The Contraception Mandate


“Nowadays to be intelligible is to be found out.”

—Oscar Wilde

In the wacky world of American politics, if you as an employer have a religious objection to paying for your employees’ contraceptives, it is you who is contemptuous of religious freedom.

As the New York Times editorial board lectured a judge who thinks otherwise, “the threat to religious liberty comes from employers trying to impose their religious views on workers.”

You read that correctly. Refusing to pay for other people’s birth-control products — more specifically, opposing a government mandate to pay — is equivalent to imposing your religious views.

The Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) mandates not only that employers provide comprehensive medical insurance to their full-time employees, but also that the coverage include contraceptives — at no cost to employees. Because contraceptives are not found free in nature and insurance companies are for-profit businesses, not charitable foundations, this means that the explicit expense must be borne by employers.

This raises a host of issues. For example, if employers have to pay up front for their employees’ contraceptives, the money will likely be subtracted from some other form of compensation, perhaps other noncash benefits. So employees will pay after all; they just won’t realize it.

Moreover, the use of contraceptives is not an insurable event because it is a volitional action. Insurance was devised to provide financial protection against unlikely but costly happenings, such as major disease, fire, and storms. It was not supposed to be a way to get other people to pay for the routine things you want to buy.

Coverage for contraceptives is like fire insurance that covers arson committed by the policyholder. It’s the kind of thing that only government can bring into existence — by threatening those who fail to comply. The corruption of language is just one of many offenses here. (See my “Contraception: Insuring the Uninsurable.”)

As we know, some employers have a religious objection to contraception and therefore believe that their freedom of conscience is violated by the mandate that compels them to pay for their employees’ birth-control products. (Must I say that the validity of their moral views on contraception is irrelevant as far as justice is concerned?) When this objection was raised, the Obama administration came up with a confusing — and in the end, inconsequential – “accommodation” for some religious organizations, but it fell far short of recognizing the right of all employers not to be forced to pay for other people’s contraception. (Of course, much more than this should have been challenged.)

Now, in the last two weeks, the mandate has taken a hit in the courts. A U.S. district judge in Brooklyn issued an injunction in favor of affiliates of the Roman Catholic Diocese of New York. Then Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor temporarily exempted a Colorado order of nuns from the mandate to keep it from being hit with big fines.

These and similar cases filed by for-profit companies will end up in the Supreme Court, and there’s no telling what will happen. Let’s recall that the court has already ruled that the government can force each of us to buy medical insurance as long as the penalty for not doing so is called a tax.

We need to hold the mandate’s advocates responsible for their base rhetoric. It is the government’s decree — not the employers who object to it — that violates religious liberty. Those who favor the mandate say repeatedly that employers who would refuse to pay for their employees’ contraceptives because of religious scruples would be denying women access to contraception. That is obviously a lie, sheer demagogy. No woman would be prohibited from obtaining contraceptive products because her employer refused to pay. Even if contraception were prohibitively expensive — which it is not — merely abstaining from paying would not constitute denial of access.

People who make such demagogic statements know the difference between denying access and merely choosing not to foot the bill, but they hope we won’t see the distinction. In other words, they insult our intelligence. (The news media are accomplices in this commission of base rhetoric. I’d like to know of one case in which a reporter asked Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, to defend her equation of the refusal to pay with the violation of the rights women.)

Next the mandate advocates throw up a smokescreen of irrelevancies, such as the benefits and widespread use of contraception. I call this irrelevant not because the claims are false, but because even if true, they do justify compelling anyone to pay for someone else’s contraception.

That is the only point at issue. On what grounds can the government justly require employers to pay for their employees’ birth control services?

Finally, proponents of the mandate warn that if religious employers can opt out of paying for contraception, what’s to keep any employer from claiming a conscientious objection to all Obamacare (or other) mandates?

Nothing, I hope. We should welcome it. Religious people who oppose contraception are not the only people with rights against the government. No one should be subjected to government mandates. The only thing any of us can be legitimately required to do is abstain from initiating force and fraud against others. Enforceable decrees that go beyond that simple prohibition violate our rights and have no place in a civil society.

