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Extremely Stupid and Incredibly Dim

You know, there is something about this incredibly stupid political foofaraw that I haven’t seen. The foofaraw in question, of course, is the uproar about the regulation that health care insurance cover contraception; the stupidity is that the Other Party seems to think that the birth control pill is unpopular in America. They are mistaken. I imagine it is another example of the insularity of a small tent; perhaps in certain circles it is gauche to speak up in support of planning parenthood, perhaps in certain circles Margaret Sanger is not a great American hero, perhaps in certain circles Our Bodies Ourselves is still counter-culture. And if you never get outside those circles, well, you’re a moron. I’m sorry. But if you never get outside those circles, it must be easy to forget that most of us want access to the Pill. Most of us want every adult woman who wants to be on the Pill to be on the Pill. The idea of anyone putting barriers between women and birth control is bizarrely old-fashioned to us, to anyone outside those circles. Old-fashioned, nasty-minded, and a little bit crazy.

And that has all been covered pretty well, it seems to me, in Left Blogovia and the newspapers. What I haven’t seen (and to be clear I haven’t searched for it) is an estimate of just how many people will now be covered. How many people does the Catholic Church employ in its various secular organizations? How many people work at Boston College and Fordham and Merrimack and Villanova and Iona and Gonzaga and Seton Hall and Creighton and Albertus Magnus and Chestnut Hill and Holy Cross and John Carroll and Marquette and Loyola (and Loyola Marymount) and Mercyhurst and DePaul and St. John’s and St. Joseph’s and St. Mary’s and St. Norbert’s and St. Anselm’s and St. Xavier’s and St. Scholastica’s and St. Edward’s and St. Martin’s and St. Elizabeth’s and St. Vincent’s and St. Michael’s and St. Clara’s and St. Francis’ses and St. Thomas’ses and St. Louis’ses? How many people work at St. Elizabeth’s Hospital and St. Francis’ses Hospital and St. Joseph’s Hospital and St. Agnes’ses Hospital and St. Francis’s Hospital and Good Samaritan Hospital and Divine Providence Hospital and Caritas Christi and Our Lady of Mercy Medical Center and Mercy Hospital and Marian Cancer Center—and Parkway Lab and Imaging and Redding Surgery Center and the Family Birth Center at Woodland Healthcare and Desert Ridge Outpatient Surgery and Mt. Sinai Hospital and Johnson Memorial and Garvey Manor and Kingston Hospital and Seton Health and Axess Ultrasound and Dubuis Hospital? I would guess that it’s millions of people—I have no idea, but I’m guessing millions of people are employed at workplaces that are affiliated with the Catholic Church. Is that true? I would like to know. I haven’t seen the numbers.

Again, I feel I should make it clear: Hooray for the Catholic Church’s investment in education and health! It’s a fantastic thing, a terrific thing, and I’m very, very glad that they include those things (along with feeding the hungry) in their mission. Yay! Well done, Catholics. I consider the millions of people you employ (if I am correct) to be an honor roll. It doesn’t let you off the hook for providing adequate medical coverage for those people.

Do you know what I would consider a reasonable compromise, under the circumstances? I have two possibilities that make perfect sense to me. The first is that the federal government institutes a single-payer system with adequate family-planning and reproductive care for everybody in the country. That would let the Church off the hook; it would not be directly paying for anybody’s contraceptives or prophylactics. The Other Party should agree to that right away.

The other compromise would be that the Federal Government would offer to simply take over the management of all those hospitals and universities, as well as any other institutions that the Church does not feel can provide adequate coverage for its employees. Just have them all nationalized, lock and stock, grounds and goodwill, and a grateful nation won’t force you to think about birth control any more.

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


Most of those employers you mention have reportedly long been offering health insurance that covers contraception. The only changes are that now there won't be a copay, and that now a bunch of right-wing fanatics are screaming their heads off about it. Really, padded rooms aren't just to keep people from hurting themselves. They're to keep the rest of us from having to hear the screaming.

I don't know the answer to your question, but I wanted to toss in a statistic that surprised me. Apparently this has been in the news lately (after being cited by the White House blog), so maybe y'all already know it, but according to a 2011 study, 98% of Catholic women (presumably in the US) who've had sex have used birth control. (And 89% of unmarried Catholic women have had sex.)

...Though that study includes sterilization in the category of birth control, and presumably that's not being given out free by anyone.

