Birth Control for Liberty? Part II

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Welcome back to my posts on the healthcare reform Law and liberty. As I promised Cathy in my comment to her response article last week, this post will be dedicated solely to the religious infringement issue. The Cato institute and Cathy agree that the healthcare reform law violated religious freedom, but I have to disagree.

Firstly,  Churches, mosques, et cetera are exempt from providing this coverage. Makes sense. But what about hospitals, colleges, and so on? My response to that is this: a religious institution can reasonably expect all employees to share in the establishment’s religious beliefs; an “employer” in a church would appropriately assume that his/her “employees” subscribe to the same beliefs. However, a college or hospital cannot make that same assumption.  Certainly Notre Dame college, for example, has a huge number of employees (staff and faculty) as well as students that aren’t Catholic, as their course offerings reach well beyond clergy path and they are not a single-sex men’s institution.

It’s also important to note that available birth control dramatically reduces the number of abortions and children born out of wedlock to teens, so that’s a win for most religious groups. But should employers be forced to pay for insurance that covers birth control if they’re personally opposed to it on religious grounds?

Well…yes. All insurance must now cover birth control provided the insurance is not self-sourced from a religious institution. Employer-paid benefits are part of a worker’s compensation, and therefore, assuming a worker has opted-in to a plan (which commonly includes an automatic deduction from their payroll), an employer is not entitled to tell his or her employee how she or he may “spend” his/her “wage” on any grounds, much less religious ones.  The company is paying the insurance, not the private employer; the funds for the plan come from the company account and the employee’s payroll, not the personal account of the business owner.

Further, since the insurance company is actually “footing the bill” for the birth control and not the employer anyway, how the employee uses her health insurance is frankly none of the employers business. Insurance plans cover the cost of blood transfusions, but it is much less common to defend the rights of Jehovah’s Witnesses to deny that coverage to their employees due to their personal religious restrictions. An employer has no more right to refuse an employee insurance that covers birth control should they want to use it any more than they have the right to demand a worker’s bank statements to prove they’re not using their check to buy alcohol, cigarettes, or pornography (Since most companies employ their workers at-will, they technically do have this legal right, but again I stress that a legal right is not necessarily consistent with liberty and freedom and I would hazard a bet that a case over wrongful termination due to failure to release bank records/termination over bank records would almost certainly be ruled in favor of the employee).

I lean on the side of “individual liberty” over “corporate liberty” in this case; that is, I believe that the individual employee’s rights should be held in higher regard than that of an entity. An individual employer has a right to not use birth control and to vote for political representation that is more aligned with his or her views. To use his/her power in his/her corporation as a means to exert religious will over employees may be legal, but it certainly isn’t right.