Is Having Access to Free Contraception Really a Threat to Religious Freedom?

The Republican outcry against President Obama's contraception policy puts women's access to healthcare in jeopardy

Republican Presidential candidates Newt Gingrich and Mitt Romney joined the Catholic Church in railing against new requirements that religious hospitals, charities and schools cover birth control in their health care plans. (Churches themselves are exempt.)

Both called it an infringement on religious liberty. “The Obama administration is forcing religious institutions to choose between violating their conscience or dropping health care coverage for their employees, effectively destroying their ability to carry on their work," said Romney, who supported no-copay contraception when he was Governor of Masschusetts.

Obama responded to the cries on Friday by holding a press conference declaring a compromise: the onus to provide contraceptive coverage now falls on the insurance companies of the religiously-affiliated institutions and not the institutions themselves. "The result will be that religious organizations won't have to pay for these services," said Obama. "But women who work at these institutions will have access to free contraceptives just like other women."

For now, it seems as though everybody has been appeased but I'm not so sure the conservative/Catholic argument was very strong to begin with.

What’s most puzzling is that neither Romney nor Gingrich mention the fact that nobody is being forced to take birth control, or that, according to Public Religion Research Institute poll released today, 58 percent of Catholics believe that all employers should be required to provide healthcare plans that cover contraception at no cost. That's not surprising since a Guttmacher Institute poll recently found that 98 percent of Catholic women have used birth control at some point in their lives. Still, I guess I can see how this issue seems cut and dried -- these religious institutions built the hospitals, charities and schools and so they should be able to make choices about the health care plans.

Except that a fortune in public funding goes to these institutions, including non-profit tax exemptions, school vouchers, Medicare and Medicaid payments and more. In other words, regardless of our individual religious beliefs, everyone’s tax dollars support both for-profit and non-profit religious entities. There is no opting out either -- there is no religious freedom for those of us who don’t agree with these religious institutions taking public money and then limiting access to legal health care services for the women they employ.

This is especially troubling in light of the Catholic Church’s attacks on Planned Parenthood, arguing that Planned Parenthood should not receive public funding because churches and their followers do not agree with all the (completely legal) services provided to women.

If we are going to go down this road, let's go all the way. Insurance shouldn’t treat anybody with an STD contracted through an adulterous affair. “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” That’s the seventh commandment, folks. Anybody injured because they were working on the Sabbath should probably be denied coverage, too. And what about Viagra? Single men, who are obviously not trying to procreate, should not have the little blue pills covered by insurance.

I’m not saying the solution is easy but it’s much more complicated than calling it an impingement on the religious freedom of people who don’t believe in birth control. It sure looks to me like the Catholic Church is systematically trying to force women to comply with its doctrine, and it’s using my tax dollars to do it. I offer this solution -- they can opt out of providing birth control if I can opt out of funding religious institutions. I would be happy to divert my tax dollars to funding programs that help women take control of their health.

WATCH: Santorum's Stance on Prenatal Testing and Abortion: He "Kind of Has a Point"

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