Conscience Clause: Preserving Morality or Creating Immorality?

by Elizabeth Beaulac, Outreach Intern, National Women’s Law Center

August brought with it a victory for women’s health. It was announced that all new health insurance plans would be required to coverage preventive services such as contraceptive coverage. However, in not so great news, the mandate included language that would allow religious employers to deny such coverage on the basis of religious or moral beliefs; also known as a “refusal clause.” Today, many religious institutions are pushing to expand the language, creating the opportunity to deny more woman necessary preventive services.

Needless to say I’m having a difficult time grasping what this so-called, “conscience clause” actually means. Call me silly, but it actually seems immoral to deprive a woman of contraception if those pills are necessary for her to maintain her health. It seems quite immoral to make a woman choose between receiving adequate health care coverage and her job. Do we honestly think it’s fair to deny contraceptive coverage to a teacher at a Catholic school or university even though she may not be Catholic herself?

I have the same argument for abortion; if you don’t believe in its methods or purpose, don’t use it yourself, but please don’t deny access for other women who choose to have the procedure. So when the question of whether or not contraception should be covered by health insurance, I say, “yes.” If the consumer chooses not to use it, fine. However, depriving women the ability to access it in general is putting their health at risk.

About 5 years ago I was first prescribed birth control pills. I was diagnosed with endometriosis. Because of the medicine my doctor put me on; my quality of life has improved 10 fold (no exaggeration). And because of being provided safe and easy access to this medicine, surgery is no longer necessary. I’d truly hate to think that if I had been employed at that time by an institution that sees this sort of life saving medicine as immoral, I may still be living in pain and perhaps be facing even more serious complications.

In the simplest of words, if one doesn’t want to take birth control or use other contraceptive measures, they shouldn’t be forced to. However, if an employer is responsible for providing health care coverage to its employees, those employees should have the access and option to receive necessary health care, including birth control.

Cross-posted with the National Women’s Law Center

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