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Catholic bishops' birth control stance harms employees, bioethicist says

This week GOP presidential candidate Mitt Romney angrily decreed that the Obama administration's health plan to cover birth control as an "assault on religion." Newt Gingrich and Rick Santorum issued press releases decrying the insensitivity of the government’s religious freedom.

But, I invite you to envision a different scenario: Imagine that the Governing Body of Jehovah's Witnesses, which is based in Brooklyn, NY, creates a printing company that happily employs people from many faiths and cultural backgrounds. The company’s sole task is to print all the Witness literature that its followers distribute door-to-door all over the world.  That literature clearly states the Jehovah’s Witnesses adamant opposition to blood transfusion. Then the federal government then issues a national set of minimal standards which all companies operating as public entities must provide as part of the health insurance coverage they offer.

The Governing Body is outraged because on that list are blood transfusions. They issue a statement accusing the President of trying to crush religious liberty by forcing their printing company, which employs many non-Jehovah’s witnesses, to cover transfusions.

In that instance, would politicians be rushing to slam the health care plan on the basis of religious freedom? Would anyone in the media be sympathetic if the entire leadership of the Jehovah’s Witnesses said they would not budge an inch in including coverage of blood transfusions at their printing company no matter what government, doctors or even their own employees believe that ought to have covered?  I doubt it.

White House announcement on birth control coverage expected Friday

And yet, this is exactly the reaction that has greeted the pronouncement by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops that they feel persecuted by the inclusion of birth control in the list of covered benefits that they need to provide when they operate institutions in the public arena.

Keep in mind the factual evidence for the value of contraception in preventing unwanted pregnancies, abortionsand even diseases such as endometriosis is not in dispute. Disregard the fact that the majority of states already require contraceptive coverage by entities operated by the Catholic Church. Ignore the fact that the overwhelming majority of sexually active Catholic women ignore the church position on contraception and, following their conscience, use it regularly. Somehow making birth control affordable violates some unfathomable view of government-church-employer relations.

How did the imposition of an insurance mandate on companies operating in the public sphere become an act of religious intolerance? Don't those who do not follow the teachings of the Catholic Church but work in companies, hospitals, nursing homes or hospices have any rights?

Should we defend the exclusion of safe and effective blood transfusions, contraception, cures derived from embryonic stem cells or whatever else a religion may deem immoral from secular, public programs even if their employees do not care about or agree with the religions teachings and do want the coverage?

It creates a lot of concern when those who operate public institutions decry the federal government’s mandate to pay for birth control. But the victims of the war are not being properly identified. By fighting back against the coverage of contraception the Bishops have declared war – on everyone else’s moral and religious views who happen to work for them.

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