To women who merely want help paying for birth control, this may seem an obnoxiously silly discussion. Noted. But the larger issue is worth paying attention to even at personal inconvenience. That inconvenience, by the way, needn’t be permanent. The immediate problem of providing birth control to those who can’t afford it can be massaged — for instance, the government can hand out contraceptives to the poor, as is already the case in some states. But the issue of religious liberty is one of those foundational principles that isn’t really up for revision.
As to the separation of church and state argument that church critics keep raising, keep in mind that this separation was also intended to protect religious believers from state interference. When the state insists that one’s religious beliefs be supplanted by another’s, in this case by secularism, then might one argue that the state is establishing a religion in contravention of the Constitution’s intent?
The new health-care reform act’s mandate that Catholic institutions pay for insurance to cover birth control and even abortifacient drugs (a.k.a. “morning-after” pills) runs deeply contrary to fundamental Catholic teaching. The argument that many Catholic women ignore this particular church commandment is a non sequitur. The church has consistently stood by this teaching. Catholics commit adultery and lie, too, but they don’t want or expect the church to condone those actions.