Thursday, February 23, 2012

Contraception Mandate

My article from this week's Algona Upper Des Moines about the contraception mandate:

Q:  Why has there been so much opposition among religious leaders about the government’s new mandate concerning insurance coverage for contraception?  Does the Bible say that it is a sin to use birth control?

Most news coverage of this issue has focused on the Roman Catholic Bishops’ public opposition to this mandate.  The particular reason for their opposition is because this policy would require them to provide contraception, abortion-inducing drugs, and sterilization surgery in their health plans—all of which are forbidden according to Roman Catholic doctrine. 

Even though there is a narrow exemption covering churches themselves, the exemption does not extend to non-church religious employers, such as religiously-affiliated hospitals, schools, colleges, and social service agencies.  This results in a circumstance where many religiously-affiliated employers would be forced to pay for and provide drugs and procedures to which their doctrine and conscience are opposed or face extreme fines and penalties.  Even after the accommodation announced the following week by the administration, which shifts the responsibility of providing the services to the insurer rather than the employer, they argue that the cost of these services would still be paid by employers who self-insure their plans or passed on in their premiums in cases where the organization purchases insurance, thus forcing them to provide for services they consider morally wrong.

This mandate and the previously-mentioned opposition have sometimes been framed as a women’s health issue, but the opposition is not on the grounds of disagreements over the services offered, but rather on the grounds of religious freedom.  The religious leaders opposing this mandate are not asking that the services be made illegal, nor are they asking that other employers and insurers be forbidden from providing them.  Instead, they argue that the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment forbids the government from requiring them to provide and pay for services to which they are morally opposed.

There are a great many non-Catholic Christian leaders who have joined the opposition to this mandate.  Their participation is not because of contraception, or even surgical sterilization, because their doctrine does not forbid it, but rather because abortion-inducing drugs, such as the morning-after pill are included in the mandate.  They argue that providing coverage for their employees to receive abortion-inducing drugs amounts to participation in murder according to the teachings of their churches because these drugs are known to cause the death of an already-conceived child.  Since the Bible treats unborn children as persons and speaks of them being already known by God and formed by Him, they consider abortion of any kind to be murder, and many of them have stated that they would be jailed rather than participate in such an act.

Many of the denominations which are opposing this mandate, including my own (The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod) typically avoid taking stands on political issues.  They refuse to endorse candidates for public office, the denomination and its leaders do not publicly affiliate themselves with any political party, do not have Washington offices or lobbyists, and do not accept federal funding to do their work.

They urge their parishioners to pay their taxes and participate in their civic duty even if the government acts immorally, and they believe in obeying the government, even when one does not like its laws.  At the same time they also believe, according to Acts 5:29, that Christians “must obey God rather than man.”  So, when this mandate was announced, they felt compelled to speak out, because the government was obligating them to materially participate in acts they consider immoral.  Their demand was not that the government obey the Bible, but rather that the government honor the nations commitments embodied in the Constitution by not interfering in their freedom of religion and conscience. 

As to the question of the propriety of birth control in general, the Bible, at all times, considers children to be a blessing to a husband and wife from God, and defends their lives, even while yet unborn, causing the majority of Christians throughout history to insist that aborting them would be murder, including contraceptive methods that could cause already-conceived children to die.  However, it is silent on birth control methods that prevent conception by use of barriers or preventing ovulation, leaving these methods as matters of conscience to be decided between husbands and wives.

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