We are thrilled that the Department of Health and Human Services HHS has upheld its decision to exempt only a narrow class of religious employers from the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage requirement. This means most insurance plans are required to provide coverage for all FDA approved contraceptives with no co-pays, deductibles or cost-sharing. But not everyone is breaking out the sparkling cider. You might have noticed that the hierarchy of the Catholic Church is pretty displeased. It is important to note that these objections come from the hierarchy, and not Catholic women (or men) themselves, as 98% of them have used contraceptives that are deemed forbidden by the Vatican.
In all the hoopla however, you may have missed this priceless quote from the Rev. William Grogan, bioethics chairman of the Chicago Archdiocese, in a trade magazine called Modern Healthcare. Rev. Grogan believes that women should know that their Catholic-affiliated employers (such as hospitals and universities) have an objection to birth control, and should expect these religious institutions to impose their beliefs on their workers. Rev. Grogan said, “If women want those types of medications, they shouldn’t seek employment with organizations which are publicly known to be opposed to their use.”
In issuing the contraceptive coverage rule, HHS gave clear guidance on exactly when workers can be expected to follow their employers’ religious dictates. If an organization primarily employs and serves people of the same religious faith (among other criteria) then they don’t have to provide contraceptive coverage if they have a religiously based objection to doing so. For employers that are offended by this new requirement, they have an additional year to become eligible for the religious exemption by becoming a full-fledged religious organization. This would mean, according to the law, that the organization’s “purpose and character are primarily religious.” Then they would be legally permitted to hire only people who share their religion, and those people would be expected to comply with their employers’ religious dictates regarding contraception.
But in wonderfully pluralistic society such as ours, there is a reasonable expectation that an institution holding itself out to the public as providing health care or education to anyone will hire (and provide services to) people from a variety of religious backgrounds, or no religious background whatsoever. No employee should be expected to meet their employers’ demands on matters that have absolutely nothing to do with the job. While we continue to believe that no woman should be denied the benefit of the contraceptive coverage rule, we are grateful that the exemption was not expanded to include millions more workers — think of all the nurses and teachers — at Catholic-affiliated hospitals and universities. Show your support and send a message to Secretary Sebelius thanking her for protecting access to contraception.