Do you think the Supreme Court is likely to rule in the law's favor, given that it recently ruled 9-0 in Hosanna-Tabor Evangelical Lutheran Church and School v. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that religious liberty can trump some federal laws? In her concurring opinion, concurring opinion, Justice Kagan, wrote:

“Throughout our Nation's history, religious bodies have been the preeminent example of private associations that have ‘act[ed] as critical buffers between the individual and the power of the State.’ Roberts v. United States Jaycees, 468 U.S. 609, 619 (1984). In a case like the one now before us — where the goal of the civil law in question, the elimination of discrimination against persons with disabilities, is so worthy — it is easy to forget that the autonomy of religious groups, both here in the United States and abroad, has often served as a shield against oppressive civil laws. To safeguard this crucial autonomy, we have long recognized that the Religion Clauses protect a private sphere within which religious bodies are free to govern themselves in accordance with their own beliefs. The Constitution guarantees religious bodies ‘independence from secular control or manipulation—in short, power to decide for themselves, free from state interference, matters of church government as well as those of faith and doctrine.’ Kedroff v. Saint Nicholas Cathedral of Russian Orthodox Church in North America, 344 U.S. 94, 116 (1952).”

P.S. Sorry about that jarring copypasta duplication.

Jim -- It seems to me that a critical difference between the Hosanna-Tabor case and the current law is that the Hosanna-Tabor case focused specifically on religious ministry -- the employee in question was a teacher, yes, but a teacher whose duties included religious instruction. To apply Hosanna-Tabor to, say, a hospital, the Church would have to argue that employees in a Catholic hospital were providing ministry. That might be a reasonable argument regarding, say, a chaplain, but would be pretty hard to make about a nurse or a clerk in the payroll department. Catholic schools are a little fuzzier, though -- it's easier to make an argument that a teacher who mostly teaches physics but also leads a prayer group is performing a "ministerial" role. Again, harder to argue that for a janitor or an office worker.

We might start to see employees of Catholic institutions being pressured to do things like lead prayer groups, precisely so that the Church can make this argument, but... at a large institution like a hospital or school it's hard to see how the majority of employees could ever be considered religious workers.

Jed—that statistic may have surprised you because it's phony. According to what I see, it's actually 2% of Catholic women aged 15-44 (thus leaving out the older women who were educated before Vatican II) described as "sexually active women who do not want to become pregnant" (thus leaving out those whose piety leads them to either celibate unmarried lives or marriage and procreation) who use "natural family planning". The survey shows that 11% of Catholic women between 15 and 44 who are sexually active and who wish to avoid pregnancy do not use any method of birth control at all, according to that study. Which seems like a lot, to me, but it's not (according to that Guttmacher Institute Survey) all that different from non-Catholics in that category.

Jim—I don't have any response, really, as I have no idea which way the SCotUS would go on this. My understanding is that the Church would very likely win on its employees in churches; employees as Villanova are in a different category.

Michael—There's another difference, which is that the coverage will be federally mandated, and cannot be taken away. Still, it would be interesting to know (in addition to knowing the size of the exemption the Church is requesting) how many women's access the Church is already covering, in supposed violation of everything they stand for.


Very late to the party here, for which I apologize, but I can offer the anecdata that my place of work, which is very much affiliated with the Catholic Church, does not now and probably never has covered contraception in its insurance plan. Neither does the Large Catholic University Across the Street, which is currently the largest employer in the area. No mention has been made in the local press about the coverage provided by the Large Catholic Hospital in town (also a major employer in the area), but the lack of mention suggests to me that their policy is the same.

Large health insurance companies (ours is provided through an arm of Blue Cross Blue Shield) have standard policies with "Catholic exemptions." Any statement about "most" Catholic employers already covering contraception needs a big ol' [citation needed] slapped onto it.

As of 6 years ago, 23 states required insurance plans that included any prescription coverage to include contraceptive coverage.

Citation: http://www.ama-assn.org/amednews/2006/02/20/gvsb0220.htm

That included California and New York, both of which faced lawsuits from the Catholic Church that the church lost.

Citation: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/10/20/nyregion/20courts.html

There had been a federal requirement in place from about 2000 to 2005, but that was eventually overturned.

On further research, it looks like "many" would be a better word than "most". With that edit, perhaps the [citation needed] can be removed.

My understanding is that some of those 23 state mandates have broader exemptions than the NY/CA ones, but seriously [citation needed] on that. But that's part of my original point: I really have no idea how many employees this exemption is supposed to cover. Also, I have no idea whether the new rule would cover students at the universities in question, as they are not employees… anyway, the many/most/some question would be fairly easy for a reporter to, you know, report on, and I haven't seen it done, which, again, is my point.


Thanks, Michael, that helps a lot, and I agree that "many" is a better qualifier than "most." I think the other time I saw this concept referred to, it was someone blithely saying "something like 98%," without a citation, which tripped my [citation needed] button.

Wish I lived in one of those 23 states...

V, yes, the new federal rules would cover students, even though students are not employees. The MA and NY state rules already do cover students at BC and at Fordham, to choose the first two institutions you listed.

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