Employers are now free to deny women access to contraceptives through their employer-subsidized health plans, though they will be violating their own purported Christian principles if they do.
When Illinois voters cast ballots for the November election, they will have a rare opportunity to weigh in on nearly half a dozen hot-button issues.
In a practice more common in California and some other states, Illinoisans will wade through five ballot questions — ranging from constitutional amendments on voter and victim rights to advisory referendums on birth control, the minimum wage and a so-called “millionaires’ tax.” The most Illinois voters have seen before is three, at least since 1970, according to available state records.
Lawmakers say the non-binding questions are aimed at taking the public’s temperature so they know how to proceed in Springfield. But at least some of the measures also have a political purpose, as part of a coordinated campaign by Democrats to boost turnout for the midterm election.
The list of questions could’ve been longer, but attempts fell short to include questions about term limits — an effort backed by Republicans — and altering Illinois’ political redistricting process.
The initiatives haven’t had as visible a promotion as the contested races, and some political experts believe voters may just skip them.
"These are not part of Illinois political culture," said David Yepsen, director of Southern Illinois University’s Paul Simon Public Policy Institute. "Voters aren’t used to it."
Here’s a look at the measures:
Democratic lawmakers pushed an advisory ballot measure in the final days of the spring legislative session that asks if insurance companies should cover birth control.
While Illinois has had such a law since 2003, supporters say widespread voter approval will ensure future protections. As evidence, they cite the U.S. Supreme Court’s June decision saying employers with religious objections could opt out of a federal rule requiring that insurers cover contraceptives.
Republicans say the last-minute ballot measure is an obvious ploy to boost Democratic votes, especially since it’s already law.
Two Chicago-based political action committees have taken to social media to garner support, including Planned Parenthood Illinois Action. A second committee, Save Birth Control in Illinois, says it’s trying to lay groundwork for legislation requiring employers to provide notice to employees about exclusions in health insurance plans’ contraceptive coverage.
This measure, sponsored by Democratic House Speaker Michael Madigan, proposes charging Illinoisans who make over $1 million a 3 percent income tax surcharge to raise funds for education.
An attempt to pass the tax as legislation stalled. Democratic leaders then posed the idea as a nonbinding ballot question to gauge public support.
The Internal Revenue Service says Illinois had over 14,500 tax returns in 2011 from households where adjusted gross income was at least $1 million. Madigan has said the tax would raise $1 billion annually.
Republicans say the measure is purely political. Republican Bruce Rauner, a venture capitalist challenging Gov. Pat Quinn, earned $61 million in 2013.
This non-binding ballot question asks voters if Illinois should increase its minimum wage to $10 from $8.25 by 2015, parallel to a Democratic effort to push the issue in campaigns nationwide.
Sponsors say they’re hoping to use the results to renew a legislative push for approval.
It’s been a major issue in the governor’s race. Quinn has vowed to raise it, despite previous attempts falling short. Rauner at one point said he wanted to cut the state’s minimum wage, but has changed his stance, now saying he’d favor raising it with other reforms.
Business groups oppose an increase, saying it’ll kill jobs.
Voters will be asked to change the state constitution to prevent people from being denied the right to register or vote based on race, ethnicity or sexual orientation, among other things.
The measure had bipartisan support, including among top Democrats and Republicans.
It’s aimed at ensuring Illinois doesn’t adopt voter identification laws like those passed in several states since the beginning of 2013. Republicans said they pushed those laws to prevent voter fraud. Democrats say fears of fraud are overblown and the laws are attempts to suppress votes favorable to them.
CRIME VICTIMS’ RIGHTS
This question asks if crime victims should have more rights protected by the constitution during court proceedings and criminal trials. The Crime Victims’ Bill of Rights would ensure they have information about hearings and plea negotiations, access to restitution and protections against alleged perpetrators.
The proposal is patterned after “Marsy’s Law,” which California voters approved in 2008 after the murder of a college student.
Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved putting the measure on the ballot. But among opponents was House Majority Leader Barbara Flynn Currie, who argued that such standards could slow trials and should be dealt with through laws, not the constitution.
Democratic Attorney General Lisa Madigan backs it, saying crime victims are “owed a voice.”
