Health Care Reform and Religious Freedom

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By Alicia Williams

Margaret Sanger must be rolling in her grave. How can the availability of such a widely-used health care product, legally available in the U.S. since 1965 and taken by more than 100 million women worldwide, be challenged so contentiously in court? Certain employers have decided they don’t want to provide health insurance for this particular product anymore. Can you guess what it is? Birth control. According to the Guttmacher Institute for sexual and reproductive health, more than 99% of U.S. women aged 15–44 who have ever had sexual intercourse have used at least one contraceptive method, with the Pill being the most popular. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention has classified the development of the contraceptive pill in the Top 10 public health achievements of the 20th century. The pill doesn’t just help with the prevention of pregnancy, but with many other health problems as well, such as anemia, endometriosis, and pelvic inflammatory disease. From what I can tell, birth control has had a tremendously beneficial impact on women and society, so why is it being challenged in court?

On March 25, 2014 the Supreme Court heard the Hobby Lobby case and shortly after, on June 30th, ruled that family-owned corporations could legally limit what they provide insurance for, if it goes against their religion. “This is a landmark for religious freedom,” said Lori Windham, Senior Counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, and legal counsel for Hobby Lobby. Employers claimed that their religious rights were being infringed upon by having to provide healthcare benefits to cover birth control. The significance of this case is more than just that, though. It’s about people using their religion as a foundation to discriminate against others. Earlier this year, the state of Arizona tried to pass a law stipulating that businesses could refuse service to the LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender) community; now discrimination has erupted again with this case. In my view, religion is supposed to be a positive force to help people feel accepted, not used as a way to take rights away from others.

Planned Parenthood works every day with women to help them obtain the best type of birth control that works for them. A representative from Planned Parenthood said, “This is not a religious issue, it’s a basic healthcare issue.” The contraceptive pill is not just used to prevent pregnancy; it helps with many other medical issues as well. By making the pill less accessible, there is a good chance that the rate of abortions will increase. Because of the pill, many women’s health has improved, infant mortality rates have come down, and unplanned pregnancies have decreased, allowing women greater opportunities to access education and careers. Passing this type of discriminatory law is dangerous: it not only gives family-owned businesses the right to refuse to provide insurance for birth control, but also for whatever else they may feel goes against the teachings of their religion, such as blood transfusions, HIV medication, and medical appointments for single pregnant women.

When I first heard about this bill, it infuriated me. I was strongly opposed, not only because businesses now have the right to take away free birth control, but now they also have the right to refuse insurance for anything if they consider it to be “against their religion.” Knowing what we do about birth control and its extended benefits, I find it hard to understand how anyone would want to prevent access to it. Speaking from my own experience, the pill has greatly helped me. My family has a history of fibroid, non-cancerous tumors that develop in the uterus. My grandmother also had cysts in her uterus, which caused her to have her uterus removed at the age of 27. Taking birth control has helped me lower my chances of developing either one of these conditions. As a college student, I don’t have extra money to spend on birth control. I can’t imagine it not being provided by my insurance company. Birth control has helped me and many other women live healthier lives.

Democrats in Congress are pushing to reverse the Hobby Lobby decision on contraception. Our employers should have no say in our most personal medical decisions. No-one should have to feel they can’t get the help they need.

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