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Should employers be able to deny contraceptives to employees?

BY DI EDITORIAL STAFF | MARCH 08, 2012 6:30 AM

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No

The recent attempt to pass an amendment allowing employers to determine whether certain women's health benefits would still be covered by insurance was (51 to 48) too close for comfort. Those in favor of this amendment are incorrectly viewing this a religious/moral issue when it is simply an issue of a woman's right to health.

Although the recent issue of the narrowly denied Blunt Amendment should not even be considered an issue of religious and moral rights, I will briefly entertain the idea. Cardinal Timothy Dolan voiced his frustration by calling the current system, which mandates the coverage of women's health benefits such as contraception an "unwarranted, unprecedented intrusion of the Church." However, the current system allows religious institutions to opt out of the mandate.

The conflict arises when religious affiliations are self-insured; they may no longer opt out of the mandate, requiring them to provide these crucial women's health benefits. If providing this care to women is infringing on the employers' religious or moral beliefs in such a severe way, they have the option to stop being self-insured. Instead of fixing the problem by switching, they call for the government to accommodate them in a way that is unfair to others.

If religious institutions in question decided to stay self-insured, however, they would still have to provide the contraceptives that are causing them so much moral anguish.

But here's a thought: Just because it is provided doesn't mean their employees are forced to take them. They are simply available to those who want them.

Feminist Majority Leadership Alliance President Rebecca Bacon Ehlers said, "It is frustrating to me that not only does this amendment underscore the fact that [national] leaders are not comfortable with women making their own decisions, but the churches do not trust that their [female] employees who dedicate their lives to the Church would stay true to these moral beliefs and not take the contraceptives."

So, to the religious institutions who have such a problem with the current mandate, I would like to introduce you to two skills that are crucial to a cohesive society: problem-solving and compromise.

The narrow scope of the argument in favor of passing this amendment causes supporters to overlook other womens' health benefits that employers would have the right to deny. These benefits include such items as mammograms and prenatal care. Supporters of the bill cling to the notion of contraceptives with the knowledge that their fixation on this issue will rally the support of the Catholic community.

If passed, the Blunt Amendment would have given employers the freedom to dictate their insurance coverage based off whether they conflicts with their religious or moral beliefs.

Sen. Frank Lutenburg, New Jersey Democrat, put it this way: "… [Y]our boss will decide whether you're acting morally [in your personal life]"

Not only would this give employers too much control, it would also allow them to take advantage of the amendment and skimp on health care in order to save money but chalk it up to the fact that certain services were against their morals.

Nice try, Republicans, but this amendment's goals are too broad, and they would create too much moral hazard.

— Rebecca Abellera

Yes

Our national conversation has been severely disfigured and misguided over the last two months. We've hitched a ride on a time machine back to at least the 1950s and are debating the merits of birth control. This has been sparked by an announcement by the Department of Health and Human Services that removed the religious-affiliated exemption from a rule that created new market rules requiring insurers provide women's preventive services at no cost back in August.

Gallons of gasoline have been poured on this brushfire. Many Catholics concluded — myself included — that this is a violation of religious liberty. Then Sandra Fluke, a law student-gone-political-activist from Georgetown University, provided testimony to a Congressional panel, crying foul about the exorbitant prices she pays for contraception. She claimed that she spent $3,000 over the course of her time at law school, which cannot be true. Even the most expensive contraceptives can be bought for $1,800 over the same period.

(And Rush Limbaugh — he really screwed up in calling Fluke a slut on national radio last week, although it was taken slightly out of context. But that doesn't make it right. And neither should it be right for left-wing talkies to engage in the same kind of misogynist speech, but it seems to be OK for them as long as it's against conservative women.)

What I'm trying to say is that we have dived down a rabbit hole that we won't come out of unless we change the debate. The amendment proposed by Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., should have been passed in order to reverse the contraception mandate. But I stand by that only as long as we have a health-insurance system dominated by employer-provided fringe benefits.

It was a way for businesses to cope with wage controls during World War II. Congress predictably wrote loopholes into the laws and regulations that exempted fringe benefits, so they were taken advantage of. Economists argue that this system is partially responsible for the inflation of medical costs, which is the rationale for the same law that includes the contraception rule — Obamacare.

We live in an economy in which employers still have the freedom to choose what fringe benefits to provide to their employees, and workers have the freedom to seek out a job that provides fringe benefits that suit their needs. So this has been happening for more than 60 years, but no one even thought to complain.

Without the Blunt Amendment, the federal government is yet again infringing on the free-market system. We cannot allow this to happen. If more people would wise up and buy into an individual health-insurance plan, we wouldn't be having this discussion.

Only now when it becomes politically advantageous for a Democratic administration to frame their Republican rivals as misogynist pigs does it suddenly become the issue that grabs national headlines.
I, for one, am not going to sit by and let this ridiculousness be framed into such a small box while our leaders get richer — both monetarily and politically — and their drug company buddies on K Street get even richer.

Joe Schueller


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