Vote YES to all five, especially the millionaires’ tax, birth control, and minimum wage, because it pisses the hell out of the Illinois Family Institute!
h/t: Chicago Sun-Times
Paul Cameron was the guest again today on Gordon Klingenschmitt’s “Pray In Jesus Name” program where the two set aside their concerns about “a gay” using molestation to recruit kids into homosexuality and focused their discussion instead on the dangers of the birth control pill and declining population growth.
Cameron believes that this “demographic crunch” is the most important problem facing humanity today and so he has come up with a couple of clever solutions:
- People with children should be exempt from paying taxes.
- People with children should get extra votes.
As Cameron sees it, parents ought not to have to pay any taxes while they are raising their children because they’re “assuring the future” and Klingenschmitt thought this was a pretty good idea because it “creates a tax incentive for people to have children and to stay home, maybe, and raise them.”
On top of that, Cameron also advocated for giving parents “their vote as a citizen plus one for for each child that they have.”
"That means a couple with, say, three children," Cameron explained, “will have eight votes … Let’s change the politics of it so the politicians will suddenly say ‘I wanna be family-friendly because I want to come back to Washington’”:
H/T: Kyle Mantyla at RWW
(via TPM: Senate Democrats Release New Ad Torching GOPer Ernst On Personhood)
Joni Ernst: BAD FOR IOWA!!!
The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee released a new TV ad on Thursday hitting state Sen. Joni Ernst (R) over Personhood, a favorite line of attack for Democrats over the last few months.
"Joni Ernst pushed the Personhood amendment. What would that mean? It would ban many forms of birth control and would make all abortions illegal. Ernst would outlaw abortion even for victims of rape or incest. And would actually impose criminal penalties on doctors," the voiceover in the ad said.
The ad then uses a clip of Ernst saying “I think the provider should be punished, if there were a Personhood amendment.”
Democrats said the ad is a multi-million dollar buy and will be running statewide.
It’s the latest example of Democrats bashing Republican Senate opponents over the hard anti-abortion Personhood measures. On Monday, the Iowa Democratic Party released an ad also attacking Ernst over her support for adding a Personhood amendment to the state Constitution.
For two and a half years, the Obama Administration has tried to strike a balance between the health needs of workers and the sensibilities of employers who object to contraceptive care on religious grounds. Just last month, the administration announced its most recent accommodation for these religious objectors — an employer can exempt itself completely from the federal rule requiring employer-provided health plans to cover birth control, so long as it informs the government that it seeks a religious exemption and tells them which company administers their health plan.
Yet, according to a court document filed earlier this month by a leading religious conservative litigation shop, even this degree of accommodation is insufficient to satisfy the most vehement objectors to birth control. Indeed, if the courts ultimately accept the arguments presented by this court filing, that would leave the administration largely powerless to ensure that workers whose employers object to birth control still receive contraceptive coverage. The alleged rights of the employer would trump the rights of the employee.
The court filing is a motion filed by the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty — the same Becket Fund that represented Hobby Lobby in its successful lawsuit in the Supreme Court — on behalf of Ave Maria University, a conservative Catholic school which claims that “any action ‘specifically intended to prevent procreation’ — including contraception and sterilization — is morally wrong.” In its motion, Becket asks a federal court in Florida to grant Ave Maria a temporary exemption from the federal rules governing birth control coverage while its litigation against the government proceeds.
What’s unusual about this motion, however, is that it specifically denies that the Obama Administration’s latest accommodation for religious objectors is sufficient. “Rather than simply requiring notice that Ave Maria is a religious nonprofit with a religious objection,” the motion complains, “the augmented rule would require Ave Marie [sic] to provide its insurance company’s name and contact information for the specific purpose of allowing HHS to issue a notice requiring the insurer to provide the exact same items through Ave Maria’s healthcare plan as if Ave Maria had given the insurer Form 700 directly.”
To translate this a bit, “Form 700″ is the form religious objectors were required to submit under a previous attempt to accommodate their sentiments regarding birth control. Under that regime, employers who object to birth control on religious grounds could exempt themselves from providing contraceptive coverage by filling out this short form, which required them to disclose the identity of their insurance administrator. Once the government has this form in hand, they would then contact this insurance company and arrange for it to provide contraceptive coverage to the religious objector’s employees without requiring the objector to provide this coverage itself. Notably, the Supreme Court’s opinion in Hobby Lobby strongly suggests that the just-fill-out-this-form accommodation is sufficient to overcome any legal objections to the overall regime for providing birth control to employees.
