Religious freedom and health insurance

On January 20, 2011 the department of Health and Human Services announced its ruling regarding a controversial part of the current administration’s healthcare plan. The health care plan includes a provision requiring all insurance providers to cover contraception at no cost to those who are insured. There is a religious exemption in the plan that allows churches who are morally opposed to contraception to offer insurance to their employees which does not provide this coverage. However, this exemption does not include church-affiliated organizations such as schools and hospitals. After the original requirement was made public last August, many church-affiliated organizations had requested that they be included in the exemption. The announcement a week and a half ago stated that such church-affiliated organizations would not be included in the exemption and would have to provide the coverage even if it violated the moral convictions of the organization. Those organizations were given an extra year before they have to comply with the regulation, but their compliance will be required.

This ruling is a significant attack on religious liberty in the United States. Religious liberty should include protection from being forced by the government to violate one’s moral values. It should include more than just the freedom to have beliefs. It must include the freedom to live in a way that does not violate those beliefs. Since the primary religious organization that has taken a moral stand against the use of contraception is the Roman Catholic Church, many see this is a purely Catholic issue, but it is much more than that. I do not happen to agree with the Roman Catholic position that says that all contraception is morally impermissible, but it is a well reasoned position based on fundamental parts of the Roman Catholic faith. As such their position should be respected, and they should not be forced by our government to violate their moral beliefs.

One part of the ruling impacts many non-Catholic church-affiliated organizations. The requirement for covering contraception includes drugs such as Plan B and Ella that are used after unprotected sexual intercourse to prevent a pregnancy from continuing if one has occurred. These medicines are not actually contraception because they do not work primarily to prevent conception, but to prevent the continuation of a pregnancy before the pregnancy is known to exist. Many of us to come from an evangelical Christian position find being forced to pay for these medicines just as morally objectionable as the Roman Catholic Church views other types of contraception.

It is interesting that when Robert George, Timothy George, and Chuck Colson drafted the Manhattan Declaration back in 2009 they chose to affirm three foundational moral principles which Christians from the Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Evangelical traditions all supported. Those three principles were the inherent dignity of every human being, marriage as a conjugal union of man and woman, and religious liberty. I think there are many who may have wondered why they included the third principle as something on which Christians needed to take a stand. This ruling by HHS helps to make that more clear.

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Jon Holmlund, M.D.
Jon Holmlund, M.D.

From Rick Santorum’s interview with Hugh Hewitt yesterday: HH: Rick Santorum, what do you advise Catholic hospitals, Catholic colleges, Catholic…the centers of poverty assistance, the adoption agencies? What do you advise them to do in the face of, as Archbishop Olmstead said, we cannot comply with this unjust law? RS: Civil disobedience. This will not stand. There’s no way they can make this stand. The Supreme Court, eventually, this thing’s going to get to the Supreme Court just like the ministerial hiring issue that was just decided by the Supreme Court the other day. And it was a 9-0 decision… Read more »