Women Do Not Have a Right to Free Birth Control Pills

Prominent Catholic institutions recently filed suit against the Affordable Care Act’s mandate requiring insurance plans to cover birth control for women without a co-pay. These Catholic institutions aren’t suggesting that birth control pills should be outlawed or restricted in any manner.  The Supreme Court long ago determined that the state could not restrict access to birth control pills.  The question is whether these Catholic institutions should be forced to pay for an employee’s birth control pills, against their deeply held religious beliefs and teachings. 

Supporters of the mandate argue that requiring any amount of payment is an unconscionable restriction on reproductive rights. When did making someone pay for the goods they desire become synonymous with denying access? There is no “right” to free birth control. In fact, there is no “right” to free food, clothing or shelter; all of which are far more essential to human survival than birth control pills. If you want these basic necessities, you need to earn money to pay for them. 

The grocery store is not denying access to food because they charge their customers. Food costs money to produce. Someone has to pay for this production, or there won’t be any food. If one man has a right to free food, another has the obligation to provide his own labor to produce the food free of charge. There’s a term for this type of relationship: involuntary servitude. Thankfully, it was outlawed by the 13th Amendment. 

Of course, the same is true for birth control pills. They cost money to market and produce.  Someone has to pay for them, or they won’t be produced in the first place. Rationally, the person who consumes the birth control pills should also be the person who pays for them. 

Proponents of the government mandate argue that a woman’s “right” to free birth control pills trumps the Catholic Church’s religious objection to them. While some suggest the Catholic Church is trying to impose their beliefs on others, the opposite is true. The state is forcing the Catholic Church to provide birth control pills to its employees in direct opposition to church doctrine and teachings. The mandate goes beyond just birth control pills, requiring coverage for sterilization and the morning after pill, which Catholics view as a form of abortion. 

The Obama administration has given exemption to a narrowly defined class of religious entities.  To be exempt, the primary purpose of the entity must be the “inculcation of their religious beliefs.” They must primarily hire people of their own faith; and the organizations must primarily serve people of their own faith, rather than the public at large. This definition is narrower than any conscious clause ever enacted by the federal government. The language was lifted from a California law drafted by the ACLU. Ironically, an organization purportedly formed to protect civil liberties crafted a document to limit freedom of religion.

Religiously affiliated non-profits, including hospitals, schools, and charities do not meet the mandate’s narrow definition and are thus required to provide free birth control to employees.  Many Catholic organizations employ non-believers and serve the general public. As such, the Church is presented with the choice to violate its own religious teachings or give up its humanitarian efforts which serve the public. As Archbishop Timothy Dolan aptly put it, the government is penalizing the church for not discriminating in its good works: “We don’t ask people for their baptismal certificate, nor do we ask people for their U.S. passport, before we can serve them ... We don’t serve people because they’re Catholic, we serve them because we are, and it’s a moral imperative for us to do so.”

In response to outrage from the Catholic Church, Obama offered a purported compromise, requiring the insurers to pay for birth control instead of the religious groups. This is little solace to many Catholic organizations which are self-insured. In other words, the insurer and employer are one and the same, the Church.

If this mandate were to stand, what would prevent the government from ordering Catholic hospitals to offer abortions and sterilization procedures? The answer of course is nothing. An argument could be made that a Catholic hospital serves the public and thus must provide these “essential” services. Given the zealotry of pro-choice advocates, such an outcome can hardly be dismissed as fanciful.

In sum, the Catholic Church isn’t saying birth control should be prohibited across the land. Rather, the Church simply does not wish to choose between paying for your contraceptives and serving the public good. There is a very real difference between this position and denying access to contraception.

If the Catholic Church is successful in their lawsuit to overturn the mandate, women will still have access to contraceptives, sterilization, and morning after pills. They will just have to pay for these products and services with their own money; just as they do food, clothing and shelter. The concept of paying for the goods and services you yourself consume is hardly new and should not be the subject of controversy. Unfortunately, there are a growing number of people who believe requiring payment for services rendered is akin to denial of access. This notion should be roundly rejected.