In a recent piece, Jonah Golberg is claiming that liberals are culture war aggressors. He sets up the piece with this bit.
In the conventional narrative of American politics, conservatives are obsessed with social issues. They want to impose their values on everyone else. They want the government involved in your bedroom. Those mean right-wingers want to make “health care choices” for women.
I think that’s a pretty accurate summary, actually, but he’s using it sarcastically. Here’s the punch line:
Suddenly, the government is the hero for getting deeply involved in the reproductive choices of nearly every American, whether you want the government involved or not. The bad guy is now your boss who, according to an outraged Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., would be free to keep you from everything from HIV treatment to vaccinating your children if Hobby Lobby has its way. Murray and the White House insist that every business should be compelled by law to protect its employees’ “right” to “contraception” that is “free.”
He then goes into a spiel about how free contraception is not a right because, unlike gun ownership, it isn’t in the Constitution. I will agree with him, actually, that there is no right to free birth control enshrined in our Constitution. He has no argument from me there. But, hey, guess what? There actually is a law that mandates companies pay for insurance that provides contraception coverage. What religious conservatives are demanding is the right to be excepted from this law on religious grounds. When you start making exceptions for the pious, where do you draw the line?
Consider Jehovah’s Witnesses, who believe that the Bible proscribes blood transfusions. What if an employer decides that, as a member of that sect, he doesn’t want to pay for insurance that provides coverage for blood transfusions? If the contraception exemption is allowed, it sets a precedent for just such an exception. This is not one of those outlandish slippery slope arguments, like same-sex marriage leading to human-animal marriages, but a very real possibility. Establishing that exemptions from the health care law can be made on religious grounds will absolutely open the doors for that to happen in the future.
Mr. Goldberg goes on, under the heading “Leave us out of it”:
But leaving the rest of us out of it is exactly the opposite intent of the authors of Obamacare. The law forces not only arts and crafts shops but also Catholic charities and other religiously inspired groups to choose between fulfilling their mission or violating their values. You may have no moral objection to such things, but millions of people do. By what right are liberals seeking to impose their values on everyone else? Isn’t that something they denounce conservatives for?
The plaintiffs in these cases aren’t saying the government should ban abortifacients or make it impossible for their employees to buy them. All they are asking is that the people using such drugs pay for them themselves rather than force employers and co-workers to share the cost. In other words, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood want such birth control decisions to be left to individual women and their doctors. Leave the rest of us out of it.
I am left, once again, scratching my head in befuddlement at the inner workings of the conservative mind.
Let’s look at two scenarios. Employees of a company each want contraception. In case A, the employee buys it from their own funds. In case B, employer-funded insurance pays for it. I could take the time to make a graphic to illustrate my point, but I’m in a hurry so this will have to do:
A. employer money -> goes to employee -> employee gets contraception
B. employer money -> goes to insurance company -> employee gets contraception
Notice something similar there? Eliminate the middleman and what do we have?
employer money -> employee gets contraception
So tell me again how it’s ok for the employer to prohibit one case and not the other? Besides, I would argue that in Case A, the employer is indirectly funding a much larger share of the cost of the birth control, potentially 100%. With insurance, the amount is diluted by the premium pool so that the employer is paying much, much less. Probably a fraction of a fraction of a fraction of a percent. If an employer really objects so strongly on religious grounds, then they really ought to be fighting for the right to prevent employees from using their salaries to buy contraception.
Finally, I’d like to make a point I make again and again and again when these arguments with Conservatives come up. When you talk about one group infringing on another, or forcing their beliefs on another, the test we should be making here is which side actually is directly affected in some way.
For example, with same-sex marriage, heterosexual Christians who think the gay is icky are not affected at all if same-sex marriage is legal. They get to go on hating the sin and loving the sinner. Their lives do not change. Conversely, when same-sex marriage is illegal, same-sex couples are directly affected. They are prohibited from partaking of the legal benefits marriage bestows. So, in that case, who then is forcing their beliefs on whom?
Now let’s apply this test to the Hobby Lobby case. When an employer is exempted from paying for insurance that covers contraception, then the employee is denied the benefit of the law and is forced to pay out of pocket. This is a direct negative effect on the employee. Their personal choices are being directly affected by the employer, forced to go in a specific direction. Can it be demonstrated that contraception coverage directly effects the employer? Given that the employer has to pay for the insurance regardless, I don’t see how. Are the personal choices of the company owners forced in some specific direction? Nope. There is no direct effect on the employer. And, I’d argue, no indirect effect either. None at all. Zero. Therefore, with the exemption, one side loses something. Without, no one loses anything.
I can already hear the conservatives now (actually, I have heard this argument on Facebook). The employee isn’t forced to work for that employer. They can go work somewhere else. This is the worst argument of them all. In an economy where job choices are limited, you really want someone to choose between a.) limiting their choices further and b.) working for an employer who thinks religion gives them the right to affect their employees lives? And, what if I go to work for a company that doesn’t have this exemption, they actually follow the law as written, but then ten or twenty years later they are bought out and the new owners change their policy to take the exception? What then?
Religion cannot be allowed to be used as a bludgeon to directly impact the lives of people who do not share, or do not agree with, those beliefs. That’s the very definition of forcing your beliefs on someone. The law should apply to everyone equally.
You know, I think I’ll take a lesson from the conservatives. Don’t like America’s laws for businesses? Then don’t start a business in America!