On February 10th, President Obama announced his compromise in the contraception coverage debate. Obama’s compromise means that, as a preventative health care measure, contraception services will be provided to all women under the new insurance plan. However, for women who work at institutions that for religious reasons object to providing contraception, their health care providers (not their workplace) will be required to cover the cost so that these institutions need not pay for something that they do not support (Contraception Mandate Statement). On the February 16th panel, not a single woman was represented. Why? When asked to include a woman’s testimony in the panel’s decision-making process, Chairman Rep. Darrell Issa refused, responding that,
“As the hearing is not about reproductive rights and contraception but instead about the Administration’s actions as they relate to freedom of religion and conscience…Ms. Fluke is not an appropriate witness (Gittleson 2012).”
Anti-choicers’ central argument has focused on religious freedom: It is Americans’ first amendment right to be able to practice religion freely, and being forced to participate in providing birth control when a person’s religion says it is wrong is unconstitutional. The Catholic Bishops argue that because pregnancy is not a disease, the new healthcare plan should not provide preventative measures against it.
I am shocked that religious groups, which supposedly have some moral fiber, and our lawmakers, who supposedly represent the needs and wants of their voters, are arguing about religious freedom when women’s health, lives, and basic human rights are at risk. Many women are on birth control for hormonal regulation, to alleviate painful cramps around their periods, to help them gain weight, and for a variety of other health reasons. And yes, there are some of us who take it because we want to have sex. Why do religious groups and political leaders insist on focusing on issues like controlling women’s bodies and sexuality under the guise of religious freedom when larger problems prevail? Human rights abuses happen all over the world (denying citizens basic medical care…human rights abuse, anyone?), yet giving women access to free birth control is so wrong that it cannot be provided free of charge even when religiously-affiliated institutions themselves are not paying for it? Since I went on the pill my first year of college, I have had to pay for it myself because my father works at a Catholic high school that does not cover birth control. It not only angers me, but hurts me as a woman that these institutions feel it their right to control my body. As a free human being, this should be my right and mine alone. Although they have never met me and do not know why I use the pill, they believe that it is appropriate to deny me access to free birth control. Maybe instead of working to control women’s sexuality, we should reflect more on where this need to control comes from: Is this truly an issue of religious freedom or a manifestation of our culture’s deep-seated misogyny that tells us that women’s sexuality and bodies should not be their own to control?
Gittleson, Wendy. "GOP Kicks Women out of Contraception Debate--Says It's About Religion Not Women." Addicting Info. Addicting Info, 16 Feb. 2012. Web. Feb. 2012.
President Obama Contraception Mandate Statement. Barack Obama. Youtube. PBS News Hour, 10 Feb. 2012. Web. 21 Feb. 2012.