02/07/2012 09:08 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Free to Choose

The decision to require employers to provide contraceptives or sterilization, as part of government mandated health insurance and specifically single these out as exempt from co-pays or deductibles runs counter to our political and cultural traditions. There is a significant difference between recognizing a woman's "right" to choose and making it the "obligation" of others to pay for or facilitate that choice. We have a right to make many private decisions: drink alcohol, smoke, watch pornography, eat snack food, or engage in any number of practices not universally advocated or supported. We don't have an obligation to subsidize or provide them.

Many individuals and institutions do not see these as issues of "health" and have personal religious or cultural scruples regarding artificial interference in the process of conception or termination of a pregnancy. Whether you agree with them or not, they certainly have tradition on their side. The Catholic Church, for example, is nearly 2000 years old and has a long, well documented, and consistent position on the morality of these practices. Abortion was a criminal act in our own country until late in the last century. That it is now recognized as a fundamental right (subject to certain restrictions) is a matter of constitutional law and Americans are required to enforce and protect that right -- but not pay for or encourage it. These too are matters of choice.

Reproductive rights are obviously contentious and highly emotional issues. So strongly held are beliefs on both sides that it is difficult to have any civilized discussion on the subject. In the case of abortion there would appear to be no moral middle ground between those at one extreme who contend that it is murder of an innocent and those at another who see it solely as a matter of a woman's right to control her own body without restrictions. All can agree it is not a happy subject. In most cases it is a wrenching decision for a woman, making it all the more important that she be able to assure herself of the availability of professional and discrete care. It can be equally wrenching, however, for those who see it as a crime against humanity. Since we must co-exist in this country and indeed cooperate across a broad spectrum of public issues, we would do well to recognize and respect the legitimacy of our differences in this area.

Our constitution was founded on the principal that the individual is the fundamental political unit. As Abraham Lincoln so eloquently stated we were conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition of equality. Freedom of choice is freedom to get it right or wrong according to our own values. We neither have the right to impose our values on each other or force others to take actions against the dictates of their conscience.

Al Checchi is chairman of Join Together America, the former chairman of Northwest Airlines, and a former candidate for Governor of California. His new book is The Change Maker.