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Birth Control and "The Myth of the Judeo-Christian Tradition"

Written by Rabbi Dennis Ross and Rev. Tom Davis forRH Reality Check. This diary is cross-posted; commenters wishing to engage directly with the author should do so at theoriginal post.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) recently responded to the concerns of some religious groups and individuals by proposing yet another plan to provide prescription birth control insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Although this HHS initiative respects religious concerns and ensures access to birth control, it received a negative response from the Catholic Bishops, just as the other initiatives had. New York's Cardinal Timothy Dolan, who is president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, explained the rejection, saying, "In obedience to our Judeo-Christian heritage, we have consistently taught our people to live their lives during the week to reflect the same beliefs they proclaim on the Sabbath."

Now, it would be reasonable to come away from these words thinking that all Jews and Christians are of one mind about birth control -- that is to say, opposed. On the contrary, many U.S. rabbis and ministers have long recognized the moral wisdom of ensuring wide availability of safe and effective birth control. Beginning in the late 1920s and the '30s, many Jewish and Protestant groups formally endorsed access, including rabbis from Reform and Conservative Judaism, and ministers from Episcopal, Baptist, Congregational, Methodist, and Presbyterian churches. Clergy came forward with the support of their faith teachings, underscored by their real-life experience. The pastors were invited into the daily and private lives of congregants to witness, first-hand, that the ability to control one's child-bearing makes for healthier children and mothers and for stronger families and communities. Today, one thing is certain: Differences in religious teachings remain, and no religious group or leader speaks for all of the nation's faithful about birth control insurance coverage under ACA.

The recent HHS announcement affects employees of religiously-affiliated hospitals and the like; churches, synagogues, and mosques remain exempt. The reality is that these hospitals are not the same as houses of worship that conduct weddings or confirmations. They are not-for-profit businesses serving the larger public with secular services that are not specifically religious, like setting a broken ankle or performing an appendectomy. What's more, a hospital employs staff from all walks of life, including faithful individuals in our communities whose fully informed moral decision may lead to a conclusion that differs from the faith of an employer. Besides, these workers earn their insurance along with wages and pension. The insurance belongs to the worker; an employer's religious objection is irrelevant. A woman's private decision about her birth control has a higher moral standing than her employer's problem with her using it. And all we are talking about is insurance paperwork passing quietly through a human resources office -- no one is being asked to use birth control.

 

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