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Obama administration should re-think contraception mandate

By Linda Grist Cunningham, editor and proprietor

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

02/06/2012

If the Susan G. Komen foundation board can reverse its tone-deaf decision to pull grant funding from Planned Parenthood, then the Obama administration can say “oops, we goofed” and rethink its decision mandating religious organizations include contraception in their employee insurance plans.

I think health insurance plans — public and private — should cover contraception. They didn’t “back in my day.” I am uneasy with this government vs. religion mandate.

You wanted “the pill,” you scrimped on the grocery money to buy it. Ditto with surgeries, though there was that oddity in which vasectomies were covered, but not tubal ligation. (Always, always, the guys ….) These days, most plans pick up the tab, minus, of course, the obligatory co-pays and deductibles.

I think we walk a First Amendment tightrope, though, when the government tells religious organizations historically and theologically opposed to contraception that they have to include contraception (what’s next? Abortion?) in their insurance plans.

So, when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sibelius rolled out only a very narrow exception — Catholic organizations that employ mostly Catholics can skip the contraception mandate — the battle was engaged. Because, that teensy exception meant Catholic universities, for instance, had to provide contraception in their insurance plans.

No one is mandating employees avail themselves of contraception, simply that it be included for those who choose to use. Understandably, the Catholic Church is on the pulpit against the mandate and reactions nationally have been — perhaps — surprising, as the mainstream media does two things: disagrees with the mandate or calls for a “re-think.”

The Kaiser Foundation is collating information and reactions at its website.

I started this post counting myself as a “disagree with the mandate,” but I’m going to conclude it as a “re-think” that includes far broader access to exemptions.

I find the mandate distasteful because it is heavy-handed. And, yet I can’t bring myself to say do away with it. Because, where does the line get drawn? Exemptions for any Catholic organization — including the ones that get state and federal funding? Exemptions for any Catholic hospital?

Although religious organizations may discriminate in favor of hiring those of their own faith, these days, doing so isn’t going to fill all those jobs on school and college campuses or in health care. So, church-affiliated businesses reach into wider workforce and customer bases and as they do, the faith-based employee and customer pool no longer shares similar religious values.

The Obama administration narrowly defined the exemptions to make it easier to implement the mandate nationwide. That makes sense; it reduces the “if this, then this” slippery slope of who qualifies for which sliver of what slice of which exception. Angels dancing on pinheads would be simple in contrast.

But, in drawing such a fine line distinction, the administration cut it too close. Time to say “oops, we goofed” and more broadly define those exemptions.

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Linda Grist Cunningham

Linda Grist Cunningham is editor and proprietor of Key West Island News and KeyWestWatch Media LLC. She and her husband, a park ranger at Fort Zach, live in Key West with their Cat 5s.

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