. All of these notions were and are wrong. Religious freedom is not violated by denying religiously affiliated hospitals, universities and other institutions the right to discriminate on the basis of race or gender.

Now, Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri proposes that any employer — religious or anti-religious, for that matter — should have the “right” to refuse coverage to its employees of any services, treatments or medications it disagrees with.

Perhaps an employer may hold the wild idea that use of pain medication or anesthesia indicates some sort of moral weakness. Therefore, the employer excludes that from the health-insurance plan offered to employees. Or, maybe an employer thinks that people contract diabetes due to poor dietary and exercise decisions they’ve made. Therefore, the employer doesn’t want to offer treatment for the disease.

Notice, if you will, that in this debate it is the religious freedom of institutions and corporations that is being addressed, not that of employees. In a world where corporations are declared to be people —where corporations even claim religious freedom — is it possible that real human beings, employees, no longer will have the rights of human beings or the freedom to practice behavior they consider ethical?

We hold as a denomination the belief that health care is a basic right and part of that includes ensuring access for women to contraception. This is about the common good.

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  • colek3

    Well said, thanks for your perspective.  I was interested to learn about the origination of the Catholic Church’s current stance via this wonderful article yesterday:


    I wonder how many Catholics actually know this?

  • janiehummel

    No one is being denied coverage for contraceptives. They are more than free to pay for those on their own. The employer chooses the health plan and what goes into it. It is a private business and they can make decisions based upon their beliefs. Same goes for the insurance companies, they are their own private businesses.

    It has NOTHING to do with contraceptives, but EVERYTHING to do with the government’s infringement upon private businesses to control their every action. We do not want the government in BED with business. We are not a Facist nation nor do we want to be.

  • jennifer-starr

    As I understand it, with the compromise the cost for contraceptive coverage is not coming out of the employers pocket, so I fail to see where they would be compromised at all. And personally I would find an employer who was that preoccupied with the personal medical choices of their employees to be borderline creepy.  I don’t see where religious freedom includes the power to force others who may not share your faith to follow your particular dictates. Nor do I see why any woman who works for a secular organization should be inconvenienced because her employer happens to be religious.  That’s facism. 

    News for you. There is no ‘war on religion’. There is also no ‘war on Christmas’. There is, however, a very real war on women, and it needs to end. 

  • colleen

    The employer chooses the health plan and what goes into it. It is a private business and they can make decisions based upon their beliefs. Same goes for the insurance companies, they are their own private businesses.

    A great many people don’t believe that employers should have a say about the sex lives and fertility decisions of the women they employ. This is particularly true when the employer is a conservative Republican of either gender.