This post will focus much more on the latter question than the former, I just felt the need to make a Lord of the Rings reference. If thinking of Gandalf and sex in the same thought has an adverse effect on your libido, just consider that my little Valentine's day gift to you. If it does not, well, consider it a gift anyway ;) Anyway, considering that it is Valentine's Day, or was, and the major kerfuffle going on in United States politics, I thought it would be appropriate to take today to talk about contraception or, more understandably, birth control.
Some politicians are trying to mandate that employers provide their employees with health care plans that cover birth control. This is quite in line with the "American way," of requiring employers foot the bill for health care. Furthermore, since employers are not allowed to hand their employees a box of band-aides and call that their "health care," I imagine there are current standards for what health care plans must cover. This simply adds birth control to said list.
Problems arise because some religious sects within our nation feel that birth control is immoral. And I don't just mean that using birth control is immoral, but apparently buying it is also immoral. They are consequentially claiming that being required to provide their employees insurance that covers birth control is a violation of their freedom of religion.
While I am a fan of religion being a person, rather than public, matter, I feel that we already have certain limitations on freedom of religion. No matter how devout I am, human sacrifice is just going to be illegal, because the government's mandate to respond to harm to its citizens outweighs its mandate to let them do whatever they want in the name of their beliefs. I feel that hiding behind a pulpit as one tries to manipulate women and dictate what they may or may not do in the name of reproductive health is a similarly odious example of religious abuse. To use a perhaps less inflammatory metaphor, this would be like a religious group arguing that their teachings encourage physical health, so they should not be forced to provide health plans to their employees covering treatment for type II diabetes or heart surgery. If their employees were all kool-aide drinking initiates then this might be acceptable, but insofar as a religion employs people from outside the fold they have a responsibility to treat them in a manner that society deems respectful.
That said, I do sympathize with the opposing view on some level. I do agree that paying for contraceptives should not be a church's responsibility, or Microsoft's or any employer's. And I think the same thing about heart surgery and cancer treatments. If we claim to be an enlightened, civilized culture, the healthcare available to our citizens should not be used as a stick to bully them into employment, and their health should not be made contingent on finding a job. At the philosophy conference I attended last weekend a radical Marxist made the following comment regarding Occupy Wall Street's efforts to reform capitalism, "Reforms can only show the limits of the system to be reformed." As soon as he said that my mind jumped to the contraceptive debate, as whatever validity the religious objectors have only stands as a criticism of the current, employer provided, healthcare system. However, as the US is unlikely to have a compassionate epiphany in the near future and attempt to reason out what alterations to the healthcare system would be required to extend its coverage to all our citizens, let us, for the moment, concentrate on expanding the number of women who have their own control over their reproductive health. If they, subsequently, use this freedom to adhere to the teachings of some church or another, then I say that they are truly expressing their religious freedom.