Why Religious Beliefs Should Not Block Birth Control Coverage
an article by Erika Yan
Dear Asian Youth,
It has been clear for a few years now that Trump is intent on undoing Obama’s policies, from his foreign policies to his domestic legacy. The Affordable Care Act is Obama’s healthcare reform law, and it ensures that employers must include all forms of birth control in their insurance plans at no additional cost. However, recently—under Trump—the Supreme Court in the case of Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, the Supreme Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act did not require employers to provide birth control coverage. So, in light of that, here is what could happen as a result of this ruling and why this would be detrimental to women everywhere who rely on birth control as a basic healthcare need.
First off, this ruling could cause hundreds of thousands of people to lose their coverage for contraceptive care that is important for their health, equality, and economic security in the midst of a financial crisis caused by a global pandemic. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 86% of women will have used at least three methods of birth control by their 40s. Making something that people have relied on for years suddenly too expensive for them to afford has detrimental health as well as graver social consequences—not being able to control if and when you get pregnant is dangerous.
Everyone should have the ability to decide if and when they want to become a parent because that decision affects their economic, educational, and family life. From the aforementioned Guttmacher Institute, 63% of women say birth control allowed them to take better care of themselves or their families, 56% say it allowed them to support themselves financially, 51% say it allowed them to complete their education, and 50% say it helped them keep their job. Birth control has expanded opportunities for women by empowering them economically, and employers ignorant of this should not have the power to decide whether it should be provided. Additionally, over one-third of female voters have struggled to afford prescription birth control at some point, causing them to use it inconsistently and thus making the contraceptive less effective. If this is the case while birth control was still covered under insurance, how much harder is it to afford birth control now that employers no longer have to? Unnecessary health regulations introduce further obstacles that deny women access to birth control.
In Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, The Supreme Court decided that employers can use “religious beliefs” or “moral objections” as reasons to deny employees birth control coverage. But birth control is used for so much more than just preventing pregnancies: it can help with things like heavy and irregular periods, PMS symptoms, migraines, endometriosis, and hormonal acne. Do these go against anyone’s “religious beliefs?” Without birth control, some women experience chronic pain or constant bleeding—in fact, 1.5 million American women use birth control for non-contraceptive reasons. To prevent women from accessing the one thing that could ease their suffering is, frankly, inhumane. Women currently outnumber men in government, but female representation is at about 23% today: in the Supreme Court, 5 out of 8 justices are men, 80 out of 100 senators are men, and in the House of Representatives, 351 out of 435 representatives are men. However, this is something men would never be able to understand or relate to, so why should they have a say in its regulation?
Unfortunately, access to birth control is not the only thing being challenged. 45 states allow individual health care providers to refuse to participate in an abortion, and 42 states allow institutions to refuse to perform abortions. These are just a few of the restrictions placed on a woman’s ability to get an abortion. It is possible to make all the right choices and still get pregnant. This is why abortion is essential health care. Not only is it a safe medical procedure, but the risk of death associated with it is lower than that of childbirth. The choice to terminate a pregnancy should be a right, one that allows women to pursue higher education, focus on starting their career, and have children when they can financially support that choice. Forcing women to carry an unwanted pregnancy can endanger their health and provide a lower quality of life for the child. There are only benefits to allowing women to have children when they are able to support that child physically, mentally, and financially.
Healthcare workers are allowed to refuse to treat patients because of religion, and while religious liberty is a fundamental value and everyone is entitled to their religious beliefs, using these beliefs to discriminate against patients and deny them health care is contradictory because it goes against some fundamental values of the same religion. Religious refusal laws can allow hospitals to cancel a woman’s life-saving treatment if it could harm her pregnancy. When we prioritize the potential of an unborn child over the life of its mother, we reinforce the belief that the value and purpose of a woman’s life are to bear children and that it should be something they are willing to die for. Using excuses like religious beliefs or moral grounds to block birth control coverage is undeniably discrimination, and it furthers classism as it traps certain people in a cycle of poverty.
Providers can refuse to treat transgender patients and deny them medical care or hormone therapy. Members of the LGBTQ+ community can be denied potentially life-saving health care due to homophobia and transphobia. Refusal rules make it more difficult to access safe and legal abortion. Medical providers should not be able to decide who they want to help and who they choose to disregard—everyone deserves the same right to life despite their sexual orientation or gender identity, and laws need to be made those lives. Another vulnerable community refusal laws target is women of color. They have historically been discriminated against and denied access to quality health care, and this is exacerbated as hospitals in their neighborhoods are more likely to be religiously affiliated. The belief that a certain group does not deserve basic healthcare rights should not be backed by law.
A big problem that has not yet been addressed is the lack of sex education in the United States. This disproportionately impacts areas with lower qualities of education—public schools are the best place for young people to access formal information, but only thirteen states require sex education to be medically accurate. Less than half of high schools and only about 20% of middle schools teach all the essential sex education topics recommended by the CDC. Of course, there is also a stark inequality here as schools in low-income communities have fewer resources, and as a result, the students in those communities are less informed on how to stay safe and have less access to birth control. (Once again, the cycle of poverty is evident.) Do we really want a generation of people who are not well-informed regarding sex education and don’t have access to contraceptives?
For a majority of women, birth control is a fundamental healthcare need. Women should be able to control their own bodies; however, the recent Court decision strips many people of this right. Preventative care for women includes birth control, and ultimately, the Supreme Court’s recent decision betrays millions of women they were supposed to protect.