Birth Control Fight Isn’t About Freedom of Religion

Image via iStockPhoto/Brent Melton

Vocal Catholic bishops and members of the religious right community want America to think that President Obama has launched an all out assault on religion with the announcement that employer-provided health insurance policies have to cover birth control without a co-pay. They’re yelling, stomping their feet and have taken to the airwaves to proclaim that Barack Obama is out to strip their First Amendment freedom of religion rights by forcing them to pay for contraceptives in violation of their beliefs.

Nothing could be further from the truth.

One of the provisions of the Affordable Care Act is that all employer-provided health insurance policies must cover prescription birth control for women at no added cost.  A small carve-out is in place for churches, mosques and synagogues whose members believe that birth control is against their religious beliefs.  That exception doesn’t apply to hospitals, universities or other employers who have a religious “affiliation.”

But did you know that that’s actually been the case since George W. Bush was president?  It’s already against the law for employers to cut birth control coverage out of the plans they offer their employees, but the requirement hasn’t gotten a lot of attention — until now.

According to Mother Jones magazine:

In December 2000, the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission ruled that companies that provided prescription drugs to their employees but didn’t provide birth control were in violation of Title VII of the 1964 Civil Rights Act, which prevents discrimination on the basis of sex. That opinion, which the George W. Bush administration did nothing to alter or withdraw when it took office the next month, is still in effect today—and because it relies on Title VII of the Civil Rights Act, it applies to all employers with 15 or more employees. Employers that don’t offer prescription coverage or don’t offer insurance at all are exempt, because they treat men and women equally—but under the EEOC’s interpretation of the law, you can’t offer other preventative care coverage without offering birth control coverage, too.

So where has the religious outrage been since 2000?   Did the bishops and extreme right just notice it on their to-do list?  Or might it have something to do with trying to find whatever it takes to keep Barack Obama from winning re-election?

Karl Rove and his followers did it before and he’ll help do it again.  That’s exactly how he got George W. Bush elected.  Well, he had a little help from the Supreme Court, but Rove’s focus was to bang the drum so loudly that people who didn’t vote regularly — like one-issue religious voters — would be so scared they’d turn out for that one issue, putting his candidate over the top.

And this is where we are again, with a splintered Republican Party that thought it could beat Obama on the economy, now realizing it has to go back to the Rove 101 playbook if they have any chance to eke out a win.

About 98 percent of Catholic women want access to and use birth control even though it’s in violation of the church’s mandate.  So why should they have to pay extra for it when their husbands’ Viagra is fully covered?  Take a close look.  Those opposing this effort (which the President is now stepping away from to stop to political bleeding) have even gone so far as to say they’d be exempt from the rules if they were just an individual Taco Bell owners who had a personal religious objection to birth control.

The dialing back on privacy rights is scary.  First it was abortion.  Now insurance-covered birth control. Did you know that the Supreme Court case that addresses birth control rights overturned a state law that said married couples could not have access to birth control regardless of how they paid for it?  Yup.  Married couples.  Sounds a little crazy in 2012, doesn’t it?  But with the growing effort to take away more of our constitutional privacy rights, don’t be surprised if you hear talk soon about whether we should be able to get the Pill or an IUD, or whether we all have to become Michelle Duggar.  And after that?  Watch out for attacks on the constitutional privacy right to interracial marriage.   Even as we celebrate the ability of same-sex couples to now marry in California and Washington, don’t be surprised to see ballot initiatives to in conservative states to step-back on another right we all thought was settled law.

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5 Responses to “Birth Control Fight Isn’t About Freedom of Religion”

  1. Ann Says:

    Hi Joanne – great post! Did you see the editorial today in the NYTimes about the Rep. refusal to extend the violence against women act ? Ack!

  2. Chris Wysocki Says:

    No one is saying *you* can’t have birth control.

    Catholics are saying we don’t want to pay for it. Even more than that, we’re looking out for Freedom, the freedom to not have the government infringe on our Liberty.

    You don’t want a Republican telling you what to do with your body? I don’t want a Democrat telling me what to do with my money.

    Besides, I thought Planned Parenthood already passes out free birth control pills like candy on Halloween.

    And the Viagra red-herring? Viagra promotes life by enabling procreation. Contraceptives preempt life. Big difference from a religious standpoint.

    This fight is absolutely about religious freedom. If the government can force Catholics to ignore our doctrine on contraceptives and abortifacients, what’s to stop it from imposing its will on other dogmatic precepts? The EEOC could order seminaries to ordain women priests. The Dept of Education might tell Catholic schools to stop teaching that homosexuality is a sin. What happens when your feminist friends sue Orthodox Jews to force their men into permitting physical contact with women other than their wives?

    The bishops are right to oppose this mandate, and Obama’s fake “accommodation.” The Bush Administration gave very broad exemptions to religious organizations when it came to contraceptive and abortion coverages. I should know, I help to arrange the purchase of health insurance for a Catholic church. Obama rescinded those exemptions. We can no longer meet our responsibility to our employees without going against our consciences. Will we drop health insurance altogether? That is a very real possibility.

    Tell me, who “wins” then?

  3. Elizabeth Aquino Says:

    As I listened to this story play out all week, I couldn’t help but feel disgusted, once again, at the ridiculous role of religion in our country’s politics. The whole Catholic uproar is bullshit. I waver between wanting to extend compassion toward those whose beliefs are different than mine and revulsion at the near-constant hypocrisy of the Catholic Church. I don’t give a damn what “the bishops” think, and as a born and raised Catholic, I’d venture to say that another nail in the coffin of my Catholicism has been hammered in.

    As for Chris Wysocki — I’ve seen your blog and your inflammatory language. I can’t imagine that there will ever be any constructive dialogue with the likes of you. The main sentiment that I see in your beliefs and that of other extremists is fear. Is your faith, your religion, your “conscience” so weak that issues like women’s health and well-being (not to mention the planet’s) threaten its extinction?

  4. Debbie Owensby Moore Says:

    My outrage at this issue grew every day this week. This is mostly another issue against women promoted by old white men who feel their power is threatened.

    Can you imagine Hillary Clinton, while running for president, discussing whether male sexual enhancement drugs should be included in health care plans. She would have been laughed off the stage.

    I believe the republicans have truly misjudged this false outcry.

  5. Gina Fredenburgh Says:

    The exception for churches, mosques, and synagogues has not been rescinded. It does not apply to religious-affiliated organizations.

    Also, Mr. Wysocki seems to disregard the fact that Viagra and other male enhancement medications generally are prescribed for men over the age of 35, the upper end of the most viable age for healthy sperm. Yes, indeed, males, including Mr. Wysocki, have biological clocks and the risk of passing on defects to one’s offspring increases with age.

    The feminist and Orthodox Jewish men comment? WTF?

    Me? Raised Catholic and entirely disenfranchised from that organization because of the misogynistic views like Wysocki’s.

    Girsh E., Katz N., Genkin L., Girtler O., Bocker J., Bezdin S., and Barr I. “Male age influences oocyte-donor program results.” Journal of Assisted Reproduction and Genetics. April 5, 2008. [Epub ahead of print.] Accessed June 5, 2008.

    Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory (2006, June 6). Study Shows That Genetic Quality Of Sperm Deteriorates As Men Age. ScienceDaily. Retrieved June 5, 2008, from¬ /releases/2006/06/060606091933.htm

    Levitas E., Lunenfeld E., Weisz N., Friger M., and Potashnik G. “Relationship between age and semen parameters in men with normal sperm concentration: analysis of 6,022 semen samples.” Andrologia. April 2007. 39(2):45-50.

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