Lately, there has been a lot of debate about the recent decision by the Obama administration to require Catholic-based companies to offer contraceptive coverage in their employee healthcare plans. This has, predictably, been extremely politicized and being pitched by conservatives and even a few liberals as a violation of the religious freedom of the Catholic church. On the surface, it certainly appears to be a controversial move on the part of the Obama administration, to require a religion to seemingly go against it's own principles and provide a service it doesn't believe in to it's employees. However, like all things debated during the 24-hour news cycle, there is a lot of misinformation and outright distortion over this issue and the culpability for this situation doesn't actually lie with the white house.
First, the claim that Catholic employers are being "forced" to provide contraception to their employees is not accurate.
They aren't being mandated to personally hand contraception to their employees, which would obviously violate the religious principles of the Catholic church. Rather, they're being required to allow the inclusion of contraceptive coverage in their health plans - like every other private employer in America is required to do under the provisions of "Obamacare". The difference here is pretty significant. Nobody is "forcing" the Catholic church to give contraceptives to their employees. The requirement isn't that the Catholic church has to provide contraception, only that contraceptive coverage must be a part of the healthcare plans they provide to their employees. Put another way, any practicing Catholic who is employed by a Catholic business can choose to abide by the teachings of their faith and abstain from using contraception and no Catholic employer has to personally make any form of contraception available to their employees. Thus, no actual violation of the teachings of the Catholic religion are being imposed upon any Catholic employer or employee.
The second issue with this decision is a problem that is unique to American Catholic businesses and has nothing to do with the current administration and everything to do with our capitalistic private healthcare industry.
See, the moral quandary that American Catholic businesses are facing is one that only American Catholic businesses have to deal with. No other Catholic employer in any other country on the planet has to worry about being mandated to provide a healthcare plan to their employees that includes contraceptive coverage because no other country on the planet requires employers to provide healthcare coverage to their employees.
In every other country on Earth where the Catholic church runs businesses and hires employees, the government provides healthcare to it's people. This means that the government is the agency who provides the contraceptive coverage - not the church. However, because America is the only industrialized nation in the world that has a private healthcare system, the responsibility for providing healthcare falls on the employers instead.
This proves something very important about "Obamacare" - that it is NOT "government-run, socialized healthcare". If it was, then the government would be providing the contraceptive coverage under the government's healthcare plan and the Catholic church would have nothing to do with it - just like they don't have anything to do with it anywhere else on Earth. However, since "Obamacare" is NOT government-run, socialized healthcare, the responsibility for providing employee healthcare falls on the employer and therefore American Catholic businesses are faced with a unique and completely unnecessary moral dilemma.
Now, whether you agree with my first argument that the Catholic church itself isn't being forced to provide any contraceptive service that would violate it's teachings, there wouldn't be any issue at all if the Catholic church wasn't required to be the party that provides healthcare coverage to it's employees.
If we had true government-run healthcare available to every citizen, then the Catholic church could provide any level of healthcare coverage - or none at all - that it wanted to, because people who individually made the choice to seek out contraception would still have access to a healthcare plan that provided for it. However, since we don't, the responsibility must fall upon the employers and that creates this situation that is being deliberately mischaracterized by conservatives as "Obama's war on religion".
Obviously, the issue of providing a "public option" of government-run healthcare to all Americans is a controversial one. Many people fear the imminent socialist dystopia that would surely result if we, as a nation, took on the responsibility of making sure that all legal citizens had access to basic healthcare services. America is the only industrialized nation on Earth where your access to healthcare is directly tied to your employment - if you lose your job, you lose your healthcare. Now, those who support the current healthcare structure would argue that this is simply capitalism at work, fiscal and social Darwinism where those who desire adequate healthcare for themselves and their families will work hard enough to insure that they maintain gainful employment at a business that provides suitable health coverage to its employees, and those who are lazy or unwilling to do what it takes to have a career that provides this security are making the conscious and voluntary decision to go without these benefits.
Now, obviously, if you are one of the millions of Americans who works full-time for a business that doesn't provide an affordable, comprehensive healthcare plan, then you understand that all the hard work in the world won't grant you access to more affordable or higher quality healthcare at your present job. In this economy, you also understand that simply walking away from that job and looking for something "better" isn't really an option. There are many reasons why having access to a public healthcare option is beneficial to the majority of the American people. However, this new controversy over Catholic businesses having to accept the fact that the healthcare coverage they were already providing to their employees must now include a provision to pay for any contraception that these employees may choose to use on their own, without any personal intervention or involvement by the church itself, may provide a unique argument for why a national, public healthcare option is actually in the best interests of employers.
Basically, the whole debate boils down to a couple of simple truths.
1. The Catholic church is not being "forced" to provide contraception to anyone. The change in law affects the services covered by their healthcare plans and forces no moral judgement call on the part of the employer whatsoever.
2. This wouldn't even be an issue if America wasn't the only country on Earth that forces employers to provide healthcare to it's people, instead of assuming that responsibility at the government level.