Many Catholic hospitals and businesses are adamantly protesting a mandate from the Department of Health and Human Services that would require businesses that provide health insurance to cover birth control and other contraceptives.
Catholics are traditionally opposed to birth control and being forced to provide it for their employees creates a moral dilemma. Though some exceptions to the mandate have been made, they do little to respect personal and religious convictions.
The separation of church and state may sound simple in theory, but in reality has always been subject to gray areas. Catholic-run or affiliated businesses hold themselves to certain moral standards that don’t necessarily align with the secular standards the government imposes on all businesses.
Courts have ruled that women should have access to birth control, but the Bill of Rights guarantees freedom of religion. Which takes precedence here? The question is not easily answered, but it would help to understand where Catholics and other religious groups are coming from on this issue.
Many people today don’t see anything particularly wrong or sinful about birth control. It’s widely used and considered part of modern society.
However, one main reason why Christians and others object to birth control is that many forms, such as birth control pills, can be considered abortive. From a pro-life point of view, life begins at conception, and while the pill aims to prevent conception, it also stops fertilized eggs from implanting in the womb.
A zygote failing to develop might not seem like a major loss to abortion advocates, but anti-abortion individuals recognize the loss of a unique human life every time this occurs.
Once abortion enters the discussion, it’s clear to see why the birth control mandate has generated so much controversy. Many Americans may not be aware of the abortive side to birth control, which might make them more sympathetic to the Catholic viewpoint.
Abortion and birth control have come up frequently in the Republican presidential debates. Mitt Romney denounced the mandate in Colorado earlier this month for requiring “churches and the institutions they run” to provide “abortive pills and the like,” according to MSNBC.
Recent Gallup polls have shown that Americans are split down the middle on the issue of abortion, though the number of Americans who identify as pro-life has increased from 33 percent in 1995 to 45 percent last year.
Also, 51 percent of Americans believe abortion is morally wrong, while 39 percent see it as morally acceptable, according to a 2011 Gallup poll. The debate is far from settled.
President Barack Obama did offer an exception for religious employers, but many argue it doesn’t go far enough. In a USA Today column, Notre Dame law professor Richard Garnett said the exception is “so stingy as to be nearly meaningless. It does nothing for individuals or insurers, and it applies only to employers whose purpose is ‘the inculcation of religious values’ and that hire or serve primarily those of the same religious faith.”
Garnett said most large religious groups serve more than only their congregants, and therefore wouldn’t qualify for this “exception.”
Even if Catholic businesses are unpopular for not offering birth control, they should be exempt from the mandate. Employees who absolutely need insurance-provided birth control can look elsewhere for employment, and many religious businesses would gladly lose their reputation in exchange for a clear conscience.
Michael Hardcastle is a senior majoring in creative writing.