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Religious Freedom or Religious Control? Employees Should Get to Decide Where Their Paychecks Go

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Written by Christine Charbonneau for RH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at the original post.

I am the CEO of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest.  I am also an employer.  In the latest round of the War on Women being waged by Congress and the legislatures of the 50 states, much has been written of late about employers; what they want and do not want to insure, and most recently, how employers would be allowed to “weigh in” on the reproductive decisions of our employees.  Spare me.

I have 500 employees in three states.  Like most employers, I have a finite budget for the health insurance I offer my staff.  My goal, as I see it, is to get them the richest package of services I can find for the money I have to invest.  I consider the premiums I pay for this health care to be part of each employee’s compensation.  I also know that covering my staff appropriately results in a happier workforce, with less downtime due to medically related absences, so the investment is good for business, as well.

Just as I would never dream of telling my staff what to do with their bi-weekly paychecks, I have no interest in telling them how to use their insurance benefits.  After the premium is paid, it is NONE OF MY BUSINESS.

However, as Planned Parenthood has made it a goal to ensure that reproductive health services are covered in the larger marketplace, I will not purchase a health plan which does not cover contraception, and every outcome of pregnancy, including abortion. Three years ago, while completing the merger of Planned Parenthood affiliates in Western Washington, Alaska and Idaho, I sought to unify the health insurance plans which covered our employees, so that they would all get the same benefits and to save my organization the cost of administering multiple plans.

As we were selecting our insurance provider, I was told that they would be unable to cover abortion services for my employees in Idaho.  I was flummoxed.  After all, this is America, and I was fairly certain that there would have to be a way to buy coverage for a legal procedure.  So I told the plan in question that they would write me the coverage I was asking for, or I would write my $2,000,000 a year premium check to someone who would.

What do you know?  Turns out it was not an insurmountable problem after all.

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