Touting the decision as a defense of religious liberty, President Donald Trump rolled back an Obama-era federal mandate Friday that required employers to provide contraception in their health care coverage.
The decision might appease his voting base, but it is both a morally and constitutionally repugnant threat to the more than 55 million American women who could lose affordable access to contraception — and if that happens, their ways of life could be changed forever.
Defenders of the decision, like Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis., explained why many Conservatives view it as a victory.
“This is a landmark day for religious liberty,” he said in an Oct. 6 statement. “Under the Obama administration, this constitutional right was seriously eroded.”
But overturning the federal contraceptive mandate as a defense of religious liberty is hypocritical and fails to recognize the nuanced reasons why women nationwide seek contraception.
In addition to requiring that the government not prevent the free exercise of religion, the First Amendment also prohibits the government from making laws that respect any religious establishment. The broad argument is a constitutional one — that the decision to end the federal contraceptive coverage mandate far too clearly respects pro-life religions, namely Christianity.
Beside the obvious constitutional arguments, the move seems to assume that women always use contraceptives for contraception — but this couldn’t be further from the truth. A study from the Guttmacher Institute in 2014 found 14 percent of women in America take birth control for purely non-contraceptive purposes and 48 percent of women take it only for contraceptive purposes. Including the more than 700,000 women who have never had sex but still take birth control, a majority of women take the pill to treat polycystic ovary syndrome, endometriosis, migraines and acne, among other medical uses.
Overturning the contraceptive coverage mandate on the basis of religious liberty is then an argument favoring Christianity in the guise of religious freedom. Consider any one of the more than 700,000 women who is abstinent and takes birth control to regulate her PCOS or debilitating migraines — now, her employer’s religious belief could lead her to pay up to $600 per year for this basic care.
But in the end, contraception shouldn’t demand abstinence. Women should have the utmost right to decide what to do with their bodies and it should not be an issue of politics to say who is worthy of coverage — the latest effort to change that, however, goes beyond the immoral to the truly unconstitutional.