Will Arizona Women Have to Petition Their Bosses for Birth Control?

March 15, 2012, 8:00 am | Posted by

Arizona FlagLast month, we covered the testimony of Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University Law student who testified in favor of the HHS regulation requiring all insurance plans to include birth control and other preventive services without co-pay. In particular, she highlighted the consequences of letting employers deny women these services, relaying the story of a friend who lost her ovary after she could no longer afford to pay out of pocket for contraceptive pills to treat her ovarian cysts.

Since Fluke’s testimony and the subsequent backlash from the far Right, the media has been saturated with coverage of the debate between religious liberty and reproductive freedom. However, as Nicole Neroulias’ recent Huffington Post piece rightly points out, framing the story in these terms misses this part of Fluke’s actual testimony.

“[A]s Fluke tried to explain in her opening statement, both frames miss the big picture: Women take the pill to address myriad health issues, from ovarian cancer, menstrual problems, hormone imbalances and fertility treatments to cystic acne, et al. This is the angle I’ve been waiting in vain for religious and mainstream journalists to acknowledge and investigate.

And logically, even when clergy approve of contraceptives for unrelated medical reasons, how would they have their institutions apply these directives? Should women who work at Catholic hospitals and schools get a doctor’s note for their bosses before requesting insurance reimbursement for the birth control pill? Would ovarian cysts and infertility make the cut, but acne and bad cramps be more along the lines of God’s will?”

This logistical problem is currently playing out in Arizona, where proposed Blunt Amendment-style legislation that would allow employers with moral objections to opt out of contraceptive coverage includes an exemption for employees who need it for health reasons, but only if they get permission from their employer.

I presume this measure is meant to prevent employees from lying about health problems to exploit this as a “loophole” to gain coverage for contraception. The law even makes it easier for employers to fire women for doing so.

But what about the 44% of women who use contraception for both health and birth control reasons? Do they have to convince their boss they’ve renounced the latter? Will people’s job security hinge on their bosses’ interpretations of their sincerity?

Further, does this principle apply to other drugs that can be used in multiple ways as well? Do single men with Viagra prescriptions need to prove they suffer from pulmonary arterial hypertension? Do employees need to convince their boss they aren’t abusing their painkiller prescriptions for recreational purposes? Is it practical to try to enforce legal lines that are based on the intention a person has when he or she uses a drug?

Turning bosses into moral and medical authorities over their employees seems to go far beyond bill proponents’ ostensible goal of limiting an employer’s involvement in practices they disagree with and clearly into the realm of directly controlling the behavior of their workers.

Tara Culp-Ressler contributed to this post.

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Will Catholic Bishops Reconsider a Failing Strategy on Religious Liberty?

March 14, 2012, 3:47 pm | Posted by

A select group of Catholic bishops meeting in Washington this week may be ready to consider a wiser approach to framing religious liberty arguments. Stephanie Simon of Reuters has the story.

Facing small but clear signs of discontent within their own ranks, U.S. Catholic bishops may be poised to rethink their aggressive tactics for fighting a federal mandate that health insurance plans cover contraception, according to sources close to influential bishops. There are no indications that the bishops will drop their fight against the federal mandate. But dozens of bishops, meeting this week in Washington, are likely to discuss concerns that their battle against the Obama administration over birth control risks being viewed by the public as narrow and partisan and thus diminishes the church’s moral authority, the sources said.

One sign of a coming recalibration: A sweeping statement on religious liberty, now circulating in draft form, that aims to broaden the bishops’ focus far beyond the contraception mandate.

The draft statement, slated to be released soon to a burst of publicity, condemns an array of local, state and federal policies as violations of religious freedom, said Martin Nussbaum, a private attorney who has consulted with the bishops. The draft cites, for instance, a Republican-backed law in Alabama that makes it a crime to harbor, transport or rent property to illegal immigrants. The bishops have joined liberals in opposing that law, arguing that would make it a crime to minister to people in need.

This is hopeful news. Catholic bishops find themselves increasingly isolated from leaders of Catholic hospitals and social service agencies that provide direct care. These Catholic institutions – including the influential Catholic Health Association – have signaled the administration’s religious accommodation on the contraception coverage mandate provides a workable solution.

Let’s hope the voices of moderate bishops like Bishop Blase Cupich are not drowned out by a vocal minority who often seem to prefer a fight with this administration. When bishops move the goal posts, find themselves aligned with GOP presidential candidates looking to score political points and fail to distinguish between Catholic moral principles and the prudent application of those principles to policy questions in a diverse society, their cause is deeply weakened.


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Rev. Richard Cizik on the “War on Religion”

March 13, 2012, 10:28 am | Posted by

At the Huffington Post, Rev. Richard Cizik, President of the New Evangelical Partnership for the Common Good weighs in on the “war on religion” rhetoric emanating from religious opponents of the HHS contraception regulation:

The fierce backlash from some evangelical Christian leaders to President Obama’s sensible decision to cover contraception services under the health care reform law brings to mind Groucho Marx’s definition of politics: “The art of looking for trouble, finding it, misdiagnosing it, and then misapplying the wrong remedies.”

Christian mega-pastor Rick Warren is willing to engage in civil disobedience. The National Association of Evangelicals is reportedly considering asking pastors of every evangelical denomination to read an open letter to their congregations calling the requirement to make birth control for women available without co-pays an attack on religious liberty — despite an exemption for religious institutions affiliated with faiths that forbid contraception. Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, insists there is “no compromise.”

As an evangelical leader, I’ve been involved in defending religious freedom for three decades. Compromise is not always a moral failure in a pluralistic society. In an election year, we must also distinguish between real attacks on faith and cheap demagoguery to score political points. GOP presidential candidates who have been assailing President Obama’s supposed “war on religion” should be ashamed of themselves. This irresponsible and inflammatory rhetoric makes a mockery of the victims of real wars and unconscionable religious persecution around the world.

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EJ Dionne on the Choice Facing the U.S. Catholic Bishops

March 12, 2012, 1:07 pm | Posted by

E.J. Dionne weighs in on the strategic and moral choice facing the American Catholic bishops as they meet this week:

The nation’s Roman Catholic bishops will make an important decision this week: Do they want to defend the church’s legitimate interest in religious autonomy, or do they want to wage an election-year war against President Obama?

And do the most conservative bishops want to junk the Roman Catholic Church as we have known it, with its deep commitment to both life and social justice, and turn it into the Tea Party at prayer?

These are the issues confronting the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ administrative committee when it begins a two-day meeting on Tuesday. The bishops should ponder how they transformed a moment of exceptional Catholic unity into an occasion for recrimination and anger.

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Texas Homeless Services Cuts Show Why Charities Aren’t Enough

March 8, 2012, 3:00 pm | Posted by

Philanthropy Today reports on services for the homeless shrinking in Texas after state budget cuts:

Texas social-service charities are cutting back after the state eliminated a $20-million program for helping the homeless, the Fort Worth Star-Telegram writes.

Legislators last year eliminated the two-year-old homeless-assistance program in the state’s eight largest cities, which allocated most of the money in grants to nonprofit providers.

With the state funding gone, the Salvation Army’s emergency shelter in Fort Worth reduced its corps of case managers from four to one and trimmed employment, outreach, and rental-assistance programs.

This tragic situation is yet another illustration of the fundamental flaw in the argument that churches and charities can fill the void when conservatives gut the safety net.

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