Well, not really. Today’s topic is contraception, which, as you’ll see, is a whole different ballgame from abortion.
About two weeks ago, the Obama administration clarified a rule about the health benefits employers must provide — for free — to their employees. One of these “essential health benefits” is birth control, and some of these employers include Catholic hospitals and social service providers.
[Note: Institutions focused primarily on religion itself — e.g. churches — are exempt from this requirement]
Naturally, peeps is a-twitter.
One of the a-twitter peeps is none other than my man David Brooks. He argues persuasively that the Administration’s insistence that all employers provide these essential health benefits — that Catholic hospitals be required to provide birth control free of charge to their employees — is not just bad politics, it undermines the critical role these institutions play in abating entrenched poverty.
And that’s true. Hospitals provide a litany of community benefits and religiously-minded social services lift spirits, minds, and families out of the negative poverty feedback loop.
Religious faith is quirky, and doesn’t always conform to contemporary norms. But faith motivates people to serve. Faith turns lives around. You want to do everything possible to give these faithful servants room and support so they can improve the spiritual, economic and social ecology in poor neighborhoods.
By applying a blanket principle to almost all employers, Brooks believes that the Obama administration is living in technocrat la la land. Meaningful and enduring policy means flexibility, it means letting creative people and places do their best to uplift the downtrodden.
I’m sympathetic to this argument even though I’m not convinced that requiring the Salvation Army to provide birth control to its employees necessarily compromises its ability to support the poor and disenfranchised.
It’s clear that a one-size-fits-all policy never really fits all, and there are always worthy exceptions to be made. But exceptions are slippery little things. Our tax code, for instance, is a product of well-intended (well, benefit of the doubt) attempts to make a giant thing meet every conceivable variation. Thus, calls for a flat tax or, more likely, a consumption tax.
There are always unintended consequences to creating a loophole, a waiver, or a carve-out. Should the administration relax its requirements that religiously affiliated social service groups provide contraception for free, guess what there will be a whole lot more of next year? Formerly secular religiously-affiliated social service agencies that did not want to pay for contraception, which can be expensive.
Where exceptions are necessary — and they always are — , it’s much easier to define them as narrowly as possible; to Churches, for instance, rather than to a vague class of employers that can up and affiliate without much trouble.
Finally, it’s important to make the distinction here between contraception and abortion because mentioning one often invokes the other. Employers are required to cover birth control, not abortions, which makes imminent sense because:
- It has become a mark of stable societies — both secular and religious — to be able to plan the size of your family, for financial, social, and mental health reasons
- Some women’s bodies are not equipped to bring a baby to term and becoming pregnant could affect the life and well-being of the mother
- Birth control isn’t only used to prevent pregnancies. It’s also used by lots of women and teens to control debilitating hormonal shifts which have all kinds of life-affecting results
Crucially, covering contraception for these and many other reasons means fewer abortions, which is the ultimate goal.