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February 16, 2012 at 4:00 PM

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Obama finds a compromise in birth-control debate

This issue is about women’s health care but it is also about religious freedom

The Catholic Church and Christian conservatives are up in arms about a requirement in our new health-care law that would require employers to provide contraception for employees, even if the organization is faith-based [“Both sides see winner in fight over birth-control mandate,” News, Feb. 16].

Despite exceptions for actual churches, they claim this is a violation of their religious freedom. The president has provided a compromise, making sure that none of the funding for this coverage comes from the employer. No — that’s still an infringement on their religious freedoms, they claim.

I am going to agree that while the issue is basically about women’s health care, it is also about religious freedom. Those of their employees. By basing what is covered on their own religious beliefs, these faith-based employers are imposing their religious beliefs on the employees. That is a violation of the First Amendment.

When they decide to become employers, they venture into the world where discrimination based on religious beliefs is not allowed. There have been many court rulings over the years that have decided when an employer is allowed to consider religious beliefs in employment decisions. The initial exceptions and the president’s compromise are respectful of that history. This is also about gender discrimination.

The actions of the Catholic Church and others are nothing more than religious bullying, making sure women who stray from the party line have to pay for it.

Oh, even though “pregnancy is not a disease,” contraception, especially birth-control pills, are used to control many diseases that women face, such as endometriosis.

I don’t hear them protesting insurance plans paying for vasectomies or Viagra.

— Nancy Whitney, Renton

The solution allows women to keep their moral and medical choices

Even this traditional Catholic is perplexed by the bishops’ objection to President Obama’s birth-control solution. It allows Catholic agencies to live according to the dictates of their corporate conscience and negotiate employee-health-care packages without birth control, i.e., packages that assume a 100 percent risk of pregnancy.

Obviously, the insurance company expects a much higher premium to insure a pool in which each woman represents an additional $13,000 (assuming no complications) payout for the year. Nevertheless, the Catholic agency “walks the walk.”

In turn, the solution allows each woman to remain the locus of highly personal moral and medical choices. If, on contact from her carrier, she elects to add birth-control protection, the agency is not party to the transaction. It pays only for what it has already agreed to pay for; namely, a pregnancy-presumed risk pool.

The carrier is all too happy to provide the additional coverage at no charge to either the woman or the agency. For $1,300 a year, it eliminates the $13,000 risk. Unless the bishops feel the need to control how employees make their most personal family decisions, their indignation is misplaced. The agency is affected by the solution only if it chooses to negotiate discounts because the risk pool is not really as risky as it first appears.

That, however, would not be walking the walk.

— John T. McLean, Edmonds


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