Sheldon Richman is vice president and editor at The Future of Freedom Foundation in Fairfax, Va. (www.fff.org).

Sheldon Richman keeps the blog “Free Association” and is a senior fellow and chair of the trustees of the Center for a Stateless Society.

Weekend Edition
October 9-11, 2015
David Price – Roberto J. González
The Use and Abuse of Culture (and Children): The Human Terrain System’s Rationalization of Pedophilia in Afghanistan
Gary Leupp
The Six Most Disastrous Interventions of the 21st  Century
Mike Whitney
Putin’s “Endgame” in Syria
Jason Hribal
The Tilikum Effect and the Downfall of SeaWorld
Paul Street
Hope in Abandonment: Cuba, Detroit, and Earth-Scientific Socialism
Andrew Levine
In Syria, Obama is Playing a Losing Game
Louis Proyect
The End of Academic Freedom in America: the Case of Steven Salaita
John Feffer
Mouths Wide Shut: Obama’s War on Whistleblowers
Conn Hallinan
Portugal: Europe’s Left Batting 1000
Brian Cloughley
Hospital Slaughter and the US/NATO Propaganda Machine
John Walsh
For Vietnam: Artemisinin From China, Agent Orange From America
Robert Fantina
Canadian Universities vs. Israeli Apartheid
Paul Craig Roberts
The Impulsiveness of US Power
Philippe Marlière
Class Struggle at Air France
Binoy Kampmark
Waiting in Vain for Moderation: Syria, Russia and Washington’s Problem
Paul Edwards
Empire of Disaster
Margaret Knapke
These Salvadoran Women Went to Prison for Suffering Miscarriages
Cesar Chelala
The Perverse Rise of Killer Robots
Halyna Mokrushyna
On Ukraine’s ‘Incorrect’ Past
Walter Brasch
Mass Murders are Good for Business
William Hadfield
Sophistry Rising: the Refugee Debate in Germany
Christopher Brauchli
Why the NRA Profits From Mass Shootings
Pete Dolack
There is Still Time to Defeat the Trans-Pacific Partnership
Andre Vltchek
Stop Millions of Western Immigrants!
Dave Lindorff
America’s Latest War Crime
Ann Garrison
Sankarist Spirit Resurges in Burkina Faso
Cesar Chelala
The Perverse Rise of Killer Robots
Franklin Lamb
Official Investigation Needed After Afghan Hospital Bombing
Linn Washington Jr.
Wrongs In Wine-Land
Charles R. Larson
Prelude to the Spanish Civil War: Eduard Mendoza’s “An Englishman in Madrid”
October 08, 2015
Michael Horton
Why is the US Aiding and Enabling Saudi Arabia’s Genocidal War in Yemen?
Ben Debney
Guns, Trump and Mental Illness
Pepe Escobar
The NATO-Russia Face Off in Syria
Yoav Litvin
Israeli Occupation for Dummies
Lawrence Davidson
Deep Poverty in America: the On-Going Tradition of Not Caring
Thomas Knapp
War Party’s New Line: Vladimir Putin is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things
Brandon Jordan
Sowing the Seeds of War in Uruguay
Binoy Kampmark
Imperilled by Unfree Trade: the TPP on Environment and Labor
John McMurtry
The Canadian Elections: Cover-Up and Steal (Again)
Anthony Papa
Coming Home: an Open Letter to 6,000 Soon-to-be-Released Drug War Prisoners From an Ex-Con
Ramzy Baroud
Listen to Syrians: The Media Jackals and the People’s Narrative
Norman Pollack
Heart of Darkness: A Two-Way Street
Gilbert Mercier
Will Russia, Iran, Hezbollah and Iraqi Shiite Militias Defeat ISIS in Syria and Iraq?
John Stanton
Vietnam 2.0 and California Dreamin’ in Ukraine
William John Cox
The Pornography of Hatred