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Religious Tolerance logo

In a religious freedom/liberty conflict among religious
employers, employees, and students, who wins?

Who wins the battle? Origin of the HHS mandate.

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Who wins and who loses in a battle over religious freedom and liberty?

Most Americans live in one of the 28 states in the U.S. where state laws require health insurance plans to supply contraceptive supplies. However, this is no guarantee that insured students and employees will be able to easily obtain them. Some doctors -- typically Roman Catholic physicians -- refuse to prescribe the medication because of their faith's teachings regarding contraceptives, even if the medication is to be used for other purposes. Legislated conscience clauses generally give them the right to do this with impunity. Bridgette Dunlap, a law student at Fordham University, knew that the law in New York State required her school's health plan to pay for birth control pills. But she found out that -- following Roman Catholic Church teachings -- that the student health service would simply refuse to prescribe them for her. She and dozens of other coeds at Fordham were only able to obtain their pills after Ms. Dunlap organized a temporary off-campus clinic staffed by volunteer doctors. 1

One end result of allowing to student and employee free access to birth control supplies would be a significant drop in unintended pregnancies, of which about 40% will be terminated by abortion. The Catholic church teaches that any involvement that facilitates a woman's use of birth control pills is an immoral act. They also consider an abortion or any other act that results in the death of a pre-embryo, embryo, or fetus to be homicide -- the killing of a human person. Further, they believe one may not commit an immoral act like being involved with contraception, even if the end result is a great good -- saving the life of a human person after conception.

Sister Mary Ann Walsh, a spokesperson for the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops said: "We can‚€™t just lie down and die and let religious freedom go." It is important to realize that this is not religious freedom in the historic meaning of the term: to allow freedom of religious belief, assembly, proselytizing, etc. Rather, it is a reference to the new and growing meaning of the term: the religious freedom of a person or faith group to oppress, discriminate against, or control the lives of others against the latter's will.

Starting in 2013, Health and Human Services (HHS) will require most employers to include birth control, emergency contraception, etc. in their health insurance plans. Churches, synagogues, and other faith based groups will be exempt from these regulations if they primarily employ employees of the same faith. 2 However, religiously affiliated hospitals, universities, schools, social service agencies, etc. who employ persons of various faiths -- and of no organized faith -- will have to join with secular companies and organizations and provide such coverage to their employees without copays, co-insurance or deductibles. This policy may include students in addition to employees.

Basically the regulation switches the decision whether or not to freely use contraceptive services from the employer -- including religious employers -- to the employee. This would:

  • Reduce the religious freedom of the employer to control and manipulate the lives of the employees.

  • Increase the freedom of choice of the employee to control their own lives by applying their personal moral and ethical codes to the use of birth control medication, devices and procedures.

Without the HHS regulation, the freedom of the employer to control the employees' lives are increased at the expense of the employee's freedom of choice. There is no win-win compromise in this area that preserves both the employers' and employees' full religious liberty and freedom. Someone has to give up what they regard as an important freedom.

As noted above, this type of regulation has been in place in many states for years. However, the directive from the federal HHS will be nation-wide. It generated a firestorm of objections from the Catholic Church hierarchy, and support for the hierarchy, mainly from fundamentalist and other evangelical Christian groups. Meanwhile, internal divisions within the Church were exacerbated. More liberal voices within the Church, and most of the Catholic laity, have joined with secular groups to approve the regulation. The intensity of the conflict appears to have been aggravated by the timing of the presidential election scheduled for later in 2012.

If the HHS regulations are applied, they are expected to have three main impacts on the public:

  1. The rate of unexpected pregnancies will decrease, along with the associated mental health, physical health, and economic problems.

  2. The abortion rate will decline.

  3. Individual employees will be able to freely decide whether to use contraceptives or not, without economic impacts on their budgets.

Coverage in the media has almost exclusively dealt with the negative impact on the religious liberty of the Church to control its employee's personal decisions. The media have largely ignored the positive impacts listed above. Unfortunately, many of the public probably assume that the media -- particularly the religious information sources -- thoroughly research the topics about which they write, present a balanced treatment of all aspects of the topic, and can be relied upon for accuracy. Unfortunately, these beliefs appear to be naive.

