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.

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