Stepping into the world of Social Work

An excellent decision on birth control and religious employers

English: Picture Of Ortho Tri-Cyclen oral cont...

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In the news this week is a decision to celebrate – many religious employers will be required (in 2013) to cover birth control even if the particular faith opposes it.

While some feel this violates religious liberty, it is actually an excellent decision in support of individual liberty vs employer overreach. My employer, no matter what its views, has no business interfering with my medical decisions.

Most of the individuals employed by such employers are in purely secular positions. Catholic hospitals, for example, have many many positions which are not religious in nature, such as clerical, janitorial, technical, food service. I don’t even imagine all the medical staff (doctors and nurses) are expected to belong to the church. For that reason, their employer has no right to impose its views on their private life (and there is very little more private than medication).

An important factor such employers should also remember is that birth control pills have purposes other than contraception. A well-known example is that they can help solve menstrual bleeding, pain, and irregularity problems. For my employer to limit my doctor’s decision on that score is excessive. Would they also forbid my having a hysterectomy? What if my employer believes that epilepsy is caused by demonic possession – can they forbid the insurance company to cover anti-epileptic medication? Can they deny medical care related to pregnancy if I am not married?

You might say that I accepted such terms if I accepted a hypothetical position with a Catholic employer. I disagree. If I take a position delivering meal trays, billing, or mopping floors at Providence St. Joseph, I am not obligating myself to live as a Catholic.

I tend to be fairly moderate when it comes to employer expectations of employee personal lives. As a former teacher and current social work student,  I can see how working for a religious employer would require great care in personal deportment while at work and in situations where you could be connected with your employer. But nobody other than my husband sees me take my medication every morning, and nobody other than my doctor and I get to decide what that medication is. While my employer has indeed contributed to the insurance plan which pays a portion of my medications, they do not have the right to make medical decisions on my behalf by excluding whole categories.

Perhaps those who are claiming their religious rights are violated can be comforted by seeing insurance more accurately. They are not buying their employees medication – they are paying for a particular level of coverage (usually shared between the employer and employee) and the EMPLOYEE is buying the medication. The assumption that the church is somehow buying birth control because a benefit plan covers them is absurd. It is equivalent to assuming that because my employer paid me my salary, any purchase I might make with it is still subject to their beliefs.

This has some personal interest to me, as I am seriously considering medical social work as my concentration, with the hope of working in a hospital once I am finished. An otherwise excellent Catholic hospital chain is dominant in this area, and I might have found myself applying there. I would not want to affiliate myself with any employer that would attempt to control my life and private medical decisions in such a manner.

A final question to which I do not know the answer: do these same policies that exclude birth control cover Viagra and Cialis?

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