Health Care, Sex and the Church


Health care coverage is one horse that the Church has chosen to ride in order to protect its belief in the sanctity of its beliefs.  Sex, rather than God, is its focus. If God’s perceived commandments on how one deals with one’s fellow man come into conflict with the Church’s opinion on sex, its opinion on sex wins out every time, irrespective of the effect it may have on  fellow man.  Examples abound but two recent ones make the point and both involve health care, an employee benefit the Church will happily sacrifice in order to protect its notion of appropriate sexual conduct.

In 2010 the Council of the District of Columbia voted 11-1 in favor of a bill to legalize same-sex marriage.  The ordinance requires that same-sex couples receive the same employment benefits as are given heterosexual couples by their employers.   The Catholic Church is not a huge fan of same sex marriage and the ordinance gave pause to Catholic Charities, an organization that, according to Catholic on Line, in the District of Columbia alone,  “serves 68,000 people. . . through a range of services, including shelter, nutrition, counseling, employment and job training services, legal and health care assistance, immigration assistance and more.”  When the ordinance was enacted Catholic Charities made certain changes to its operation and, among other things, said that beginning March 1, 2010 there would be no health  benefits for partners of new hires and partners of those already employed who had not  elected to participate in the insurance program, whether heterosexual or homosexual and whether married or not.  Thus, its disapproval of the gay community’s sexual behavior caused it to sacrifice the provision of health care coverage for partners of its employees.  Now the condom’s cousins have jumped into the fray and once again health care may be placed upon the Church’s altar as the sacrificial lamb.

Prior to the passage of the Obama health care reform,  15% of the U.S. population lacked any form of health insurance.  In an attempt to improve the quantity and quality of health care available in the U.S. , the president proposed and Congress passed, legislation known as Obama Care.  Among other things, the legislation addresses the plight of those who heretofore have been without health insurance. The legislation requires that insurers include “preventive health services” in their policies and may not charge for including those provisions in their policies.

On August 11, 2011 the Department of Health and Human Services issued an interim final rule stating that insurance plans had to include contraceptive service for women without charging a co-pay, co-insurance or a deductible. The interim rule, however, allowed “non-profit religious organization that offer insurance to their employees the choice of whether or not to cover contraceptive services.”  On January 20, 2012 the administration issued  the final rule and said all insurance plans must include coverage for contraceptive services.  It made no exception for non-profit religious organizations.  It concluded that employees of non-profit organizations who are not hostile to the idea that women should be permitted to control their own bodies, should have the same opportunity as employees of for profit organization to decide if and when they will bring children into the world.  The only concession made to those hostile to birth control was postponing the effective date of the rule as applied to them to August 1, 2013.  Not unexpectedly, the Church was upset.  The idea that the government, rather than the Church, should be deciding whether women should have freedom of choice was deeply offensive to assorted prelates (and certain evangelical sects.)

According to the New York Times,  “Catholic bishops have said they would  fight the ‘edict’ from the government.”  Archbishop designate Timothy Dolan of New York is the president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops.  He was quoted as saying “In effect, the president is saying we have a year to figure out how to violate our consciences.”  The conscience to which he is referring is the conscience that enables men of the cloth to tell women what to do with their bodies.  He said:  “To force American citizens to choose between violating their consciences and forgoing their healthcare is literally unconscionable.  It is as much an attack on access to health care as on religious freedom.  Historically this represents a challenge and a compromise of our religious liberty. We’re unable to live with this.”  There is, of course, no reason to think that church employees will be foregoing access to health care if the rule is enforced unless the soon to be Archbishop is suggesting that the Church would be prepared to drop all employer health insurance plans rather than comply with the requirement. Non-church members would find that a shocking way of expressing the church’s disapproval of the rule.  Given the precedent set by Catholic Charities, however,  that would not be beyond the realm of possibility.  After all, when Church doctrine bumps into human’s rights, doctrine must prevail.

Christopher Brauchli is a lawyer living in Boulder, Colorado. He can be emailed at brauchli.56@post.harvard.edu

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