Trying to dissect the Donald Trump Administration’s decision to religiously minded employers to cut birth control from their health plans is like tackling an elephant. But one has to start somewhere.
As I scanned various articles on the topic, I noticed how few articles explained why some people and employers have religious objections to contraceptives. Do those in the media think we know these reasons already, so it’s no using re-explaining them? In other words, how do you understand this story without talking to people in the faith-based schools and ministries that are at the heart of the decision?
The most cogent piece was from the Atlantic:
Faced with setbacks on the legislative front, the Trump administration is going it alone on taking apart the Affordable Care Act piecemeal.
On Friday, the administration made one of its boldest moves yet, with two memos from multiple agencies that would dramatically curtail women’s access to birth control through their employers. The new regulations, effective immediately, would exempt all employers and insurers from covering or paying for coverage of contraceptives if they object “based on its sincerely held religious beliefs,” or have other “moral convictions” against covering such care.
Mind you, this is not all employers, but it is those who have religious objections to it contraceptives being included in their employee health coverage. We’re talking about 71 companies here, according to Mother Jones.
No one is forcing women to work at these companies, a point I've made more than once in previous columns. And that religious schools have covenants whereby those who attend them and those who teach and work at them agree to live according to the doctrines affirmed by that institution. By now, most folks should know that Catholics do not believe in artificial contraception and that if you apply to work at Catholic institution, you might not get your birth control pills paid for on your health plan.
After explaining the history of several court cases surrounding the ACA contraceptive mandate, the Atlantic continues with:
… the White House has concluded that there is no way to accommodate every objector to the mandate, and that “application of the mandate to entities with sincerely held religious objections to it does not serve a compelling governmental interest.” But in creating such broad categories of employers that merely have religious or even moral convictions against providing contraceptive services, it opens the door for pretty much all employers to simply stop covering them and paying for them, with no alternatives.
Seriously, do we really think that “pretty much all employers” will use the religious loophole for themselves? Again, the groups at the heart of this standoff -- think the Little Sisters of the Poor -- are faith-based ministries or religious schools with doctrinal covenants.
A New York Times piece on the topic began thus:
WASHINGTON -- The Trump administration on Friday moved to expand the rights of employers to deny women insurance coverage for contraception and issued sweeping guidance on religious freedom that critics said could also erode civil rights protections for lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.
More than 55 million women have access to free birth control under ObamaCare, the article adds, but under these new regulations, “hundreds of thousands” of women could lose these benefits. But if we’re only talking about companies with religious or moral objections, how would this add up to hundreds of thousands?
Nine paragraphs into the piece, the religious folks got a voice:
But some conservatives and religious groups said the new rules would allow them to live out their religious beliefs. Speaker Paul D. Ryan of Wisconsin hailed the rules as “a landmark day for religious liberty.” The rules were also welcomed by groups like the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Roman Catholic nuns who had resisted the Obama administration’s mandate because, they said, it would make them “morally complicit in grave sin.”
“The new administration isn’t going to force Catholic nuns to provide contraceptives,” said Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, who represents the Little Sisters of the Poor. “We’ve been on a long, divisive culture war because the last administration decided nuns needed to give out contraceptives.”
From there on, the article zigzagged back and forth from one view to another. I felt both sides had their due, although my question on the zillions of women impacted by this decision wasn’t answered. Also, read the story's lede again. How is this issue framed?
The Washington Post did try to answer that question: The explanation is a bit long, so stick with me.
In two separate briefings for reporters, senior Health and Human Services officials contended the change will still leave “99.9 percent of women” with access to free birth control through their insurance. They said the estimate was based on the number of groups that have filed lawsuits over the provision.
In one section of the religion rule, administration officials predict 120,000 women at most will lose access to free contraceptives through the combined rules -- many fewer than critics anticipate.
They write that they do not know how many employers or insurers that omitted contraceptive coverage before the ACA did so based on religious beliefs that would now allow them to be exempt. For that reason, the rule says, HHS cannot predict how many entities will want exemptions, other than the groups that have filed recent lawsuits or made other public statements against the Obama-era policy.
The analysis concludes that perhaps one-third of women who get insurance through such groups -- the estimated 120,000 -- would end up paying for birth control on their own.
Now that was more helpful, as was this piece from The Week as to what birth control actually costs women. The pills themselves aren't that much but other methods, such as IUDs, cost more.
Other sources, such as CNN, only included one point of view. In its lead article on the Trump administration’s move, the writers had five people complaining about the rule change and not one person praising it. CNN also had a sidebar pointing out that many women take birth control for medical conditions unrelated to birth control.
The Weekly Standard was the only publication I viewed that led with reaction by the nuns in the Little Sisters of the Poor lawsuit that challenged the Obama administration in court over the contraception mandate. Of course, that is a culturally conservative magazine.
The Christian Post was the only publication that published the disparate views of religious groups ranging from the Knights of Columbus to the Interfaith Alliance on the ruling, from the right to the religious left. Very few outlets did either. So religious beliefs were not at the heart of this story?