Blood transfusions and religious liberty, Part I

Should people who object to blood transfusions on religious grounds be exempt from subsidizing them? This question is often asked of those who argue that Christians who object to chemical birth control be exempt from subsidizing it. I thought I had addressed this before, but I cannot find it.

First, let’s address the obvious flaw in the comparison: Blood transfusions are often needed to save someone from death, while chemical birth control is not a necessary life-saving drug. The use of chemical birth control is an elective treatment, while blood transfusions are very rarely elective.

The second problem with comparing blood transfusions (for example, at tax-funded VA hospitals) to forcing employers to provide birth control is a key phrase in the federal RFRA and many state RFRA laws: compelling state interest. There is a compelling state interest in using tax dollars to fund blood transfusions at VA hospitals, while there is no compelling state interest in forcing private employers to provide birth control. There are also other options for women to acquire birth control that do not require a Christian employer to be forced to provide it.

Furthermore, RFRA protections for employers who do not wish to provide birth control will not allow employers to refuse to cover treatment for AIDS in their insurance plans, and will not allow doctors to refuse to treat homosexual patients without facing legal consequences. The reason, again, is there is a compelling state interest. These are straw men arguments for the purpose of fearmongering, not serious analyses of public policy.

So no, requiring employers to cover blood transfusions but not birth control does not favor one religion over another and does not represent an example of “hypocrisy.” Lines are drawn all the time on religious liberty, and it has never been held that there are absolutely no limits on religious liberty.

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