By Ashley Fisher
The Obama administration has finally decided against allowing church-run hospitals, universities and other institutions from being exempt from birth control coverage requirements. This is a progressive step in the right direction for women's health, and thousands will benefit from it.
The contraception mandate means the government will require religious organizations to cover all methods of contraception by health insurance plans. However, churches, missions and other strictly religious, small organizations will be exempt from these rules. This is considered to be a fair compromise on the contraception authorization by many. Yet, outcries on this so-called "war against religion" continue to be voiced.
Catholic bishops and GOP presidential candidate Rick Santorum are the loudest advocates of anti-contraception. They criticize the mandate as an assault on religious freedom and on their freedom of conscience.
The government has permitted countless policies in the past that violate the conscience of atheists, liberals, republicans, feminists -- the list goes on and on. But that is the price every citizen pays to live in a society constructed by a diversity of views. There is no reason why bishops should receive special treatment by being excused from the costs of living in a pluralistic society. You do not see Jehovah's Witnesses rallying against paying compensation taxes for war and weapons, so why should we accept similar behavior from Catholics?
In reality, this new policy is great news for a large percentage of the population. More than 11 million women already use birth control and millions more will have access to it under the new law, according to an NPR article. The Catholic church affects the lives of many women since it runs numerous institutions across the nation that employ millions of people.
A significant number of the people employed are not even of the Catholic religion, such as at the University of Notre Dame where nearly half of the faculty is non-Catholic, according to the same NPR article. Due to previous policies, many women lack the health care coverage they need simply by working under the Catholic church.
According to another article on NPR.org, the use of birth control is "nearly universal in the United States, even among Catholic women. One recent study shows that 98 percent of sexually experienced Catholic women will have used birth control at some point in their lives."
The majority of Catholics rejected the Vatican's ban on contraception a long time ago, and Catholic women are just as likely to use contraception as other women are. From this information it appears that the few anti-contraception supporters who act as spokespeople for the entire Catholic religion are, in reality, misrepresenting their population.
Additionally, birth control is not only a preventative measure taken for unwanted pregnancy, but is also utilized to improve women's health overall. According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Service, birth control "can also reduce the risk of some cancers that affect reproductive organs," and nearly "60 percent of women use birth control pills for something other than, or in addition to, contraception." Women should not have to explain to their employers that they need coverage for birth control in order to acquire the medicine their doctor prescribed to treat or prevent a serious illness.
This is not a war on religion, it is an issue of women's health. The new contraception mandate will benefit millions of women across the nation, and we should applaud the Obama administration for advancing the health and wellness of our country. It is about time someone recognized that the number of women exceeds that of bishops.
This column was first published in The Daily Evergreen.