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HBU wins contraception mandate lawsuit

This is very disappointing.

The federal government cannot force Houston Baptist University to pay for emergency contraception services as part of its employee health insurance plans, according to a ruling Friday by U.S. District Judge Lee Rosenthal.

The decision is a victory for HBU and East Texas Baptist University in their joint lawsuit against the government over the constitutionality of Affordable Care Act provisions about employer-paid birth control.

“The government doesn’t have the right to decide what religious beliefs are legitimate and which ones aren’t,” said Eric Rassbach, an attorney with the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a public interest law firm representing the two Texas colleges.

The universities said that obeying the Health and Human Services contraception mandate would violate their religious conscience. In a 46-page opinion, Rosenthal said they proved their positions.

“The belief need not be long-standing, central to (their) religious beliefs, internally consistent with any written scripture or reasonable from another’s perspective. They need only be sincerely held,” Rosenthal wrote.

The Obama administration exempted churches from the mandate, but not affiliated organizations like religious schools and hospitals.

The Obama administration is likely to appeal this ruling, but I wouldn’t hold out much hope. In the meantime, there’s a bigger case working its way towards the Supreme Court, involving secular companies such as Hobby Lobby, which want to establish the principle that corporations can have religious rights. If they win, then the employees of these institutions, who may not share the religious views of the owners of said corporations themselves or who may not even be religious, will have their health insurance options dictated to them.

You may be thinking to yourself “Wait, I thought it was the Catholics that opposed birth control. What’s up with Baptists opposing it?” You would not be the only one wondering about this.

I’m proud to be a part of a movement whose great concern is learning to love your neighbor as you love yourself. And as we move into the New Year, I hope those voices of justice will grow stronger and I wish for some other things as well.

I hope that the Religious Right will drop birth control as an issue. During the political season, the conservative Evangelical case against birth control was loud and clear. I spoke to Frank Schaeffer, one of the founders of the Religious Right, trying to remember my days growing up in a conservative Evangelical household. “I don’t remember birth control ever being an issue before. It wasn’t tied to the Evangelical pro-life movement, was it? Did I miss something?” I asked.

“No. Birth control wasn’t an issue at the beginning.” Schaeffer replied. “This is a case of the enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

In other words, the Religious Right took up the cause of birth control because the Roman Catholic Church is against birth control. Since the Religious Right Evangelicals and some Catholics could join forces and become more powerful in their shared quest to defeat Barack Obama, then they decided to add birth control as an issue. We began to hear the pill referred to more as an “abortifacient.”

I am now a Progressive Presbyterian, but growing up as a teen in a conservative Christian culture, I read Passion and Purity. I was advised to take the pill for medical reasons and refused because I thought it would make sex more tempting. I also thought that using a condom would be like premeditated sin, because you would have to have to buy them beforehand and plan on having sex. But there was no sense that birth control was somehow tied to abortion.

I’m hoping that since the Evangelical tie of birth control to the pro-life movement was a pragmatic political flop, it won’t affect conservative women who want to decide when they are ready to have a child. There is already a teen pregnancy problem in red states. We don’t need to exacerbate the issue, jeopardizing the lives and futures of young women by demonizing birth control.

I guess it’s a good thing for HBU and ETBU that their “belief” need not be “long-standing, central to (their) religious beliefs, internally consistent with any written scripture or reasonable from another’s perspective”, because as recently as last decade, this wasn’t part of their beliefs. In fact, one of their peer institutions that also sued the federal government over this mandate was providing emergency contraception coverage as part of its health insurance plan at the same time it was asking for injunctive relief against being required to provide emergency contraception coverage. Don’t make me do something I’m already doing, Your Honor!

The key to understanding all this is in the quoted bit above. Take a look at the reason the lawsuit was filed in the first place.

Dub Oliver, president of East Texas Baptist University, told KLTV 7 that he opposes the provision because he believes that “life begins at conception” and that contraception drugs cause abortions.

But the statement that “contraception drugs cause abortions” is not a matter of faith, it’s a matter of testable, provable fact. And the facts as we now know them show that this belief is mistaken.

Several scientists and doctors said in interviews that this view did not reflect the way the birth control methods actually work. “There’s so much evidence for how these things work prior to fertilization,” said Diana L. Blithe, director of contraceptive development for the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development. “And there’s no evidence that they work beyond fertilization.”

She and other experts said these methods are so effective in preventing fertilization that the chance of an egg and sperm uniting is slim. If fertilization does occur, the embryo runs a high risk of not implanting for natural reasons. While several medical Web sites, including some from government agencies, raise the possibility that the morning-after pill could affect implantation, Dr. Blithe and others said it had not been scientifically verified that the drugs work that way.

One morning-after pill, Plan B, contains a synthetic progesterone that blocks ovulation, said Dr. Anita Nelson, a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the David Geffen School of Medicine at the University of California, Los Angeles. Recent studies have indicated that women who take Plan B after ovulation have a normal chance of becoming pregnant, and that Plan B does not prevent their fertilized eggs from implanting, Dr. Nelson said. Ella, the other morning-after pill, delays ovulation by blocking the body’s progesterone, she said.

She said that Ella was a hormonal cousin of the drug used in an acknowledged abortifacient, RU-486, which is given to women who are up to about seven weeks pregnant and stops the development of an already-implanted embryo. But the RU-486 hormone is a very high dose, between 200 to 600 milligrams, whereas the Ella hormone is 30 milligrams, Dr. Nelson said. She said that Ella had not been tested to see if it prevented implantation. But she added that the RU-486 hormone at low doses acts only to prevent ovulation.

See also this NPR story on the same subject. The evidence at hand was sufficient to convince Catholic bishops in Germany that emergency contraception was acceptable, at least in some cases. But that’s what this is about, conflating birth control with abortion, and teaming up with the Catholic Chuch – the “enemy of my enemy” – against the Obama Administration by conflating birth control with abortion. That says to me that this is much more about politics than it is about faith. To the extent that faith is involved, it’s a matter of convenience. I don’t think that’s worth trumping the rights of the employees of these institutions, and I’m disappointed that Judge Rosenthal bought into it. BOR has more.

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One Comment

  1. Bill Daniels says:

    Good for HBU. This isn’t even really an issue of religious freedom, it’s an issue of freedom, or maybe more correctly, an issue of contract law….the freedom for an employer and an employee to enter into a voluntary contract for services.

    Having the government dictate everything that should be in an employee’s pay package is wrong, and absurd. How about the government dictate (mandate) that each employee shall be entitled to receive a funny hat each payday, or upon demand by the employee?

    HBU employees can still get “emergency contraceptives” (which I assume means Plan B or equivalent, not grabbing a pack of Trojans at the local stop and rob on the way back to the room), using the money that they receive FROM HBU in their paycheck. No one has prevented HBU employees from exercising any right. HBU chooses not to cover certain drugs. HBU might also not cover, for example, breast enlargement surgery. Why not demand that HBU pay for that, too?

    Keep on taking away the rights of others (in this case, HBU), fine, but then don’t bitch when a right YOU might care about gets taken away. And in the end, if the benefit of employer paid emergency contraception is such a critical issue, then HBU will lose staff, because the employees will gravitate to universities where emergency contraceptives ARE paid for by the university. The free market will decide if HBU’s failure to offer that benefit is a good idea or not.

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