Saturday, March 10, 2012

More Thoughts on the Contraception Kerfuffle

After posting my initial thoughts to Google+ and attracting at least one myopic idiot, there were a few other points that were put forth that I wanted to comment on as well.

The main one was a point that Gingrich tried to make in the interview I linked to as an addendum to my last post. His claim is that this isn't an issue about women's health, but rather, is about religious liberties. Namely, should religious institutions be forced to pay for services that run counter to their beliefs.

If that were the full story, I'd absolutely say no. As long time readers know, I firmly support the 1st amendment guarantee of separation of church and state which protects religious institutions from government influence.

But what tipped me off that this wasn't the big picture was the shrill cry on the slippery slope that I kept seeing as an example of what would happen if health care insurers were required to pay for contraception: Catholic universities and hospitals everywhere would be forced to shut their doors since the Church couldn't continue to run them if they had to partake in something that *gasp* might possibly pay for birth control.

That's when I realized how full of hot air this argument was.

The reason is that I've heard this exact argument before. A few years ago there was a dust up over whether hospitals (including Catholic ones) should be required to provide medically necessary abortions. As with this instance, Catholics immediately tried to play the "religious liberty" card claiming that they would have to shut their doors if these requirements were made.

And yet, here we are with the hospitals still intact and providing medically necessary abortions is still an expectation of these hospitals. The reason that these institutions don't get an exemption is that they're not truly religious institutions. They're religiously affiliated. However, these hospitals are providing a secular service and receiving money (and apparently a lot of it) from a secular government to function. Indeed, one study* showed that religious hospitals get more of their funding (36%) from medicare than typical public hospitals (27%).

The fact of the matter is, that if you want money from our government, you have to play by secular rules which means claiming religious liberty doesn't cut it. If it's an expectation for secular hospitals, secular schools, and the insurance companies that contract with them, then it's a requirement for religiously affiliated institutions (which mostly arise when a Catholic organization throws down enough money to slap their name on a previously established independent hospital).

So where does this leave us? I suspect that the same thing will happen here as it did in the previous case: The dust will settle, the expectation will be upheld, and Catholic affiliated institutions, despite their protestations will remain running.

The alternative is that they could pull their funding. Which... wouldn't much matter as I see it. Aside from medicare being a primary source of funding, a large portion obviously comes from the bills that patients (or their insurance companies) pay.... which wouldn't change if the religious organizations pulled out.

The religious organizations could refuse to sell the facilities to groups without such holy sticks up their butt which would effectively close them, but this would be seen as a childish move and petty move on their part. Definitely bad PR. Seeing that this would be a bad move, they would likely just pull their names off it, and these hospitals would become like any other secular hospital out there (78% of all the hospitals currently). In other words, it's business as usual.

In either case, the religious organizations only reveal themselves for what they are: Irrelevant to secular law.

Which reinforces my initial point: This isn't a discussion about religious liberty. Gingrich and others want to claim it is, but they're not trying to protect the rights of these organizations. They're trying to carve out new ones and create further intrusions on our secular government by religious organizations. Which is just as scary as all the other things I listed in my last post that the GOP is trying to pull.

* - Uttley, L. J, "No strings attached: Public funding of religiously-sponsored hospitals in the United States," Mergerwatch, 2002, p.10.

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