Nevertheless, several religious employers objected to the fill-out-the-form solution, so the Obama Administration granted them a further accommodation — permitting them to exempt themselves from the birth control rules without having to fill out any particular form at all, so long as the government learns who their insurance administrator is. Without this information, the government has no way of knowing which insurance company should provide contraceptive coverage to employees who are denied this coverage by their employer, and thus the entire system breaks down.
Ave Maria’s objection is not exactly surprising, as we explained shortly after the Obama Administration announced its latest accommodation, “employers who have raised the staunchest objections to birth control have often claimed that they cannot take any action that will set in motion a chain of events that leads to someone receiving contraception, as doing so would make them ‘complicit’ in the act of providing birth control,” but their objection is nonetheless significant because it reveals what the stakes actually are in the follow-up cases to Hobby Lobby. If the justices honor Ave Maria’s idiosyncratic objection, then it is unclear that the administration could design any accommodation that will survive contact with the Supreme Court.
Maybe these politicians aren’t doing the math, but we are. More cost = less access.
The topic of today’s “Faith and Freedom” radio program was the lawsuit filed by the Little Sisters of the Poor against Obamacare’s contraception accommodation for non-profit religious organizations, which Matt Barber and Mat Staver once again compared to Nazi Germany.
Under the accommodation, non-profit religious organizations that object to providing contraceptive coverage for employees simply have to file a letter noting their objections and then they “will not have to contract, arrange, pay for or refer contraceptive coverage to which they object on religious grounds” as such contraception coverage will then be provided separately by the insurance provider.
That compromise, to Barber and Staver, is nothing short of pure evil and no different than the Nazis forcing people to gas the Jews.
"If you are being forced to pay for the gas in the chamber that is injected into that chamber to kill a Jew, that’s one thing." Staver said. "On the other hand, if you are required to say ‘you go right, you go left,’ the ones that go to the left, they go to the gas chamber, you don’t have to pay for that, but you have to make the decision to do it, it’s the same thing. Whether I have to exchange a dollar or ten dollars or a thousand dollars to facilitate the death of a human being or whether I have to say ‘I can’t do it, I can’t pull the trigger so therefore don’t make me pull the trigger,’ consequently since I’ve objected now a third party has to pull the trigger. There’s no difference."
Barber agreed, saying that those who object “are still being forced to be complicit in that abortion homicide,” which is exactly what President Obama wants because he “in large part, lives his life to enable people to kill others.”
"This is good versus evil," Barber said, "and there’s little question who’s on the side of good here and who’s on the side of evil":
h/t: Kyle Mantyla at RWW
The Obama administration has issued a new set of rules to provide contraceptive access to women whose employers object to their insurance plans covering birth control, which is required under the Affordable Care Act.
The new policies are intended to fill gaps left by two Supreme Court moves: The landmark Hobby Lobby decision saying contraceptive coverage violated the religious liberty of a for-profit corporation, and a preliminary order in Wheaton College v. Burwell. With today’s regulations, employees of for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby will be able to access an “accommodation” where the insurer directly provides the cost-free coverage with no financial involvement by the employer. That accommodation was originally limited to religiously-affiliated nonprofits like Little Sisters of the Poor; houses of worship are fully exempt.
For nonprofits like Wheaton College that object to even that accommodation – which involves them signing a form to their insurer – the Obama administration has created a new accommodation to the accommodation. (Yes, it gets complicated.)
“The rules, which are in response to recent court decisions, balance our commitment to helping ensure women have continued access to coverage for preventive services important to their health, with the Administration’s goal of respecting religious beliefs,” Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell said.
For the non-profits that object to the form – arguing that signing it triggers the very birth control coverage they oppose – the new rule allows those employers to write to HHS directly, instead of filling out the form. The Supreme Court first suggested the letter-writing option, and so far the litigants have accepted it. But there was some dispute among legal scholars before about whether the letter would result in actual coverage for the women who worked at those companies. The new rule clarifies that it does.
