Saturday, February 11, 2012

Saying no to healthcare discrimination

Religious conservatives are decrying the Obama administration’s decision to require health plans to offer contraception for women as an infringement of religious freedom.

I disagree.

What may appear to be a deceptively simple moral choice is really a moral dilemma. On the one hand, I strongly support religious freedom. Requiring the religious organization (mostly Roman Catholic, because they are the predominant objector to contraception) to provide contraception for women beneficiaries may infringe upon the organization’s freedom.

On the other hand, none of the beneficiaries of the health plans whose owners object to offering contraception must seek or accept contraception. Most of the beneficiaries are employees, of family members of employees, of non-profits. These employees do not serve in a religious capacity, e.g., they are not nuns, priests, religious teachers, etc. These institutions hire these employees based on the employees’ secular qualifications, e.g., the employee is a physician, pharmacist, nurse, or other healthcare worker. In other words, healthcare coverage is a benefit provided to secular workers by a religious organization. Healthcare coverage that does not provide for contraception fails to include a basic benefit that most Americans, regardless of religious affiliation, want and utilize.

Obviously, these employees could quit their jobs. For most people, getting a new job is not easy; obtaining a new job may entail geographic location (hard on families, partners, etc.). Furthermore, people with pre-existing conditions or who are mid-way through a course of therapy may find changing healthcare coverage adversely affects their treatment.

In sum, there is no perfect solution. However, nobody forced the religious organization to expand into non-religious charitable endeavors. Religious organizations must provide other basic benefit for secular employees, e.g., Social Security coverage. Healthcare coverage is a similar basic benefit. I don’t have to agree with all forms of treatment; I have a moral obligation to ensure that my employees can make their own choices.

These non-profits could not base hiring decisions on blatant religious discrimination, e.g., hiring only Roman Catholics. Permitting these non-profits to discriminate based on religion in more subtle yet equally egregious ways is similarly wrong.

1 comment:

George Clifford said...

A reader emailed me regarding his concern that forcing the Roman Catholic coverage to provide contraception coverage in its healthcare coverage plans would cause the Roman Catholic Church to stop offering its employees healthcare coverage and perhaps cause the Church to end some of its charitable endeavors.

I think the concern overblown. First, the Roman Catholic Church – in spite of my many theological and ethical disagreements with it – is profoundly Christian. I cannot imagine that the Roman Catholics would terminate its charitable endeavors voluntarily. They are closing lots of parochial schools because of the cost of operating those schools. Vouchers, however, are not the answer. The answer is to fix public education and to allow private groups to operate schools as they choose or are financially able.

Second, the debate over including contraception in healthcare coverage underscores the crying need in this country for national healthcare coverage: a plan that is comprehensive, and fair. Such coverage would make the current issue entirely moot.