MICHAELA GIBSON MORRIS: Health care debate tugs at freedoms

By Michaela Gibson Morris/NEMS Daily Journal

Professionally and personally, the First Amendment is near and dear to my heart. The First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution reads, “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….”
Freedom of speech and of the press are simply necessary for a democracy to function. The system won’t work for long if people feel they can’t make their case and be heard.
But freedom of religion is the glue that holds our civil society together. When you consider how often humans have used religion as an excuse to go to war, the foresight of our founders is quite amazing. We may argue heatedly, but generally, we recognize the right of people to follow their own religious beliefs without interference.
Through that lens, it has been very distressing to watch the debate over what employers will be required to provide birth control and sterilization as part of preventive health services. Churches would have the option to decline to provide these services in their health insurance plans for employees, but faith-based organizations like hospitals, schools and service agencies would not.
The Catholic teaching that life is precious and should be defended at all turns from conception to natural death is the wellspring from which so much good work flows, especially through hospitals and social service agencies like Catholic Charities.
Asking those institutions to pay for not just contraceptives, but sterilization and some abortion-inducing drugs, going directly against their core values, seems like a clear violation of the separation clause. (In the interest of full disclosure, you should know I am a practicing Catholic.)
On the other hand, it’s clear that contraception and family planning have benefited the health of individuals and the larger community.
Modern contraception is considered one of the greatest public health achievements of the 20th century. “Smaller families and longer intervals between births have significantly contributed to improvements in the health of infants and women, as well as to improvements in women’s socioeconomic status,” according to a Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health report on comprehensive reproductive health care.
The compromise proposal of requiring the insurance companies to cover the services, not the employer, satisfies the Catholic Health Association, which represents affiliated hospitals, but the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops remains opposed to the mandate as an attack on religious liberty and conscience.
The only compromise that’s left may be a government-run health care system, and there’s a lot of people who object to that.
Michaela Gibson Morris is a Daily Journal staff writer. Contact her at (662) 678-1599 or michaela.morris@journalinc.com.