Liberty means birth control coverage

My last column criticized the newly minted ex-pontiff and suggested a need for a better replacement. Despite approval, or at least acceptance with interest, from some Catholics, a more revanchist wing has reacted with disfavor.

I have been accused of politicizing a church that has its own state and diplomatic corps, and used to anoint the monarchs of Europe and maintain standing armies.

This paper ran two letters from Catholic students who accused me, among other things, of ignorance for suggesting that an organization, which has commendably changed its position on the divine right of kings, the eternal fate of unbaptized babies, heliocentrism, papal infallibility, the timeline for ensoulment, chattel slavery and the buoyancy of witches, might be capable of finding religious textual support for the reproductive rights of women, for something less than outright hostility toward life-saving prophylaxis, and for recognizing romantic love between people of the same sex.

It is at least nice to realize that my critics have a healthy sense of irony. The other arguments appear to address some straw-stuffed Brad Erthal’s myriad and arrogant fallacies, so I will only reply: Torture having been off the table for my detractors for several centuries, I refuse to retract correct accusations about wrongful acts merely because people who believe and pray that I will be justly tortured for eternity bleat about my opinion of them.

If you are more offended by accurate denunciations of bigotry than by bigotry, grow a conscience. I’m hardly punching down in taking issue with the actions of an organization with a billion followers. Playing for pity only appears petty.

I wish that we lived in a society where the religious beliefs of others were irrelevant to me, but we do not. This is a country in which some people believe quite firmly that “religious liberty” is their right to impose their religious values on everyone. Hence blatantly unconstitutional travesties like the bipartisan-backed “faith-based initiatives.”

I note that Adam Smith argued that churches should not be tied to the state because the lack of competition would weaken them. David Hume is said to have come to the opposite conclusion on the same premise.

Another example of this confusion was embodied in a column which ran in this section, which claimed that mandating employer funding of insurance including birth control was an infringement on religious liberty.

Let us set aside the issue of employer mandates in general. I will make no argument for that, and I think that the policy of tax credits for employee health insurance plans is one of the worst impediments to improving access to health care. That said, it appears to be a fixture.

Let’s instead consider a counterfactual case. Suppose that I had a religious conviction that people in general were having too many kids, so that there is no quibble about the parallel. Perhaps I would believe that God had given humans stewardship, not ownership, of Creation, so that we had a duty to him to preserve it. Would anyone care to argue that in that case, I should or would be exempted from my legal duty as an employer to provide health insurance for pregnant women?

Is there anyone who believes that certain Christian sects which believe in praying for divine intervention as the only treatment for disease should be exempted from such a provision altogether? In none of these cases is someone being forced to accept treatment. They are being required to fulfill a civic duty.

Those of us who choose to use contraception – in my case, this is mostly observationally indistinguishable from celibacy – are required to pay into an insurance pool covering your choice not to use birth control. It is, at its core, only a disturbing and perverse concern for the sex lives of one’s female employees that could cause businesses and religious organizations to fight the very low, possibly negative net costs of covering pills used both for birth control and, I note, many other treatments.

The tenuous freedom of access to birth control, even if prudish voyeurs don’t like it, is religious liberty. All employers should be required to respect the founding principles of our republic.

Brad Erthal is a doctoral student in economics. His column runs on Tuesdays.

  • Nathan Vrazel

    Wow. That is all I can say. Also thank you for proving my point. To say that I pray for you to go to hell Brad truly shows that I have won. When you to resort to attacking your opponents character in an argument it truly shows how you desperate you are. And I will pray for you Brad. Despite what you might think it won’t be for you to go to hell. I am not a sadist who takes delight in the pain of others as much as you might like to think so. No, I will pray for you to let go of the hatred you hold against Catholic Church. I truly hope that I will see you in heaven, as cliche as that might sound.

    • http://www.facebook.com/brad.erthal Brad Erthal

      Which of the following premises is not true?

      1) You pray that God’s will be done.
      2) You believe that God’s will includes sending me to Hell for my frequent and egregious blasphemy.

      Because the conclusion is inescapable on the premises.

      • Nathan Vrazel

        God doesn’t send people to hell. People choose to go to hell. If you knew Catholic theology then you would know that.

        • http://www.facebook.com/brad.erthal Brad Erthal

          I know that’s the excuse you give. So I ask you: do you think that I, given my frequent and unmitigated sin, deserve to go to Hell? If the answer is yes, then you are indeed praying for my eternal damnation. I am not choosing to go to Hell. I cannot choose to believe your specific brand of Christianity, any more than I can choose to believe Hinduism, and presumably any God would be sufficiently knowledgeable to detect the cynicism in Pascal’s wager, of following religious strictures on the off-chance they’re true. No, I am not choosing Hell, a place in which I do not believe, and yet you want to damn me to it.

          I have never in my life thought so poorly of a debate opponent that I have been tempted to say that they deserve to be tortured for eternity. I hope that I never sink so low.

          • Nathan Vrazel

            Never once have I said you deserve to go to hell. You brought this into the debate all on your own. I am done here, because if you think that I am such a despicable human being that I would pray for or think that anyone deserves eternal punishment then I have nothing else to say. I don’t know who is in hell and I don’t know why anyone would reject God completely and choose hell. We are all sinners. No one deserves to go to hell. Once again, Hell is a choice and that is part of having free will. I don’t think you deserve to go to Hell Brad, and I don’t understand why you, an atheist, are so concerned about whether or not I believe you are are worthy of salvation, which you are. I really do hope to walk in heaven with you one day.

