oral-contraceptives.s600x600The dustup over contraceptive coverage is a fine example of our democracy in action.

Whatever your view on the matter, I applaud HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius for both her leadership on the matter and her willingness to engage in compromise.

Here’s what’s at stake:

  • The Affordable Care Act (the health care reform law, aka ObamaCare) includes a provision mandating that employers offer contraception as part of the menu of “covered preventive services” to their employees.
  • Many, especially Catholic-affiliated organizations, find this provision in direct contravention of their fundamental doctrines.
  • The federal government wants to honor basic constitutional principles: the right of persons to practice their religion (and not be bullied to alter their religious practices, so long as those concord with law); also the right of individuals to have access to safe, effective health care.

A noteworthy fact: More than 99% of women aged 15–44 who have ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method. [Source: Guttmacher Institute]

How should the fact that such a preponderance of women use contraception influence the debate? When something is as mainstream as contraception, it becomes a fact on the ground. Even though the framers of our constitution could not have imagined (nor likely would have ever commented on) contraceptive technology, how can such constitutional debate about fundamental rights and freedoms be interpreted in this case?

The latest compromise offer steers a narrow course: Religious organizations (e.g. non-profits like Catholic hospitals or colleges) that employ non-affiliated persons can refrain from offering contraception. However, the insurance companies that provide coverage for those employees will be required to offer contraception under the proposal–at their own cost.

Left out of the compromise (and suing on this basis) are for-profit companies (like “Hobby Lobby“) whose owners/directors cite their personal religious views as a basis for non-compliance with the mandate.

As always with compromise, the remaining question becomes “Where do you draw the line?”