Why Catholic bishops are wrong on contraception

The continuing argument between some GOP politicians and the rest of contemporary America about the position of contraceptives as basic health care for women is ridiculous on its surface. But it still manages to serve a purpose. It makes clear how the practice of tying health care to employment is utterly dangerous.

Can you imagine how outraged people would be if an employer who was one of Jehovah’s Witnesses refused to allow his employees’ health insurance to cover medically necessary blood transfusions? Or what about the member of the Church of Scientology, who has a legitimate conscience issue with providing prescription coverage for employees’ mental-health needs? Should she be able to tell an employee with depression, “Sorry about that, but my religion says you may not have medication”?

Yet this is precisely the position that the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops is taking: Even if—as is the case with many employees of Catholic hospitals, colleges and universities, and charitable institutions—the workers are not Catholic, the church reserves the right to make moral judgments about their health care.

We think that the compromise offered by the Obama administration—in which employees who do not share the church’s beliefs about contraception may access those services directly from the insurer without cost to the church—is a good one.

An even better solution would be to remove health insurance’s connection to employment.

The bishops are wrong here. The free exercise of their religion ends where the bodies of their employees begin, and those employees have a right to access any health-care service they choose with compensation they have earned for their labor.