Women’s Health Care and Religion
The big topic of debate right now is whether religious organizations should be allowed to not provide women with a full spectrum of health care coverage because their religious beliefs prohibit certain types of health care, specifically reproductive health care.
Now, obviously, I’m a Humanist and I believe very strongly that women should have access to the full spectrum of health care and that women should be allowed to exercise their own conscious in deciding what care is right for them. So, I’m not too pleased with the idea that religious groups, in asking for their own right to freedom of belief, are restricting a women’s right to exercise her beliefs.
On the other hand, because I am a Humanist I am also most definitely in favor of religious freedom. If people are opposed to something on religious grounds, they should have the right to not participate in it. Which means, we have a situation where two of my values are in competition. Here is how I sort this out.
Obviously, we don’t live in a theocracy; we live in a secular democratic republic. We are not forced to financially support any religious organization and our government is prohibited from interfering in our free exercise of religion. However, that only means we have the right to our beliefs. We don’t necessarily have a right to act on those beliefs.
What am I talking about? Well, it turns out that your right to practice your beliefs is limited by the impact you have on others. You can believe anything you want, but you are not allowed to harm other people as a result of your beliefs. For instance, you can believe in faith healing, but you are not allowed to neglect your kids medical needs because of your personal beliefs. People are tried and sent to prison for this sort of thing all the time, at least in Florida.
Another belief that is restricted is things like cannibalism and child and animal sacrifice. There are clearly things you are allowed to believe, but not allowed to exercise because it would harm other people and it is no longer a matter of your beliefs, but about harming others. So yes, you have religious freedom but only in as much as your beliefs don’t cause you to harm other people.
Which brings us to the current debate on women’s health care and religious freedom. Yes, the Catholic Bishops have a right to believe that health care is against their god’s will. However, the are only allowed to act on that belief if it does not negatively impact anyone but themselves. If that belief puts someone else in danger, they cannot be allowed to act on that. They have the right to risk their own lives for their beliefs, but they are not allowed to risk the life of someone else.
It turns out that restricting a women’s access to health care does put her health in danger. Women use contraception for a wide ranger of health issues and not just for contraception. For instance I have a friend who has a IUD that helps her prevent excessive bleeding. The bishops know this and acknowledge this. They admit that women who are not given access to a full range of health care are harmed and sometimes killed by lack of access to reproductive services. They just happen to believe that such casualties to their beliefs are part of their god’s plans for this earth. Which is fine, they are entitled to believe whatever they want. What they aren’t allowed to do is put a woman’s life at risk as a result of their beliefs. The only person who has a right to decide what risks a woman can or should be allowed to take as a result of religious beliefs is the woman herself.
So, on this conflict, I’m going to have to side with religious organizations not being allowed to put a all their female employee’s lives at risk just because as an organization, their religious beliefs prohibit health care. This is one of those things where they have the right to believe whatever they want and if they want to risk their own lives for their beliefs, they have that right, but they simply don’t have the right to risk someone else’s life.
Religious freedom is an individual’s freedom. You can believe and do whatever you want. But you don’t have the right to force your beliefs and choices on others, especially if your beliefs cause harm, which this anti-reproductive health care belief most certainly does.