The Obama administration has come under considerable pressure from religious organizations to broaden the definition of which institutions can avoid the Affordable Care Act’s mandate to provide preventive health care services to women without additional cost sharing. These groups are accusing Democrats of waging a religious war against Christians by requiring they provide services — such as birth control — that may violate Church teaching. But as NPR’s Julie Rovner reports this morning, Christian affiliated groups already offer coverage for contraception in 28 states, eight of which don’t include the kind of conscience protections that are part of the administration’s proposed regulation:
But while some insist that the rules, which spring from last year’s health law, break new ground, many states as well as federal civil rights law already require most religious employers to cover prescription contraceptives if they provide coverage of other prescription drugs.
While some religious employers take advantage of loopholes or religious exemptions, the fact remains that dozens of Catholic hospitals and universities currently offer contraceptive coverage as part of their health insurance packages.
“We’ve always had contraceptive birth control included in our health care benefits,” said Michelle Michaud, a labor and delivery nurse at Dominican Hospital in Santa Cruz, Calif. “It’s something that we’ve come to expect for ourselves and our family.”
In other words, for religious groups to argue that the existing conscience provision stifle their religious expression would require one to believe that Christians are oppressed in almost half the states and are practically persecuted in eight of them. The reality on the ground is far less gloomy: religiously-affiliated institutions already offer birth control coverage to millions of secular women who work in their hospitals or teach in their colleges because their First Amendment amendment rights don’t allow them to pick and choose which laws they want to follow. As the Supreme Court concluded in 1990’s Employment Division v. Smith, if religious organizations can ignore regulations they disagreed with, then “the professed doctrines of religious belief [would be] superior to the law of the land, and in effect…permit every citizen to become a law unto himself.”