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How Zealous Clergy and Their Media Enablers Are Manufacturing a Controversy Over Birth Control Coverage

The real opposition here isn't about conscience, it's about women and sex.

The latest battle in the never-ending culture wars is about birth control--you know, the stuff 99 percent of American women use to prevent pregnancy and for a host of other medical reasons.

This particular fight centers around whether employers will have to offer insurance plans that cover contraception. Even better, these are plans with a low or nonexistent co-pay for contraception, all under a new guideline from the Obama Administration's Department of Health and Human Services which considers contraception "preventive care." Even more specifically under contention is whether religiously affiliated (but not exclusively religious) employers must do this, must allow women who are students, employees, or related to employees, to be insured under that kind of birth control inclusive plan.

The Obama Administration has allowed a narrow exemption for houses of worship and other exclusively religious organizations, but has been tough and courageous by extending the mandate to bigger organizations that employ people from across the religious spectrum.

So the institutions that will have to get themselves in gear are religiously affiliated universities, charities and hospitals. This makes a lot of sense. We all know there are people who work at such institutions who in no way share their employers' more rigorous or differing religious beliefs.

Now let's take a step back and recall that this bill is not mandating these employers actually pay for birth control. Employees pay into insurance, after all, with money withheld from their paychecks. As blogger SharkFu notes:

Meds without a co-payment are not “free." If the word “co-pay” enters a discussion...then y’all are talking about insurance coverage. If y’all are talking about insurance coverage...then folks are paying for insurance. If folks are paying for insurance...THEN YOU ARE PAYING FOR MEDS & SERVICES!!

It would seem, therefore, that since none of these organizations are being forced to bankroll birth control, nor to expressly condone it in any sense, the real issue is that they would simply be forced to comply with a law that acknowledges it. Even more to the point, they would be forced to stop insisting that women under their employ or their relatives go elsewhere or pay out of pocket for basic healthcare. They would essentially have to stop discriminating against women, a discrimination that results in unintended pregnancies, heavy out-of-pocket fees, and even more drastic health consequences.

So refusing to let institutions do this--sounds Kosher to me.

For many among the (ahem! celibate) Catholic clergy, though, this new rule is just too much. Here's an example of the kinds of statements coming from bishops in the wake of this brave decision by the Obama administration:

This shift is but a thinly disguised way of silencing the moral witness of Catholics in protecting the sanctity and dignity of every human life, in defending marriage and family from attacks upon it, and from sowing the seeds of our faith through our works of mercy. It is an attempt to put a bushel basket over the light of our Catholic faith and to keep it a private matter to be expressed only inside a church, and even then with limits.

That is the kind of language being leveled against the White House: "right of conscience" and "religious freedom" is the party line for the opposition to this measure. But it hasn't always been. Amanda Marcotte on Twitter  pointed to a  story from summer 2010 by Dana Goldstein, in which the bishops' reasons for opposing birth control coverage were not at all about religious freedom, but actually about opposition to sex. 

"I don't want to overstate or understate our level of concern," said McQuade, the Catholic bishops' spokesperson. "We consider [birth control] an elective drug. Married women can practice periodic abstinence. Other women can abstain altogether. Not having sex doesn't make you sick."