War On Contraception Conservatives Claim Religious Freedom Means Freedom To Impose Religion On Workers

Bill Scher

It was just one month ago when conservatives were complaining that ABC’s George Stephanopoulos was displaying his “bias” while moderating a Republican presidential debate by being “obsessed” with contraception and asking Mitt Romney a “gotcha question” about whether the Constitution has a right to privacy that extends to obtaining contraception.

Last month, Romney handled the question by saying “Contraception—it’s working just fine. Just leave it alone.”

But now, after conservatives began obsessing over the Obama administration’s decision requiring insurance companies to include contraception in the preventative services covered for free under the Affordable Care Act, Romney has become a little obsessed himself, falsely claiming, “President Obama orders religious organizations to violate their conscience.”

The obsession has now reached the Speaker of the House, who declared today that if the President doesn’t “reverse” this “attack on religious freedom,” then “Congress must.”

Like most obsessions, this one makes no sense.

How is a rule, based on the law that Congress passed, providing coverage for a service that literally more than 99% of women use, somehow a blunt attack on religion?

How is a rule that is already the law in 28 states—without much of a peep from conservatives including Mitt Romney who was governor of one of those states—suddenly wreaking secular fascism across the nation?

How is a rule that makes eight states expand the exemption for religious institutions, take away freedom from religious institutions?

Most importantly, how is a rule that explicitly exempts “religious employers” a violation of the separation of church and state?

The rule defines “religious employers” as any non-profit that “has the inculcation of religious values as its purpose,” “primarily employs persons who share its religious tenets,” and “primarily serves persons who share its religious tenets.”

This is the real issue that certain nonprofits and businesses are upset about. Some conservatives and Catholic leaders want the “religious employers” definition to be a giant loophole.

Some schools, hospital, charities and other businesses that are run by Catholics, if they provide health insurance (they still have the “freedom” not to, though starting in 2014, employers with 50 or more employees will pay a fee if they don’t), will now be providing health insurance that covers contraception.

Catholics running such businesses will still have their religious freedom to live their lives as they see fit.

What they will lose is the ability to impose their religious beliefs on their employees, and deny them the equal access to contraception—which, again, nearly everybody uses.

And what might happen if those employees lose their freedom to access contraception?

More unwanted pregnancies. More abortions. More infant mortality. More health problems for expectant mothers.

As anyone who uses contraception knows—which, again, is nearly everybody—contraception is expensive. If your freedom-loving employer doesn’t pay you very much, you won’t have the freedom to buy contraception consistently, and that pretty much defeats the purpose.

The Obama administration rule respects the constitutional separation of church and state, ensuring that our government does not give dictates to any church. And it also respects the constitutional right to privacy, ensuring that our secular employers cannot impose their personal religious beliefs on their employees.

What conservatives cannot stand is seeing the Constitution in action, stifling their obsession with imposing their beliefs on the rest of us and making us less healthy.

The reality is: contraception is working just fine. And so is the Constitution.

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