Constitution Daily

Smart conversation from the National Constitution Center

"Can we talk" about contraception?

February 15, 2012 by Alison Young


As the country examines the tone of political dialogue, Alison Young provides a regular commentary under the title “Can We Talk? A Conversation about Civility and Democracy in America” exploring the current state of public discourse and civility in American politics.

There have long been partisan, political and theological divides on issues involving women’s health, insurance mandates, workplace privacy and contraception. Last week they ran a collision course over the dispute on whether insurance coverage for contraception could be required for female employees at organizations with religious affiliations. Can we talk about contraception? And is this the role of our government?

On Friday, after several days of escalating partisan and ideological rhetoric, the White House announced a new policy largely hailed by Democrats as a compromise but condemned by Republicans as an overhanded infringement on the right of religious institutions and the doctrine they follow. Reasonable minds can passionately disagree, and both sides are quick to claim the basis of their argument lies in the Constitution.

For decades, liberal groups have claimed contraception coverage is an issue of gender equality in employer-provided health care. Conservatives however, consider this a violation of the First Amendment, infringing on their religious liberties.

The First Amendment’s establishment clause “prohibits the federal and state governments from establishing an official religion, or from favoring or disfavoring one view of religion over another."

The question of mandating coverage for contraception by organizations with religious affiliations certainly pushes buttons on both sides of the issue. But in a time of political gridlock, ballooning deficits and record unemployment, it can hardly be reasoned that Congress and the President arguing over contraception is what our founding fathers had in mind when they adopted the Bill of Rights in 1791.

The First Amendment guarantees us all the freedom to practice any religion we choose and prevents others from denying that basic right. But in the end, isn’t the use of contraceptives one of personal choice, not that of employers or politicians? Maybe the question shouldn’t be can we talk about contraception? But rather, should we? Let us know what you think.

Alison Young is the Vice President of Public Engagement at the National Constitution Center.

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