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WHAT OTHERS SAY: Contraception conundrum a balancing act

Tuesday, February 5, 2013 | 12:01 p.m. CST; updated 5:31 p.m. CST, Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Birth control pills can be obtained for as little as $15 a month, so the lawsuits, expense and outrage over who pays for contraception under the Affordable Care Act are simply outrageous.

The problem is that families, children and sex have increasingly become an intersection where politics and religion meet. In our divided culture, that’s a dangerous spot.

Tossing aside common sense in favor of polemics, individuals and groups on both sides of the issue appear determined to try to force the U.S. Supreme Court to wrestle with a response. The histrionics suggest yet another reason that a universal single-payer health care system would be a good idea.

Under that plan, no one would be required to try to negotiate the delicate balance of the rights of religious liberty with the rights of the individual.

President Barack Obama’s administration has been striving to satisfy the complaints of religious groups that don’t want to pay for employees’ birth control. At the same time, he is trying to protect the rights of women who work for such groups but don’t share their employers’ conscientious objections.

Under the original iteration of the administration’s plan, employers would have had to cover sterilization and the full range of contraceptive methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration, including emergency contraceptive pills that reduce the risk of pregnancy resulting from unprotected sex.

Some employers immediately contended that it was unreasonable for them to be forced to pay for contraception coverage to which they had religious and moral objections. So President Obama’s administration began clarifying coverage exemptions.

The administration has tried three times during the past 15 months to satisfy everyone on the issue.

The most recent effort was made Friday when the administration proposed a compromise that would expand the number of groups that do not have to pay directly for contraception.

Currently, only churches and other religious organizations would be exempt from the coverage requirement. The new proposal would expand the exemptions to include some religiously affiliated hospitals, universities and social service agencies. In such cases, health insurance companies would pick up the cost of contraception coverage without passing on the cost to client organizations.

That is a generous concession. Many of the affected employees do not share the faith of the organization for which they work; often their employers’ primary purpose is not to inculcate religious values.

But it’s still not enough for some religious groups, which are seeking an explicit exemption for faith organizations and secular businesses whose owners have religious objections to the contraception mandate.

The Pew Forum on Religion & Public Life says Roman Catholic organizations that oppose abortion and the use of artificial birth control have led the opposition, but that some Protestant and Jewish groups also have sued to stop the mandate.

Supporters of the mandate contend that a woman’s access to contraception should not be dependent on her employer, and that businesses and organizations have no right to impose their religious beliefs on their employees.

Another less-discussed issue is that occasionally, contraception is used for reasons other than birth control. Sometimes women are prescribed birth control pills to control conditions such as polycystic fibrosis and dysmenorrhea. In these cases contraception can be viewed more clearly as a women’s health issue than as pregnancy prevention — though we would argue that family planning is a fundamental women’s health concern.

Instead of spending obscene amounts of money to haggle over contraception coverage, why not just give each female employee of child-bearing age a $15-a-month raise? No questions asked. No religious liberties violated. She can spend it on pills. She can spend it on lunch.

The far less frequent need for more expensive procedures, such as a medically necessary sterilization, would remain covered by insurance.

Or else we could go to that single-player plan ...

Copyright St. Louis Post-Dispatch. Reprinted with permission.


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