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The Ethical Debate of Free Contraception and Birth Control Essay

If you watch or read the news today, you will find that there are many ethical and political issues that plague the United States. Many of these issues involve politicians debating over what is right or wrong for the country. One issue that particularly caught my attention was the huge debate over President Obama’s Health Care Reform Law requiring insurance plans to provide women with free contraception and birth control.

The ethical issue that it presents is that many religious institutions and employers feel that it infringes on their constitutional rights of religious freedom, and they are opposing this law because of their religious views regarding birth control. The ethical problem that it can create is forcing religiously affiliated employers, like Catholic hospitals and universities, to provide their female employees with insurance that provides free contraception, which is against their religious beliefs.

The ethical debate over free contraception and birth control for women has now become a political debate over religious liberties versus women’s health. By examining this law with the various ethical theories, it can be proven that this law can be beneficial to all parties involved, and should be supported to improve the overall state of health care for all women. This specific law in question is actually a mandate in President Obama’s Health Care Reform under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

Under this mandate, women will be provided with access to free contraception and birth control through their insurance, provided by their employers. Those who oppose this law are people who religiously disagree with contraception and birth control, and argue that it is a violation of religious freedom, and their religious beliefs. In our text, the first amendment is stated as the following, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise thereof” (Mosser, 2010, 2. 3).

Those that oppose this law argues that it is in violation of their constitutional rights because the mandate requires all employers, including religiously-affiliated employers, to provide their female employees with insurance that offers free contraception. In an article entitled “Obama vs. the Church,” the debate is put in more simple terms. “The requirement runs counter to the teachings of the Catholic Church. While churches themselves are exempt, a huge swath of Catholic institutional life, from Catholic hospitals to Catholic schools, has just been told by the government to practice what it does not preach” (Lowry, 2012).

Catholic leaders, in particular, have argued that such a mandate will ultimately force them to provide free contraception, which is against their religious practices. Another article that showed the opposition from Catholic bishops, “The bishops argue that the mandate would force religious institutions to pay for insurance coverage of contraceptives, including some that can cause abortions, and sterilizations” (Roewe & Ryan, 2012). However, these views should not be the only views taken into account when examining this issue ethically.

This issue affects two parties in particular; the employers and the employees. So now, let us discuss the views of those who support this law. The other side of this debate affects the female employees of such religiously-affiliated institutions, or women in general. With this mandate, women will be provided with contraception and birth control, free of charge from their employer’s insurance providers. Many supporters for this mandate argue that it is less about religious freedoms and more about women’s health.

An article in the National Catholic Reporter states the following, “The mandate for women’s health services — contraception is just one part of it — was recommended by the Institute of Medicine. Giving women, especially poor women, greater access to health services makes women and their families healthier. If the right to conscience is worth battling for, so too is health care for women. ” (Coday, 2012). Supporters also make the argument that there is no infringement on religious liberties because no one is being forced to use contraception against their will.

The amended mandate will not require religiously affiliated institutions to participate in the reform, and in such, their female employees will be provided with birth control and contraception through co-payments through their insurance, if they wanted such services. One article in favor of the mandate stated, “And on the issue of contraception itself, studies have shown that a staggering 98 percent of Catholic women not only believe in birth control but have used it. How is it possible to describe this issue as a violation of individual onscience, when no one is forced to use contraception against their will, and most Catholics have already consulted their conscience, are fine with the pill, and want it covered? ” (Sullivan, 2012). Supporters for the mandate also feel that in many ways, it will reduce health care costs because it can provide preventive services for unplanned pregnancies that can result in unaffordable prenatal costs, abortion and social services for adoption. So, now that we have discussed both arguments, let us examine the ethics involved in both view points.

On one hand we have the issue of religious freedom, and on the other hand, we have the issue of women’s health. It is my opinion that both the ethical theories of deontology and utilitarianism can help solve this issue, and show how this law can be beneficial to all parties involved. The theory of deontology examines the morality of the issue by weighing the reasons for the issue at hand. This is also a theory that applies the Golden Rule, which is to do unto others, as you would have them do unto you.

Religiously affiliated institutions oppose the mandate for free contraception because of their belief that it infringes on their freedom of religion. Looking at this from the deontologist perspective, it would be unethical to take away a person’s freedom of religion. In the text, it states, “The deontologist argues that we have a duty, or an obligation, to treat other people with respect; human beings have dignity, and we must take that dignity into consideration when dealing with them. (We also expect others to respect our dignity when they deal with us. )” (Mosser, 2010, 1. 7).

