In America, they're apparently arguing about whether a boss should have a say in whether or not his female employee gets pregnant. I know my British friends are having a hard time understanding how this came to be, and frankly, they're right to be bemused.
Why on earth should an employer have anything to do with health care in the first place? (The answer is it started in the 1930s, when some employers began offering health care insurance to employees and it became the primary means by which most Americans receive health care.)
Why should an employer who's Catholic, or Muslim, or an atheist animal rights activist, have any say whatsoever in whether or not I reproduce? Or whether or not I choose to take a birth control pill to control painful periods? Or whether or not I have an IUD? Or if my partner has a vasectomy?
If an employer provides health care insurance to his or her employees, and receives tax benefits for doing so, shouldn't there be minimum standards applied to the insurance plan? And shouldn't those minimum standards cover the very basic option of pregnancy prevention—the only reason many young women see their doctors for years at a time?
What if, say, a female employee of a Catholic university can't afford contraception. She becomes pregnant. Every year. After a while, her employer will decide the university can't keep providing maternity leave for a perpetually pregnant receptionist. So she'll lose her job.
But I guess that's okay, if you're a Catholic bishop. After all, it's not a problem you'll ever have, is it? Because you are, by definition, a man.
So I can see why the Catholic church and its leaders have their staffs in a wad over the proposed rule from the Obama administration, which would make it mandatory for contraceptive costs to be covered in any employer-paid health care plans. But when did the Catholic church have a right to impose its beliefs on everyone else? On the employees of their hospitals, their universities, their schools? (Churches themselves would be exempt from this rule.)
What if a Mormon employer refused to cover his employees who wanted to quit smoking? Isn't a nicotine patch a sin? Or what if a Mormon employer refused to cover an employee who'd become ill due to effects of caffeine? And should I have the right to deny an employee health care coverage if they eat beef and become ill due to e-coli?
Again, my British and European friends are wondering how the employer ever got into this argument in the first place, even though many European countries have similar employer-based health care systems. They just don't believe that employers have the right to call the shots when it comes to their employees' health care. Maybe that's because they believe that health care is a right, not a privilege.
And that, my dear British friends, is the fundamental difference between America and the rest of the world.