Exactly one year ago, I wrote an editorial that generated much conversation entitled: Let The Bishops Have Their Bottle. The industry and the country alike were in the middle of the debate over the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) and the implications that the law would have for religious organizations that objected to providing contraceptive care on the basis that it blew in the face of their religious beliefs.
Now, one year later, after a contentious Supreme Court hearing that consumed the attention of the country, PPACA is the law of the land. And yet, as employers are poised for implementation, debate is still raging and there is a strong possibility that aspects of the law might once again be thrust onto the highest court for reinterpretation if not resolution.
But first, let’s go back to last January. I contended that Catholic organizations, like hospitals and schools, should be exempt from providing contraceptive care. Religious institutions themselves had already had an exemption carved out for them but, organizations, because they employ non-Catholics, were not afforded that pardon.
I argued that people who were employed by religious institutions should not be surprised when they find religious undertones permeating the workplace: The janitor at a Catholic hospital should not expect steak to be served in the cafeteria on Fridays.
Well, I am a year older and maybe a smidge wiser, and at this point I disagree with my initial position. Contraceptives, which are widely used for many other purposes, are not steak. The current battle over the provision is not just being waged by religious institutions but also by private companies who are run by individuals morally opposed to contraception.
It has been widely documented that 99 percent of women use contraceptives at some point in their lives. Adolescent girls and young women are often prescribed birth control pills for irregular menstruation cycles, menstrual cramps, endometriosis and Polycystic Ovary Syndrome, an endocrine disorder. I don’t think that one could argue that just because a woman works for a religiously-affiliated organization — or any other employer who is morally opposed to contraceptives — that they should be denied access to these drugs.
But private employers and religious organizations alike are digging in their heels, and many are girding for long, extended battles that will very likely wind up back at the Supreme Court. The New York Times recently reported that many private companies and institutions are being granted injunctions by judges who contend that the religious values of owners are being infringed upon by the law.
I disagree with that point of view. Private companies and organizations that are affiliated with any religion should not be able to force their beliefs upon their employees. These groups, as far as I am aware, had no qualms with hiring someone who disagreed with their moral stance to perform tasks (whether menial or instrumental) for the organization so they should not be able refuse to obey a law that pertains to employers because their employees would be entitled to something that they do not agree with.
As William Marshall, a First Amendment scholar at the University of North Carolina Law School asserts in the article in the Times, “an employer could have an objection of conscience to anything the government wants you to do — pay taxes — because they will go to fund a war or be used for capital punishment.” It is a slippery slope.
There was one example in the article that really got me thinking. One employer, the article explains, was willing to cover contraception but considers the morning after pill wrong. I have to agree. I don’t think that the morning after pill should be considered contraception and no employer should have to cover it under such. Birth control and contraception are often referred to as “family planning.” The operative word in the phrase is planning. Unlike birth control, there no health benefits — at least that I have found — for the morning after pill and therefore, I see no reason for it to be considered under the traditional definition of contraception. In fact, it has an entirely different term to describe it: Emergency postcoital contraception.
Undoubtedly there will be some that say that if contraception fails, there should be a back-up plan. The fact is, contraception does not fail often and the morning after pill is not too expensive and readily available. It should not, however, be mandated to be made available by your employer.