In this case, the imposing of basic liberties such as religious freedom is treating people without respect and dignity, thus it is wrong. The government should treat all people and their beliefs with respect, and thus, should not impose on the constitutional right of religious freedom; however, the question of whether the government is actually infringing on the religious freedoms of these religious institutions is what needs to be examined a little further. Some supporters of the free contraception mandate feel that the right to religious freedom is not taken away with this health care law.

Their argument is that no one is being forced to hand out contraception and birth control against their will, and no one is under restriction to practice their religious beliefs; therefore, religious freedoms are not being compromised. This sentiment is stated by an advocate for the mandate in an online article that states, “There is nothing in the Affordable Care Act that requires Catholics to use contraception. There is nothing in the law that prohibits Catholics-lay or clergy-from preaching against contraception.

The accommodation that President Obama announced moves the mandate from the Catholic institution to the insurance companies. So, it is difficult to see how this is a prohibition of the free exercise of religion. ” (Dixon, 2012). This article also states that there is a clash in civil liberties between the rights of religious freedom and the rights of equal treatment for women. “if the Obama administration had not made the mandate applicable to all employers, it would have violated the Fourteenth Amendment, the equal protection rights of women.

This amendment says in part: “nor shall any State deprive any person of life, liberty, or property without due process of law; nor deny to any person within its jurisdiction the equal protection of the laws. ” In this debate we have a clash of rights. ” (Dixon, 2012). Supporters also argue that this mandate will help women by providing preventative services at affordable costs, or no cost at all. So under the theory of deontology, it will be unethical to deny women the freedom of choice in this matter and have their choices limited by their employers.

The contrasting views of this mandate infringing on religious freedom can be examined with the theory of ethical egoism. Ethical egoism is when parties argue their beliefs based on how it can increase their own happiness. In the text, its states, “Egoism – specifically ethical egoism – argues that our moral evaluations should be made in terms of our desires and goals. Something that promotes what I want is regarded as right; something that interferes with what I want, or prevents me from reaching my goals, is regarded as wrong. ” (Mosser, 2010, 1. ). Perhaps the argument against the mandate for free contraception comes from some religious employers hoping to impose their views and beliefs against contraception onto their female employees. Perhaps the argument for the mandate comes from those who wish to impose the importance of equal rights regarding women’s health. Ethical egoism can show the viewpoints of both parties as selfish, claiming that both parties have their own agenda in mind while debating this issue. The question is, how can one choose which argument is best?

Thus, ethical egoism does nothing but show what potentially motivates the basis of the arguments at hand. The best theory to examine the arguments for and against the mandate for free contraception is utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is the theory that examines the issue based on how it benefits the greatest number of people. Utilitarianism looks at the outcome of the situation rather than the morality of the issue. The text states it best that, “the fundamental principle of utilitarianism: one should choose to do that which produces a better outcome for the largest number of people. ” (Mosser, 2010, 1. 7).

The text also states that, “According to utilitarianism, one should always act in a way that produces the greatest good for the greatest number of people relative to any other way one might act, or act in a way that maximizes the utility of all affected by an act, relative to any alternative to that act. ” (Mosser, 2010, 1. 7). Since, one may argue that this mandate does not infringe on religious freedoms, and can prove that it is favorable to the rights of women’s health; then this mandate can be proven to be beneficial according to the theory of utilitarianism. Utilitarianism is also the theory that I support the most regarding this issue.

It is my opinion that this mandate will be beneficial to many women because it will provide them with a choice to use contraception as preventative services for unplanned pregnancies. Women will be able to use their own moral conscience when choosing whether they need to use free contraception or not. I do not feel that this mandate imposes on any religious freedoms, as churches or other religiously affiliated institutions will not be responsible for providing contraception; the insurance companies will provide contraception should the employee feel the need to use these services.

I also feel that it is unconstitutional for employers to hold their beliefs over their employees, and restrict them from the rights that other employees may have. It is also my belief that this mandate can ultimately reduce the number of unplanned pregnancies that result in abortions, which can be viewed as beneficial to religiously affiliated institutions. In essence, I feel that utilitarian’s will agree that the mandate for free contraception and birth control for women can be beneficial to all parties involved. It supports the greatest number of people involved, and it can improve the overall state of health care for all women.


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