The Constitution, Separation of Church and State, and Birth Control?
Over the last month there has been an uproar about birth control with respect to what the government wants versus what Catholic institutions want. Some would like us to believe that this is an issue about “women’s health” or even about access to contraceptives. I believe this issue goes much deeper and that our personal sovereignty, right to practice religion, and self-government are at risk.
In the years before the constitution was written, there was an argument among the Founders about morality:
The big question of independence hung precariously on the single, slender thread of whether or not the people were sufficiently virtuous and moral to govern themselves….It was universally acknowledged that a corrupt and selfish people could never make the principles of republicanism operate successfully. (The 5000 Year Leap, page 49)
Benjamin Franklin wrote, “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” The principles of freedom, or self-government, must be based on morality, personal responsibility, and self-reliance. The founders did not set out to create a nanny state or dictatorship. They knew if people had moral principals they would be able to govern themselves with limited government interference. The base for moral principals is most often found within religion. Thus, there became the need for the First Amendment of the Bill of Rights:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.
Because religion was such a necessity for our republic to succeed, it had to be protected. Congress (or the government) was expressly prohibited in interfering with religion and the free exercise of it. That meant the government could not make laws that would prohibit a person from practicing his religion. (This was within reason of course…your “religion” could not infringe on the rights of others.)
So, with this in mind, we enter the debate that started in February of 2012. ObamaCare had a provision stating that companies must provide birth control coverage for free as part of their health plan or else pay steep fines. Churches were waived from this stipulation, but church institutions were not. (The Catholic Church runs a number of institutions such as universities and hospitals.) The Catholic religion does not believe in birth control and has a moral opposition to it. This is not just an “it’s against my religion” excuse. Catholics’ aversion to birth control is well known and well documented. Thus, they do not offer birth control as part of their health coverage. When they found out that their institutions would not be waived from the birth control mandate, they were obviously outraged. How could the government force a religious institution to do something they were morally against? It was a direct hit to the First Amendment. No question.
In response to the outrage of the Catholic Church, President Obama said he would make a compromise so that the health insurance companies that provided health plans to the Catholic institutions would have to cover the cost of birth control instead of the institutions themselves. What many didn’t realize is that the Catholic institutions, like many other companies, have their own health insurance companies from which they buy health insurance. (For example, I work for a company under the umbrella of the United Health Group, and guess who provides our health insurance? That’s right – United Health. It’s a common practice among large companies.) So this “solution” was actually not a solution at all.
Seeing that they were in an obvious losing battle, the Democrats paraded out a woman named Sandra Fluke who testified in a hearing on the subject of birth control. Sandra’s complaint was that because she attends Georgetown Law School (a Catholic-funded university) her birth control expenses are not covered in her health plan forcing her and her colleagues to pay $1,000 per year to cover their own birth control costs. What an outrage, right? The argument suddenly changed from a violation of the First Amendment to “women’s health” rights and access to birth control. I believe this was a diversion to get people away from the truth of the story and to give the illusion that Republicans want to take away birth control. But there are more than a few holes in the Democrats’ argument…
- Sandra Fluke chose to attend a Catholic law school. She could have gone to another school if she was so concerned about whether or not her insurance would cover her birth control expenses.
- Needing birth control is a choice. It may be a surprise to some, but I actually got through college without being on birth control and without getting pregnant. A miracle? No, I just CHOSE not to have sex! Taking birth control is an individual choice, and as such, should be financially covered by the individual or sexual partner, not the taxpayers of America.
- To all the women of the United States: NO ONE IS TRYING TO TAKE AWAY YOUR ACCESS TO BIRTH CONTROL!!!! You can find birth control literally in any store (condoms) and can easily get prescriptions for contraceptive pills from any doctor. The basic contraceptive pill doesn’t cost more than $5-10 a month (which is about $120 a year as opposed to Sandra Fluke’s testimony of $1000 a year). And if you can’t afford that, there is always Planned Parenthood. Anyone can walk through their doors and come out with loads of birth control. For free.
- Since when can the government dictate that a company or institution must purchase or fund a product for someone else? Nothing is ever really free. If someone claims that a product or service should be free, we must always remember the immortal words of Ayn Rand, “At whose expense?” If it is free for you, then someone else is paying for it.
- This really isn’t about “women’s health.” Pregnancy is not a disease and women aren’t dying in droves because they got pregnant. The truth is that oral contraceptives actually carry some risk of blood clots. Women who use estrogen-containing birth control have a three-fold to six-fold increase of getting a blood clot and that rate goes up for smokers and women over 35 years of age (emedicinehealth.com). Additionally, the use of oral contraceptives for more than five years doubles the risk of cervical cancer (cancer.org). And if “women’s health” is the ultimate goal of this government, then where are the free passes to the gym? Where is my free personal trainer? Where is my free nutritionist? Where is the person who is going to follow me around every day to make sure I don’t eat junk food? (This too is probably part of ObamaCare and we just haven’t gotten there yet!)
So, why did I start this post with talk of the constitution and religion? It’s because the fundamental right to freedom of religion is at stake here. Over the last 50+ years, the courts have pushed every ounce of religion out of the state, and now they are trying to push morality out of religion. Sure, have your religion, as long as it doesn’t interfere with the government agenda. They have it all backwards. Freedom of religion, the teachings of God, family, personal responsibility, fidelity, charity, and morality are what have made this country the greatest and most successful country in the history of the world. Without the steady moral guide of religion, we are at the ever-changing mercy of what the government dictates, like it or not. That is communism – the state is their God and their religion; rights come from the state and can easily be taken from the state. The success of the United States depends on the free exercise of religion in order to create a moral people. Do we really want to give all that up for some free pills?
Jennifer Maruri lives in Provo, Utah, and is a wife and mother of three young children. She works full time as an RN and is an active member of her church. She considers herself an aficionado of news and talk radio and enjoys fitness and outdoor activities.