American women have not had much to celebrate over the past three years, particularly when it comes to their reproductive health. Between the religious Republican right restricting their access to family planning services, and two atrocious Supreme Court rulings, it was long past due for someone in government to give women a glimmer of hope. On Friday that someone was President Obama who proposed a “fix” to correct the Catholic Court’s ruling that it was the purview of artificial legal entities (corporations) to make medical decisions for their employees regarding when they start their families.
According to the President’s proposal, religious organizations and corporations will get a special accommodation to opt out of covering birth control for their employees by notifying the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) of their religious objections. Then, both the HHS and Department of Labor will arrange for a third-party insurer to pay for and administer coverage for religious employees so women still receive the full range of contraception coverage guaranteed in the Affordable Care Act.
HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell said, “Women across the country deserve access to recommended preventive services that are important to their health, no matter where they work. Today’s announcement reinforces our commitment to providing women with access to coverage for contraception, while respecting religious considerations raised by non-profit organizations and closely held for-profit companies.” The accommodation also “might” head off another religious right lawsuit and Catholic Court ruling next year that further erodes women associated with certain “religious” groups access to contraceptives. It is the anti-contraception movement’s overriding intent; complete control of women’s reproductive health choices.
One of the previous examples of President Obama’s deference to the Christian prerogative was a ‘fix’ that required some so-called “religiously-affiliated” organizations to fill out a form objecting to providing contraception coverage to their employees and students. That original accommodation required religious nonprofits to fill in a simple form asking a third-party insurer to pay for and administer the contraception coverage, but several nonprofits filed a lawsuit against the Obama Administration because the act of filling out a form was a vile violation of their religious beliefs. They claimed the form was nothing more than a “permission slip” that allowed their employees to use contraceptives, and since their objective is restricting contraception use, they are appealing to the Catholic High Court for redress to control their employees according to their religious beliefs.
The Obama Administration developed the new accommodation to pre-empt those lawsuits that most legal experts fully expect the Catholic Court to take up next year and rule for religion. The new accommodation requires non-profits to write an objection letter to HHS, and when the Supreme Court suggested the letter-writing solution, many groups hailed the option as a major victory. However, it is highly likely the new accommodations will not satisfy the plaintiffs because their goal is restricting contraception use by their employees and, in cases of so-called “religious” colleges, female students; period.
The Obama Administration has dutifully given deference to the Christian prerogative by making several adjustments to the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act, and Friday’s announcement was yet another attempt to mollify adherents to Catholic dogma while giving women the right to decide their own reproductive health. However, women should temper their celebration with the knowledge that regardless what “fix” the President offers, as a professor at Georgetown Law School, Marty Lederman, wrote, “most of those (religious right) organizations will not be satisfied.”
Lederman noted that religious groups “will argue that such a ‘fix,’ too, violates their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), because just their act of opting out will establish the legal authority for another party to provide contraception coverage.” The bottom line is they consider it their religious right to prohibit anyone associated with their organization from acquiring or using contraceptives. One of the lawyers who argued for Hobby Lobby said as much during oral arguments claiming that “the objection is not to the fact that the insurance or the provider pays for the contraception coverage. The whole debate is about how much complicity there has to be from the employer in order to trigger that coverage.” Translation; no-one associated with religiously-inclined groups will have access to contraception coverage regardless who provides it.
The position of the religious anti-women’s health movement is to oppose any “fix” in which the end result will be women getting contraception coverage according to the mandate in the Affordable Care Act, and if they can go farther, the only fix they will support is that women get no contraception period. It is important to remember that despite nearly all women have used, or currently use, some form of contraception, religious extremists want to prohibit women from having what religious conservatives consider “consequence free sex” according to Catholic church dogmata. According to the religious right and the Catholic Church, the only reason for women to have sexual relations is to procreate and according to their ideology that means paying a lifelong “consequence.”
Although there are fierce advocates for women’s reproductive health choices, it is President Obama who has consistently stood up to the religious right, and now the Catholics on the Supreme Court, on behalf of women. The latest Administration ‘fix’ is yet another attempt to protect women’s reproductive rights and satisfy religious objections of corporations and religious non-profits that is likely to incite further opposition to women using contraception regardless who pays for them. What the President’s newest accommodation really means is that whether it is a closely-held corporation like Hobby Lobby, or a religiously-affiliated non-profit, they now have the same exemption as any house of worship. Although it is an epic atrocity that the President had to go to such lengths, he did what few men in America are willing to do; protect women and their reproductive rights from an increasingly overbearing religion and the Catholic Court.