As a volunteer health teacher in public high schools, I spend a lot of time telling ninth-grade girls how the government makes it easy for them to access basic methods of birth control. I’ve seen firsthand how vital access is; for some young women, federal contraceptive initiatives are the only reason they aren’t mothers of two by age 18.
The potential for positive impact motivated the federal mandate that employers include contraceptive coverage in their health insurance packages.
The decision left multiple religious groups infuriated. In the interest of mollifying these groups, Obama announced Friday a new accommodation that exempted religiously affiliated employers from the mandate.
This compromise is too generous. Only institutions serving a primary function that is specifically religious should be eligible for such an exemption.
People who work for religious institutions are hired specifically to employ their faith within the community; adhering to religious principles is literally in their job description. In cases where faith considers birth control morally wrong, these individuals should not expect contraceptive coverage.
But employees of institutions such as hospitals and schools that are merely religiously affiliated should expect it. Many of these employees may follow a different religion or lack religious affiliation. They should not face more difficulty obtaining contraceptives merely because their bosses deem them immoral.
Employers providing contraception in their insurance packages still retain their right to worship and to believe what they want. They are not being forced to provide contraceptives in the name of their faith or to use it themselves.
But the new exemption means a female teacher at a Catholic high school will see a significant aspect of her life — her access to birth control — impinged on by beliefs that are not her own.
Meanwhile, employment prospects remain limited for many other women, whose need for contraceptive coverage deters them from jobs that make obtaining it more difficult and more costly.
Religious freedom aside, contraception is an accepted component of women’s health in medical communities nationwide.
Even more importantly, it acts as a social good. According to the Huffington Post, it costs the government millions of taxpayer dollars a year to provide medical services, welfare and adoptive homes for countless surprise children.
In extending health care coverage to contraception, the federal government acted in the interests of social health and women’s rights nationwide. Higher-ups at religiously affiliated institutions can believe what they want, but they should not be allowed to shirk their responsibility for the health of their unaffiliated employees.
Francesca Bessey is a freshman majoring in narrative studies.
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