Two weeks ago during Rep. Darrell Issa’s hearing on the contraception mandate and religious liberty, Catholic Bishop William Lori made an elaborate analogy in his testimony comparing the mandate to a kosher deli being forced to serve pork to its customers.
As I explained, this was a terrible analogy. Employers providing health insurance are entirely different than restaurants serving customers, and birth control is nothing like pork.
Apparently, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty’s Asma Uddin didn’t get the message. Responding to a question from Chairman Smith at today’s Judiciary Committee hearing on the same subject, Uddin made the following similarly problematic analogy:
SMITH: What are other examples, what else could the government force religious organizatiosn to provide if this madnate were to remain in effect as is unchanged.
UDDIN: Well, I mean, this mandate has been justified on the basis of the fact that there’s health benefits to providing contraceptives. But the issue of health benefits is not the point. If the government mandated everything that had positive health benefits, it could possibly mandate that everyone drink red wine for heart health even though it violates the religious beliefs of Muslims and Mormons. And it could mandate that everyone eat shellfish even though that violates the religious beliefs of Jews.
Uddin’s comments hearken back to the conservative canard that the Affordable Care Act’s individual coverage mandate would allow the government to force you to eat broccoli.
I don’t know what it is with conservatives and force feeding, but let’s be clear here; no one is going to force anyone to ingest anything, pork, shellfish, birth control pills, you name it. Nor, as Republican committee members fretted about in the hearing, does the government now have the power to force individuals to stop smoking, exercise or make any other personal behavior changes.
The policy question at stake is about setting a minimum requirement of services in commercial health insurance plans — services that are optional for the planholder to use.
Even if Uddin were complaining that the preventive service coverage requirement merely sets a precedent for the government to require that shellfish and wine be included in this list of mandated services in the future, she’d still be off base.
The required free preventive services such as cancer screenings and contraception were recommended by the independent Institute of Medicine (IOM), which reviewed evidence-based scientific and medical research and expert opinion to develop a list of services that fit the guidelines set out by Congress in the Affordable Care Act. So long as the IOM isn’t supplanted by the National Restaurant Association, we don’t have to worry about doctors being forced to write prescriptions for shrimp cocktails.
The IOM’s review was professional, rigorous, comprehensive and open to public comment. To suggest that this process might lead to frivolous inclusions of random foodstuffs demonstrates both a misunderstanding of the system and disrespect for the experts involved.
Exasperated protestations against the unprecedented consolidation of power by a “Big Brother” government intent on taking control of every aspect of Americans’ personal lives may make for exciting campaign speeches, but they have absolutely nothing to do with the policies in question.
In another piece of news about Catholics reacting positively to the Obama administration’s religious accommodation on contraception coverage, faculty members at John Carroll University have written a letter to their university president urging him to drop his opposition.
47 of John Carroll University’s roughly 215 faculty members signed a letter to school president Robert L. Niehoff, SJ, asking him to accept the contraception “accommodation” and include such coverage in employee health plans. The faculty members express their concern that “the bishops have chosen a path of continued confrontation.” Given that the bishops “have rejected the accommodation offered by the administration,” they continue, “leads us to wonder what motivates their continued resistance.”
These faculty members join the Catholic Health Association, the Association of Jesuit Colleges and Universities, Catholic theologians and Catholic social justice leaders in expressing support for President Obama’s sensible approach to protecting the conscience rights of religious employers and women’s health.
In contrast, Catholic bishops have continued to fight the Obama administration, insisting that their particular legal analysis is the only valid Catholic position. But just like the way the Bishops’ misconceptions about abortion funding became a contentious issue in the health care reform debate, this controversy isn’t simply a matter of moral principles, but rather a policy question of how to apply those principles in a complex legal and regulatory environment.
In this video from the Center for American Progress, Jonathan Gruber, MIT economist and former special advisor to the President on health care (he also worked on Masschusetts’s health care reform) explains with visual aids how the Affordable Care Act is working and debunks some of the common myths about the law.
