A Thought Experiment (Updated)

Consider the following story:

Suppose there is a law requiring every father to purchase a car for each of his daughters or pay a hefty fine, and Smith and Jones set out to meet this obligation. Smith wants to buy his daughter a car with a turbocharged engine, and when he goes to the auto dealer he is told that such a car will cost $20,000, which he gladly pays. Jones, on the other hand, thinks turbocharged engines are dangerous, and would rather not buy his daughter a car with one. But the dealer informs him that another law requires that all new cars sold in the region come with turbocharged engines; there is no way to purchase a car without one. The salesman offers Jones a deal, though: he'll remove the $1,000 cost of the turbocharging from what Jones has to pay for the car, and remove any mention of it from the information included with the car when it's purchased. However, the manufacturer will send Jones's daughter a letter informing her that her car is turbocharged, and letting her know what this means and how it works.

And now answer the following question:

Is Jones required by law to purchase his daughter a turbocharged car?

Speaking for myself, it seems clear that the answer is "Yes": the fact (if it is a fact) that Jones wouldn't be paying for the turbocharging doesn't mean that he wouldn't be buying his daughter a car that has it, and so the only differences between Jones and Smith lie in what they want and what they pay, while what they have to buy (and so pay for) is in the relevant respect exactly the same. That the opportunity to buy a non-turbocharged car has been taken away from Jones is simply unaffected by the fact that the turbocharging is being given to him for free.In light of this, and bearing in mind the necessarily imperfect character of analogies and the well-documented difficulty of eliciting non-biased responses to cases like the above, consider the following policy:

... women will have free preventive care that includes contraceptive services no matter where she works [sic]. The policy also ensures that if a woman works for areligious employer with objections to providing contraceptive services as part of its health plan, the religious employer will not be required to provide, payfor or refer forcontraception coverage, but her insurance company will be required to directlyoffer her contraceptive care free of charge.

More specifically:

The new regulation will require insurance companies to cover contraception if the religious organization chooses not to. Under the policy:oReligious organizations will not have to provide contraceptive coverage or refer their employees to organizations that provide contraception.oReligious organizations will not be required to subsidize the cost of contraception.oContraception coverage will be offered to women by their employers insurance companies directly, with no role for religious employers who oppose contraception.oInsurance companies will be required to provide contraception coverage to these women free of charge.o The new policy does not affect existing state requirements concerning contraception coverage.

Aside from the non-religious character of Jones's objection to turbocharging, in what relevant respects does the policy just described fail to be analogous to the one we imagined? (Again speaking for myself, the answer is "None".) And if they are analogous, then how is it that in being required to pay for a health insurance policy in which coverage for contraceptives has been included for free, a religious employer "will not have to provide contraception coverage", that they have "no role" in making such coverage available to their employees?UPDATE: The bishops seem to share my concern, writing in their analysis of the proposed policy that "in the case where the employee and insurer agree to add the objectionable coverage, that coverage is still provided as a part of the objecting employer's plan, financed in the same way as the rest of the coverage offered by the objecting employer. This, too, raises serious moral concerns."

John Schwenkler is an associate professor in the Department of Philosophy at Florida State University.

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