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Origin of the HHS regulation within the Institute of Medicine:

A group of academies act as advisors to the U.S. government and the rest of the nation on matters involving science, engineering and medicine. One of these academies is the Institute of Medicine. It was established in 1970 during the Nixon administration:

"... by the National Academy of Sciences to secure the services of eminent members of appropriate professions in the examination of policy matters pertaining to the health of the public. The Institute acts under the responsibility given to the National Academy of Sciences by its congressional charter to be an adviser to the federal government and, upon its own initiative, to identify issues of medical care, research, and education." 3

Under a contract with the federal Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), the Institute of Medicine's Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice produced a document titled: "Leading Health Indicators for Healthy People 2020." 4 The board is composed of 11 eminent public health experts. The report was reviewed by eight "... individuals chosen for their diverse perspectives and technical expertise." 5 They also provided a second report centered on women's preventive services. 6  Both reports can be downloaded free over the Internet.

The Board found that:

  • Approximately 50% of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unexpected and unplanned. "... unintended births accounted for almost two-thirds of the births to women ... [under] age 18, while for 18- to 19-year-old women, more than half of the births were unintended. ... " 7

  • During 2008, 42% of unintended pregnancies in the U.S. were terminated by abortion.

  • More widespread use of birth control causes these rates to decrease.

  • Unintended pregnancies result in other adverse effects: more depression, drinking of alcoholic beverages, smoking, delay or neglect of pre-natal care, and low birth-weight newborns. Pregnancies and childbirths that are too close together produced similar problems.

  • Health insurance that includes birth control without copays has been found to increase the use of birth control which reduces unexpected pregnancies, reduces abortions, and allows wider spacing between births.

  • Birth control pills are used to treat many female medical problems that are unrelated to conception, including menstrual problems, some migraine headaches, acne, pelvic pain, excessive hair growth, etc. They can also reduce the risk of endometrial cancer, pelvic inflammatory disease, and some benign breast diseases. 8

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This topic continues in the next essay

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How you may have arrived here:

Home > Morality > Health care > Contraceptive conflict > here

Home > Religious freedom > Freedom to oppress > Contraceptive conflict > here

Home > Important essays > Religious freedom > Freedom to oppress > Contraceptive conflict > here

Home > Religious information > Religious freedom > Freedom to oppress > Contraceptive conflict > here

Home > Human rights > Religious freedom > Freedom to oppress > Contraceptive conflict > here

 Home > Sex > Catholic church > Contraceptive conflict > here

 Home > "Hot" topics > Sex > Catholic church > Contraceptive conflict > here

Home > Christianity > Christian groups > Sorting groups > Denominations > Catholics > Sex > Contraceptive conflict >here

 Home > Christianity > Christian history, belief... > Beliefs > Sex > Catholic church > Contraceptive conflict > here

or Home > Religious Information> Basic data > Sex > Catholic church > Contraceptive conflict > here

References used:

The following information sources were used to prepare and update the above essay. The hyperlinks are not necessarily still active today.

  1. Denise Grady, "Ruling on Contraception draws battle lines at Catholic Colleges," New York Times, 2012-JAN-29, at:
  2. Sarah Kliff, "White House stands firm in birth control battle," Washington Post, 2012-JAN-20, at:
  3. Book cover image Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice, "Leading Health Indicators for Healthy People 2020: Letter Report," Page IV, Institute of Medicine, at: This web site provides a free download.
  4. Ibid, Page II, at:
  5. Ibid, Page VII & VIII, at:
  6. book cover image Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice, "Clinical Preventive Services for Women: Closing the Gaps," Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, 2011-JUL-19, at: This web site provides a free download.
  7. Op Cit, Page 30, at:
  8. "Excerpts from a report on Women's Health," New York Times, 2012-JAN-29, at:

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Copyright ¬© 2012 by Ontario Consultants on Religious Tolerance 
Originally written: 2012-JUN-24
Latest update: 2012-AUG-18
Author: B.A. Robinson

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