          • http://www.facebook.com/brad.erthal Brad Erthal

            I don’t think the catechism gives you a lot of wiggle room there. If it’s correct, then I am most certainly going to Hell. So do you believe the teachings of the Church or not? And you can say that the God who is the source of all good in the universe has decreed that I am going to Hell because of the flaw in my character of not accepting his sacrifice, or you can say that I deserve better than to go to Hell. You cannot hold both positions. They are contradictory.

          • http://www.facebook.com/zackary.shawn Zackary Shawn

            Tell me exactly why a Christian businessman should have to pay for birth control if he believes doing so could possibly lead to his eternal damnation. It seems like the only one who wants people to go to hell is yourself. And in case anyone is wondering you can get a whole condoms at Wal-Mart for about $6 and a whole “fishbowl” for about $35. Also, according to Planned Parenthood birth control pills for about $15 and no more than $50. Those prices won’t exactly break anyone’s bank especially if they deem them so important to have.

          • http://www.facebook.com/brad.erthal Brad Erthal

            I believed (as did the Pope, and many religious leaders) that it was deeply immoral for the United States to invade Iraq 10 years ago. Yet neither you nor I were allowed to deduct a per annum sum of money from our taxes proportional to what went to funding that war.

            And if birth control pills are so inexpensive, then maybe Catholic universities and hospitals should stop whining about being required to cover them.

          • buygailey

            This comment alone shows how woefully ignorant good Christian men are about birth control. First, birth control isn’t used purely as a contraceptive. Many, many women (many, many good Christian businessmen’s wives or daughters, I’m sure) take birth control for a myriad of health reasons.

            In addition, birth control pills typically go for closer to $50 if you don’t have health insurance, therefore costing $600 a year. That actually WILL break some people’s bank – how about checking your wealth privilege before making inane comments on what “anyone” can afford. And again, not to belabor the point, but some of these people need this medicine for serious, quality-of-life, medical issues, in addition to contraceptives. So do not say “well they shouldn’t be having sex if they can’t afford birth control.”

            ALSO in addition is that there is not a one size “fits” all birth control pill (Just as there is not a one size fits all condom… though you’re probably more aware of that particular fact.) People respond differently to different medications, different devices, so the cheapest form of birth control may not be safe for some people to take. There are a million different pills, shots, patches and implants.

            So, even putting aside the idea that women who want to have sex should be allowed to purchase contraceptives on their health insurance BECAUSE IT IS 2013 AND YOU’RE NOT ALLOWED TO IMPOSE YOUR INSANE THEOLOGY ON OTHERS, there are women out there who simply need to birth control for medical reasons. Tell me exactly why an employer gets to dictate what prescriptive medications he will or will not cover.

          • disqus_D4YocVLzRt

            THANK YOU. some of us women aren’t giant christian-hating slutbags, our bodies just don’t work. and birth control is expensive and difficult to get in alabama. believe me. and frankly, who cares if you’re a giant christian-hating slutbag? like you said, its 2013, mate. go seethe in private.

          • buygailey

            IN ADDITION –

            This is a horrendous comparison, but it’s the only comparison I can think of to your horrendous question of “Tell me exactly why a Christian businessman should have to pay for birth control if he believes doing so is nothing short of cooperating with pure evil.”

            Say you have a job. Your employer is a somewhat decent man or woman, who you know is religiously conservative but it’s not a topic you ever breach with them. Then say one day your employer creates an uproar after realizing that the employee medical plan covers blood transfusions. Jesus H. Christ.

            You see, your boss is Jehovah’s Witness. Jehovah’s Witnesses don’t believe in blood transfusion. The doctrine has changed and transformed over the years, but still the strictest adherents will elect for “bloodless” surgery in emergencies, blood substitute solutions, and there are many documented cases where patients have died after resisting life saving treatments that included blood transfusion. You see, to admit a blood transfusion means rejecting your church’s teachings to some Jehovah’s Witnesses. I.e. Turning away from God/Scripture/ “Nothing short of cooperating with pure evil.”

            So should your boss have to provide you with insurance if it means it will possibly cover a blood transfusion were you to need it? I’m going out on a very strong, steady limb here to say that you think that would be absurd. And I think this comparison is absurd, because I’ve never heard of Jehovah’s Witnesses doing such a thing.

            Because their religion is important and sacred to them, but also private. They might be privately judging your actions (as all religions and secular people do, I’m judging you so hard right now) but level-headed people know that you cannot hold everyone to your standard morality in practice.

            The Christian businessman has to pay for birth control because it is a medical issue. It is medicine.

            It is preventative medicine.

            It can reduce a woman’s risk of endometrial or ovarian cancer by up to 70 percent.

            It is medicine. It is basic health care. It provides relief and quality of life to millions of women suffering from chronic, non-curable disorders and conditions.

  • http://www.facebook.com/davidblakejones David Blake Jones

    By what principle do you justify the use of force by government to compel businesses to provide “coverage”? In a truly free society, businesses and people are free to do with their money as they please. What does this have to do with the legality of birth control? Nothing. Two completely separate issues. In a free society, everyone has the right to access birth control, on their own dime.

    • http://www.facebook.com/brad.erthal Brad Erthal

      Everyone also has the right to access pregnancy coverage “on their own dime” or private detective agencies “on their own dime” for that matter. This isn’t about the limits of government. The point of the separation of church and state is that we can’t grant special “moral” privileges to specific groups. The law should be blind to religion. If you want to argue about the proper role of the state. I explicitly said that we should set that aside (and in fact that on this narrow point I agree with you) in the ninth paragraph.