Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Paul Ryan and the Birth Control Brouhaha

In last week’s Vice Presidential debate, the issue of the mandate for birth control coverage was again raised. I’ve covered this issue extensively in the past (see, e.g., The Birth Control Brouhaha, More on the Birth Control Brouhaha, Still More on the Birth Control Brouhaha, and Yet More on the Birth Control Brouhaha). But given that the issue came up, and given that (not surprisingly) Rep. Paul Ryan lied about it, I feel compelled to discuss the issue once again. First, let’s look at what Ryan said during the debate:

What troubles me more is how this administration has handled all of these issues. Look at what they're doing through “Obamacare” with respect to assaulting the religious liberties of this country. They’re infringing upon our first freedom, the freedom of religion, by infringing on Catholic charities, Catholic churches, Catholic hospitals. Our church should not have to sue our federal government to maintain their religious — religious liberties.

And with respect to abortion, the Democratic Party used to say they want it to be safe, legal and rare. Now they support it without restriction and with taxpayer funding, taxpayer funding in “Obamacare,” taxpayer funding with foreign aid.

First, how often have you heard any Democrat, let alone President Obama or Vice President Biden say that they support abortion “without restriction”? The claim may sound sinister and fire up the Republican base … but it just isn’t true. Moreover, there isn’t taxpayer funding of abortion in Obamacare; rather, states are given the right to mandate abortion coverage in a state-administered insurance exchange.The Hyde Amendment continues to prevent federal funds from being used for abortions except in the case of rape, incest, or where the life of the mother is at risk. I’ll leave discussion of foreign aid (and the Mexico City rule) for another post (hopefully).

But what I really want to focus on is the notion that Catholic charities, churches, and hospitals are having their freedom of religion infringed upon. At least a part of that statement is simply a lie. The requirement to include birth control coverage in an employer-provided insurance policy excludes churches. No church, no synagogue, no other house of worship is obligated by federal law to include birth control coverage in the insurance provided to employees. Why is that? Because of the recognition of the intensely religious nature of the church, synagogue, or house of worship and the presumption that those employed there are directly involved in carrying out the religious mission of the house of worship. But that is much less true in the case of a hospital or university where a large number of the employees may have absolutely nothing to do with the religious mission of the hospital or school. I doubt that there are many Jewish employees at most Catholic churches; but I bet there are a lot of Jewish doctors and teaches at Catholic hospitals and universities.

So let’s look at this from a slightly different perspective. The claim is that by requiring a Catholic hospital to include birth control coverage, somehow the religious freedom of … er … someone … is being violated. I’ve previously discussed whether this argument would also allow a Jewish hospital to refuse to have its employer-provided insurance plan include medications that contained pork or shellfish. But think about it a bit differently. Essentially, the employer-provided health insurance is simply a part of the compensation given to the employee by the employer. Would the situation, thus, be different if, instead of the employer paying the insurer, the employer gave the premium payment to the employee as compensation and the employee then purchased the insurance directly? If you think that there is a real difference between those situations, I’d really love to understand your reasoning.

Or ask the question this way: Can an employer direct how the employee uses the compensation given to the employee? Could that same Catholic hospital have a rule that says that no part of an employee’s take home pay can be used to purchase birth control or pay for an abortion? If your answer to that question is in the affirmative, you might ask yourself where that rule would end. Could a Muslim employer prohibit employees from using their salaries on pork? Could a Hindu employer prohibit employees from using their salaries on meat? Could a Jewish employer prohibit their employees from using their salaries in support of groups that oppose Israel’s right to exist or which try to convert Jews? Could those Catholic hospitals prohibit their employees from voting for a candidate who supports abortion rights or paying their divorce attorney? What about for a candidate that supports the death penalty?

For that matter, and though I’ve asked the question before, let me ask again: Why are Catholics so worked up about birth control (not abortion, note) insurance coverage, but almost silent about having their tax dollars go to pay for the death penalty? If it violates a Catholic’s freedom of religion to require that Catholic to include birth control in insurance provided to employees, why doesn’t it also violate that Catholic’s freedom of religion to use the taxes paid by that Catholic to pay for capital punishment (which, it is my understanding, is also prohibited by the Church)?

You see where this goes?

In essence, though, what Paul Ryan told us was that he thinks that it is permissible and appropriate for elected officials to try to impose their religious beliefs upon those who don’t share them (and to bolster his view, he lied); by contrast, Vice President Biden made clear that he is able to separate his beliefs and the choices that he makes as an individual from the laws that he would impose upon others.

The difference in those two views of the role of faith in governance couldn’t be more stark. And let me just offer this one final query: How does Paul Ryan’s belief that his religious views should serve as a basis for laws affecting those who don’t share his faith differ from the way that groups like the Taliban in Afghanistan and Pakistan or Wahhabi Muslims in Saudi Arabia? Oh, and I can’t resist the bonus question: If Paul Ryan’s faith informs his belief about birth control, then why isn’t he advocating the repeal of the death penalty? Hmm. Curious.

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