The debate about whether President Barack Obama’s recent compromise on health care policy is an affront to religious freedom has sparked conversation in the Elm City.
The compromise, announced on Friday, allows employees of Catholic institutions to obtain free contraceptives from insurance companies if the institution opts out of purchasing insurance that includes these services. This marks a change from Obama’s stance in January, when he mandated that all employers pay for insurance covering birth control and other reproductive services, including some objectionable to the Catholic church. Left-leaning organizations in New Haven have applauded the availability of free contraceptives, with some questioning the necessity of the compromise. But local religious organizations said they still oppose the policy, and consider the mandate a direct assault on their religious freedom.
Though employees of Catholic institutions, such as schools, charities and hospitals, can now apply directly to the insurance companies for birth control coverage, he said, the fiscal burden may fall on the Catholic institutions as they still have to pay the premium and the coverage, said Jonah Pollock, associate pastor at the Church of St. Mary on Hillhouse Avenue. If insurance companies raise the price of insurance to accommodate the new mandate, he added, the cost structure will be unchanged.
“The compromise is a step in the right direction, but there are a lot of issues that remain unresolved,” Pollock said, adding that the church does not believe that either Catholic institutions or private employers who oppose birth control should be obligated to fund it.
Planned Parenthood of Southern New England sent out a press release on Feb. 10 taking the opposite stance. The press release applauded Obama for supporting affordable contraceptives. Birth control prevents unintended pregnancies and improves health outcomes for women and their families, among other health benefits, Judy Tabar, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southern New England, said in the release.
Access to these services has become an economic problem for women, Tabar said in the press release, and “[just] this last year, nearly one out of four women has put off a gynecological exam or birth control visit to save money.”
Liberal organizations on campus said they object to claims that the new policy hinders religious freedom.
“Religious freedom doesn’t mean that religion has the power to exercise complete control over people,” said Jess Belding ’13, a member of the Yale Political Union’s Party of the Left.
Mandating that people use birth control would be an affront to religious freedom, she said, but taking birth control access away from people only denies them a necessary health service. She added that while the church disagrees with birth control, using contraception helps in preventing abortion, a higher priority for the church.
But Pollock said the use of birth control is still “morally objectionable” in the eyes of the church, even though abortion is considered worse than birth control in the Catholic faith.
Zak Newman ’13, president of the Yale Democrats, said he does not believe it was necessary for Obama to compromise at all.
“It seems that the President unnecessarily bowed to pressure from the right wing on this issue, but the compromise does not ultimately impact the services offered to individuals,” he said in a Sunday night email to the News.
Not even the majority of Catholics oppose birth control, he added, citing a statistic stating that 53 percent of Catholics support funding for birth control while just 44 percent oppose it. According to Planned Parenthood’s press release, 99 percent of women, including 98 percent of Catholic women, use birth control at some point in their lives.
According to a Feb. 13 Washington Post article, a poll of 1,100 registered voters conducted by Fox News from Feb. 6 to Feb. 9 reported that 61 percent said employer health plans should be required to cover birth control, while 34 percent said they should not.