Thursday, February 09, 2012

Nothing in the middle

One of the great parts of the election season is that it's impossible to guess what the next big issue might be in a particular campaign.

Let's, then, welcome the latest player on the political stage: contraception.

This story can be subtitled, how to make everyone look bad at the same time. Note: this is not unusual.

For those who have missed it, one of the coming mandates involving health care involves coverage for contraception for women. In other words, birth control pills would be covered. The Obama Administration decided to exempt religious organizations, such as church employees, from those rules. However, to use the popular analogy, employees at Catholic schools and hospitals would not be exempt under the current plan.

Let's say what hasn't been said too often -- this is a difficult case. Working for a school isn't exactly the same as in the church office. I'm assuming some of the employees might not follow church doctrine to the letter for one reason or another. In other words, I know a Jewish doctor who works at a Catholic hospital. Where's the line concerning what he has to do, and believe, to work there?

What happens during difficult cases under ideal circumstances? We work out a solution that makes everyone reasonably happy.

Apparently members of the Obama Administration realized that this ruling was going to cause a stir. So it loses points for the clumsy way it was handled. We all knew details would need to be worked out for universal health care to work properly, and this is a shining example. A trial balloon would have been a much better approach.

When the announcement did finally make the rounds, the rhetoric used by both sides was scortching. This was either a threat to religious freedom, or to the rights of women everywhere. We've gotten used to that level of conversation over the years, as the public relations battle between pro-choice and pro-life goes on and on.

The problem is that the public has more or less spoken with its actions on this issue. Something close to 98 percent of sexually active women have used birth control, and the percentage of Catholic women doing the same is a shade (we're talking one percent or so) less than that. (For a look at the numbers, click here.) Rick Santorum has said banning contraception is an issue he wants to address head-on in the campaign; that's a great way to appeal to two percent of the electorate.

Then there's the matter of the fact that doctors prescribe birth control pills for other health-related means; the number is said to be around 20 percent of users. Do we therefore make those women pay full price for those pills, even though no religious group could complain about their use? If we do, it could be argued that we are discriminating against those women for their religious beliefs.

This shouldn't be that hard. We can design some sort of opt-in or opt-out policy for people or employers. It could allow equal access to medical resources, but not present the bill to those who have an ethical problem with it. Compared to the issue of health care as a whole, this should be relatively easy to work out.

Let's get it done, and move on. And be quiet already.

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