Nel's New Day

January 23, 2012

Women’s Contraception at Risk

Over half a century ago, people questioned voting for a Catholic president because he might impose his religious beliefs on the United States. Five decades later religious beliefs are the basis of right-wing policies. The Catholic Church vigorously fights not only abortion but also birth control. The Catholic bishops used “religious freedom” to refuse reproductive health care to women who are employed by religious institutions that provide their health care.

President Obama is to be commended for not caving into pressures from the bishop in finalizing a regulation under the health care reform law requiring that all employer-provided insurance plans cover birth control without co-pays. He did give religious nonprofits until August 2013 to comply with the law. Medical research proves that women are healthier if the pregnancy is planned; children born at least two years apart are healthier.

Amanda Marcotte’s arguments supporting Obama’s refusal to allow the Catholic bishops to control women’s reproductive rights are very eloquent. She says, “Having the same regulations for every employer requiring insurance to fully cover birth control is a matter of religious freedom at its most basic. When Catholic organizations use their employees’ economic dependence as leverage to force pregnancy on them, no matter how unwilling they are to be pregnant, they deprive those women of their basic right to believe what they wish on matters of faith. Religious freedom is primarily an individual right. When an organization’s beliefs come in conflict with individual beliefs, the individual right to freedom of religion must triumph over organizational claims. Doing otherwise is allowing organizations to create a government-supported authority to discriminate and control on the basis of religion, depriving individuals of basic religious rights.

“After all, I can’t open a business and refuse to serve people because they have differing religious beliefs than I do. This is recognized as a violation of their basic freedom of religion. And that’s just a matter of serving sandwiches and fixing tires for people. It’s much, much easier to go to a different sandwich shop or car mechanic than it is to get another job or go to another school. Formal religious discrimination against those who don’t believe contraception is a sin has serious ramifications for those who are discriminated against in such a way. Anyone who truly supports religious freedom should therefore understand that women’s reproductive rights and equal treatment by their employers is part and parcel of religious freedom.”

Marcotte continues by comparing negativity toward women’s rights to the civil rights battle. During the turbulent times of the 1960s, “those who wished to discriminate on the basis of race would often claim that their right to push black people out of their businesses and neighborhoods trumped black people’s right not be discriminated against.”

Having free birth control saves money; unplanned pregnancies cost U.S. taxpayers more than $11 billion a year. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that contraceptive services provided at publicly funded clinics helped prevent almost two million unintended pregnancies. Without funding from Medicaid and Title X, “abortions occurring in the United States would be nearly two-thirds higher among women overall and among teens; the number of unintended pregnancies among poor women would nearly double.” More than 99 percent of women aged 15–44 have used at least one contraceptive method at some time to prevent unintended pregnancies and limit the spread of sexually-transmitted diseases.

All four of the current Republican presidential candidates have signed the “personhood” pledge, affirming that they would protect all “innocent human life.” This includes any fertilized egg that people think might be damaged by the most popular birth control methods.

As governor of Massachusettsin 2005, Mitt Romney vetoed a popular bill to make the “morning-after pill” available over the counter and require hospitals to offer emergency contraception to rape victims. The bill became law after the legislature overrode his veto. In a recent debate he said, “I don’t know if a state has a right to ban contraception. No state wants to!” He followed that statement with the position that he wouldn’t vote to ban contraception, but he seems to not know that Griswold v. Connecticut requires all states to allow birth control. He also signed the “personhood” pledge that would stop the most popular forms of birth control.

Rick Santorum has gone even farther than Romney in protesting contraception. He has suggested that the U.S. Supreme Court erred in its overturning Connecticut’s law banning contraception for unmarried women and pledged to defund federal funding for contraception. His reasoning is that states should have the right to “limit individuals’ wants and passions.” According to Santorum, contraception “is a license to do things in a sexual realm that is counter to how things are supposed to be.” Recently he has tried to back away from these words, but they will follow him to the end of his campaign.

People who believe that unmarried women should have access to contraception might want to start celebrating June 6, the date that the U.S. Supreme Court gave this reproductive right to all women 46 years ago. If a Republican becomes president in the next election, that right may disappear.

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