It has been 5 years since the passage of the Affordable Care Act. And for 5 years there has been a lot of bickering, hyperbole, fear mongering, and often down-right lies. I won’t say either side is innocent of doing one or more of these things, either. But one issue that has come up consistently over the last few years is the provision in the ACA that requires private employers to cover birth control free of charge for their female employees who want it. This has created quite a controversy of Women’s Health vs. ‘Religious Freedom.’
Hobby Lobby – the place you went to in 8th grade for scrapbook projects – is a super Christian company and is vehemently against providing birth control for their employees. They believe that because it is against their religion to use contraceptives, they then have a right to deny it to the thousands of employees that may not share their beliefs.
So there’s a number of issues here I’d like to touch on. Number one is the notion of a corporation’s “religious freedom.” If the courts allow Hobby Lobby to pick and choose what they provide based on “religious freedom,” then that would allow other companies to withdraw coverage for things like blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses) and for prescription drugs (Christian Scientists). If that were the case at hand, I’m willing to bet that this suit would not be taken nearly as seriously, if at all.
On top of that, Hobby Lobby claims they run all aspects of their business with a Christian mindset. The owner, David Green, said through a spokesperson that “[His] family’s religious beliefs forbid them from participating in, providing access to, paying for, training others to engage in, or otherwise supporting abortion-causing drugs and devices.”
Nevermind the fact that he said “abortion-causing drugs,” I’ll touch on that later. There’s just one other BIG problem with that statement though. Hobby Lobby purchases many of their goods from China. China has been trying to curb their population growth, which sometimes means government-forced abortions for families. Only recently have they relaxed their policies on family size. Anyway, by purchasing items from China to sell in their stores, Hobby Lobby is a de facto funder to forced abortions.
You’re probably saying “Dan, that’s ridiculous. He’s running a business! They have to find the products to fill their stores for the best possible price! Capitalism!” And guess what? You’re 100% right.
In order for Hobby Lobby to stay competitive, they have to purchase goods from overseas. In the same vein, in order to stay competitive Hobby Lobby is going to have to abide by the law that was passed. Instead they are trying to pick and choose their morals when it is monetarily advantageous to them.
Another problem that arises from this case is this increasing idea of corporate personhood. First, Citizens United determined that money = speech and therefore corporations are entitled to certain rights previously only given to actual people. Now, with Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby, corporations are saying they are religious, and entitled to the same religious rights as an individual. A corporation cannot require someone to be religious in order to work for them. Therefore, if that employee then seeks and qualifies for employer health insurance, they need to be required to act simply as an employer, not a religious entity.
A decision in favor of Hobby Lobby could extend rights traditionally reserved for explicitly religious institutions to any private one that claims “religious beliefs,” opening the floodgates to denying employees certain rights if not in accordance with the companies “beliefs.”
The reason for Hobby Lobby’s challenge is because they are against the forms of birth control that the FDA says could potentially end a pregnancy – AKA abort a fertilized egg. Like many christian groups, people, and organizations, Hobby Lobby is 100% against abortion.
Here’s what many of those religious groups and people don’t seem to understand, though. Having broader access to various forms of birth control – whether it’s the pill, Plan B, IUDs, and yes, safe and legal abortions – actually cuts down on the number of abortions women have. It also makes it far safer, less traumatic on the mother (mostly by avoiding having an abortion altogether), and gives women peace of mind that they can be intimate with someone without worrying they will get pregnant.
Since Casey v. Planned Parenthood (1992), and with the increased use of hormonal birth control (and other family planning options), the number of abortions in the United States has hit a 30 year low.
However, these numbers mostly predate the drastic increase in anti-abortion legislation among certain states.
Remember last year when State Senator Wendy Davis stood for 11 hours to filibuster a comprehensive anti-abortion bill in Texas? Well, the filibuster ended up being fruitless (except for Wendy, who became a political rockstar), and the bill passed. It has since been implemented and has forced all but a handful of women’s health facilities and abortion clinics to shutter. Has this stopped women from getting abortions? Of course not. Some women are crossing state lines in order to get a safe one. Others will be forced to wait due to long appointment lines at the 6 available clinics in all of Texas, potentially causing them to go past the 20 week deadline for legal abortions. Then Texas women will have no other choice but to keep the unwanted baby, or get an illegal and potentially unsafe abortion.
I wouldn’t be surprised if the number of abortions per 1,000 women began to tick back up again if legislation similar to that of Texas spreads to other states.
People who are genuinely and whole-heartedly against abortion need to realize that the best way to prevent abortions isn’t by making them illegal. It is to give women (and men!) the proper education, access, and ability to make family planning decision on their terms.
I’ll close with a short story. I have some very Catholic family members. They are firmly against abortion, birth control, premarital sex, et al. One day we were talking about the subject, and we get to a point where one says people shouldn’t be having sex if they aren’t prepared
for the repercussions to reproduce. That means no birth control whatsoever, and definitely no abortions. This belief is not common among the general populous, particularly among young people. But I do think that many legislators and influencers would prefer this if they had the means to make it possible.
We see it with policies like “abstinence only” sex education, where states with such laws have the highest teen-pregnancies rates. We see it with “slut shaming” of women like Sandra Fluke by influential talk-radio hosts.
Birth control and its coverage in Obamacare prevents abortions. Republican and religious opposition is the only thing holding it back from preventing more.
Conservatives have been trying to regulate sex for decades. But so long as there are people, those people will have sex. Some will inevitably have unwanted pregnancies. And as long as there are unwanted pregnancies, there will be abortions. Legal, or not. Safe, or not.