Gruber also has written a comic book elaborating on this message.
During last week’s House Committee on Oversight and Government hearing on religious freedom, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-CT) posed a question to the witnesses about women who take oral contraceptives for purely medical reasons, such as those who need to mitigate their risk for ovarian cancer or blood clots.
Catholic Bishop William Lori responded that “our Catholic law of theology…recognizes that the same drug can be used for different purposes with different effects and our plans reflect that, so we should be given credit for the nuance and the understanding that we have already brought to the table.”
That stands as an interesting contrast to the testimony of Sandra Fluke, the Georgetown University Law School student who was prevented from speaking at last week’s hearing by Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) for supposedly being “unqualified.” Given a subsequent opportunity Wednesday at a special hearing convened by the House Democratic Steering and Policy Committee, Fluke relayed stories of her female classmates who have struggled to gain access to the health care that their medical conditions demanded under Georgetown’s insurance guidelines.
One of Fluke’s friends needed birth control bills to prevent ovarian cysts; as a self-identified lesbian, she was clearly not interested in the contraceptive purposes of the pill. However, despite a letter from her doctor detailing her medical needs, she was denied coverage under Georgetown’s plan and unable to afford the high cost of birth control pills on her own. As a result of stopping her treatment, she soon developed a massive cyst on her ovary and underwent invasive surgery to remove it – a surgery which may have compromised her ability to conceive later in life.
This isn’t a small point. 58 percent of women who have used birth control pills report that they use the pill for reasons other than contraception, and 14 percent of women use birth control for purely medical reasons. For these women, access to contraception is not a theoretical debate about religion and politics, it’s a matter of critical health care.
Since, as Bishop Lori clearly articulated, the Catholic Church acknowledges there’s no controversy around providing contraceptive pills for medical needs that fall outside of the usual theological proscription, Catholic employers negotiating religious exemptions ought to do a better job ensuring their policies actually match this principle.
The credit Bishop Lori believes the Church deserves for this “nuance and understanding” should be reserved until these insurance plans actually put it into practice.
CORRECTION: This post originally stated that 95% of women who use birth control pills report that they use it for reasons other than contraception. The actual figure is 58%. 95% represents the number of women who have never had sex who do so. We regret the error.
Irin Carmon has a great piece at Salon this week debunking the conservative myth (most recently perpetuated by Ross Douthat) that contraception access isn’t linked to lower abortion rates. As Carmon points out,
…Even if you believe women have no right to terminate pregnancies in any circumstance, it requires serious, willful ignorance to argue that contraceptive access has nothing to with lowering the U.S.’ unusually high number of unwanted pregnancies, which is what we should really be talking about here.
Nick dealt with this same bogus argument when he interviewed Marjorie Dannenfelser of Susan B. Anthony List last year. Playing loose with the concept of causation, anti-birth control advocates attempt to explain that since contraceptive use and availability have increased in the same period abortion rates have, contraception has clearly “failed” to reduce abortions.
Carmon takes a detailed look at actual scientific studies that prove Douthat and Dannefelser wrong. She also points out that the U.S. has the highest rates of unintended pregnancy in the developed world, and that increasing access to contraception and accurate sex education can make significant strides in helping support women and families:
Spacing out and planning pregnancies (or avoiding them altogether) improves the overall health of women and babies; the federal Institute of Medicine’s own research has indicated that unintended pregnancy is linked “to a wide array of health, social and economic consequences, from delayed prenatal care and poor birth outcomes to maternal depression and family violence to a failure to achieve educational and career goals.” The new contraceptive coverage guidelines could be the single most significant pro-active policy tool to combat those consequences…
Unfortunately, too many on the Religious Right would rather use this issue as a culture-war cudgel than acknowledge the positive impact contraception has on the lives of individual women and families and our society.