On February 3rd I wrote a simple blog article about the Obama Administration’s January 20th mandate requiring religious based organizations to provide preventive contraceptive services for their female employees. A lot has changed since then. At the time of my writing, not much was being reported in the media or on blogs, but soon the issue spread like wildfire and Obama came under attack from Catholic leadership, conservatives, and even some Democratic voices typically supportive of Obama’s outlook. Today Obama made a “compromise” of sorts, slightly changing the mandate so that the religious based organizations themselves do not have to directly fund or provide contraceptive services, but rather the insurance companies providing the coverage for the organization’s employee’s will be required to provide the services free of charge.
I thought it might be helpful to clear up a few things for those who do not regularly follow the news.
First, what is the big deal? Why is contraception such a hot issue all of a sudden? Well, for the Catholic Church, it has always been an issue of concern. I have attempted to make a few points here on this website, such as this response to an email I received in 2010 about birth control. Regardless of where one finally comes down on the issue, I think there is little question that Protestant Evangelical Christians have not thought through contraceptive options as closely as we should. The word “contraceptive” is deceiving. This isn’t just a typical birth control pill or simple condom that is included in the President’s plan. The preventive coverage required under the mandate also includes birth control options such as the “morning after pill.”
Second, despite the arguments from some, the issue is a religious liberty issue. This country has a long history of protecting the religious conscience of institutions and organizations that are built a premise of faith. Just because the institution in question is not a “church” per se, a federal mandate requiring action that goes against the religious convictions of that institution is problematic, as seen in the outrage this week by a varied cast of concern Americans.
Now, I’m not much of a conspiracy theorist. I don’t believe Obama is out to wage war on religion or destroy the church. I think he is doing what he believes is right. I can appreciate that; after all, the whole point here is conviction. So, what should we think about his compromise today?
I’m not sure Obama understands the depth of conviction for those who are opposed to providing contraceptive services. Does he really believe that an accounting move will quiet the masses who have a determination to safeguard what they consider to be a human life? Leaving that basic premise alone for a moment, there are two areas I believe are crucial.
First, even though Obama has provided a way for faith based organizations to avoid paying directly for contraceptive services, the insurance companies who are mandated to provide the coverage still have to bring in money to pay for benefits. They, of course, make that money through the premiums provided by the organizations. I don’t believe the institutions are going to be persuaded by this compromise; they will still see themselves as paying for the services.
Second, as a member of a Southern Baptist Church who works with Guidestone Financial Services, a self-funded annuity and health insurance company specifically for the Southern Baptist Convention, I was intrigued to see how they would respond to this compromise. They issued a response immediately and said:
“GuideStone’s medical plan, like that of many other established church
plans, is self-funded which means it pays benefits directly instead of
using a third-party insurance company as the source of benefit payments.
This self-funded approach to healthcare coverage, which is common
among many historic and large church plans, was completely ignored by
the President in his comments.”
In other words, you can’t make the problem disappear with an accounting solution when you are the one making the payments as a self-funded insurance company!
If nothing else, this is yet another opportunity for Christians to think intelligently about the issues at hand and allow their devotion to Christ and His Word to shape their thinking.