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Why Birth Control is Not Pork

February 16, 2012, 2:33 pm | Posted by Nick Sementelli

Bishop William E. LoriThe most prominent witness at today’s House Committee on Oversight and Government hearing on religious freedom was The Most Reverend William E. Lori, Catholic Bishop of Bridgeport Connecticut.

For his opening statement, Bishop Lori made an elaborate analogy between religiously-affiliated institutions being required to include birth control coverage in their insurance policies and a kosher deli being hypothetically required to serve pork to its customers.

From the perspective of the religious institution, Bishop Lori is right in his assessment that Catholic views on birth control are roughly equivalent to Orthodox Jewish views on pork.

However, his analogy ultimately fails because he neglects to consider the other set of competing rights here — those of individuals whose health care will be affected.¬†When it comes to the life and health of individual Americans, birth control is nothing like pork at all.

Pork, while delicious, does not have a host of positive impacts on individual and social health outcomes. Eating pork does not help ensure that infants are not born premature or suffer from low birth weight. Families who eat pork are not less likely to get early prenatal health care, or have more economic difficulties and relationship problems. In short, there’s no particular government interest in ensuring people have access to pork.

A more appropriate analogy would be other medical service to which religious organizations or individuals object. In this case, a better example perhaps would be whether Jewish employers need to include in their health insurance policies coverage for insulin made from pigs or a porcine heart valve.

Suppose an employee at the kosher deli learns he has severe cardiac disease and needs a heart valve replacement, only to discover his employer refuses to cover it. What if he is unable to pay for the surgery out of pocket? Should every employee of the deli worry that any given trip to the doctor might result in a death sentence of an otherwise curable malady?

Opponents of the regulation might suggest that potential employees should know ahead of time that these procedures wouldn’t be covered by the deli. They choose to work there at their own risk and are free to find a new employer. But for one, is a deli really the same in its religious identity as a synagogue? Is it reasonable to expect employees to believe they are enacting a religious mission by serving sandwiches?

And second, should an employee be forced to make that choice, especially at a time when job seekers out-number job openings by 4-1 and families across the country are still struggling? Do we want to put employers between people and their doctors, letting a boss decide what treatment his employee is allowed to get?

Finally, any of these religious analogies only cover a small portion of the danger presented by proposed conservative changes to the regulation. The Blunt amendment being considered in Congress right now would allow any employer to drop any service for any moral objection.

Companies could theoretically decide they don’t want to cover pregnancy cost for their unmarried employees, or lung cancer treatment for smokers. And should we really trust that unscrupulous, cost-cutting employers won’t find a convenient moral explanation for their decision to drop all assortments of expensive coverage?

All of these questions are complex and difficult. They require hard conversations and tradeoffs of competing values. To insist, as Bishop Lori and other witnesses as today’s hearing do, that opponents of the regulation can just throw out the words “religious freedom” and close the case on this question is stunningly short-sighted.

One Response to “Why Birth Control is Not Pork”

  1. Dea Silvani Ochs says:

    You make me proud!!