HHS is also seeking comment on exactly how to structure its accommodation for for-profit companies like Hobby Lobby, which is only one of 193 corporations that have sued for an exemption from covering contraception.
In June, the Supreme Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act’s rule that all insurance plans cover contraception without a co-pay as preventative care was a burden on the religious freedom of Hobby Lobby and other “closely held” companies. (That decision now guides courts considering other companies with objections to some or all forms of contraception.) The majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, said the government failed to show it had pursued the least restrictive way of getting women contraceptive coverage, and as proof pointed to the non-profit accommodation as “a system that seeks to respect the religious liberty of religious nonprofit corporations.”
A few days later, when asked to prevent Wheaton College, one of the nonprofits suing over the accommodation, from having to fill out the accommodation form to their insurer while their litigation proceeded, a majority of Justices said Wheaton could write a letter instead. Justice Sonia Sotomayor, in a fierce dissent signed by the other two female Justices, accused the court of going back on its word in Hobby Lobby, writing, “Let me be absolutely clear: I do not doubt that Wheaton genuinely believes that signing the self-certification form is contrary to its religious beliefs. But thinking one’s religious beliefs are substantially burdened … does not make it so.”
At the time, Wheaton hailed the letter-writing option as a victory, but it’s far from clear that the new accommodations will mollify all of the plaintiffs now that it’s clear the end result will be women getting no-cost contraception.
In July, after the government signaled it would issue the new rules announced today, Lori Windham, Senior Counsel for the Becket Fund, which represents Wheaton College and several other nonprofit litigants, said, “This is just the latest step in the government’s long retreat on the HHS Mandate. It is at least the seventh time in three years that the government has retreated from its original, hard-line stance that only “houses of worship” that hire and serve fellow believers deserve religious freedom.” Windham did not say whether the letter-writing option would ultimately be satisfactory, but said, “We are encouraged that the government is reviewing its policies.”
At oral argument for Hobby Lobby, Justice Sotomayor asked the company’s attorney, Paul Clement, “Will your clients claim that filling out the form, if – you’re saying they would claim an exemption like the churches have already?” She was referring to the case of the Little Sisters of the Poor, which like Wheaton College is a religiously-affiliated nonprofit that had sued for an exemption, saying the accommodation was not enough. The Supreme Court had told the Little Sisters it could write a letter to HHS instead of filling out the form.
Clement’s reply was cagey. “We haven’t been offered that accommodation, so we haven’t had to decide what kind of objection, if any, we would make to that. But it’s important to recognize that as I understand that litigation, 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. And whatever the answer is for Little Sisters of the Poor, presumably you can extend the same thing to my clients and there wouldn’t be a problem with that.”
Indeed, Marty Lederman, a professor at Georgetown Law School who has written extensively about the contraceptive cases, wrote in July of the letter option, “I think it is likely that most of those organizations will not be satisfied: They will argue that such a ‘fix,’ too, violates their rights under RFRA, because their act of opting out will continue to establish the legal authority for the government to require another party to provide coverage.”
In other words, the legal fights against the Obama administration over contraceptive coverage aren’t going anywhere anytime soon.
A Christian college in eastern Pennsylvania has filed suit in federal court, fighting the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that it provide access to a third-party administrator, which could offer services including the “Plan B” morning-after pill to their employees, according to The Mercury News.
Valley Forge Christian College, located in Phoenixville, filed the suit stating that it objected to being compelled to participate, “indirectly with, or transferring any legal or moral authority by which a third party might enable the provision of such services to the employees of Valley Forge Christian College.”
The college’s objection stems from the “accommodation” provision of the ACA, which allows non-profits to opt out of providing contraceptives by employing a third-party administrator or insurer.
According to the lawsuit, “Valley Forge Christian College has no objection to providing coverage for contraceptive drugs which truly — and only — prevent conception and do not interfere with the continued survival of a human embryo.”
At issue for the small college affiliated with the conservative Assemblies of God, is what it considers “abortion-related drugs and procedures,” including Plan B.
The claims are similar to ones made in the recent Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision, where the plaintiffs called Plan B an “abortion-causing drug.”
Critics have pointed out that Plan B is not an abortifacient, citing the FDA’s description: “Plan B One-Step will not stop a pregnancy when a woman is already pregnant and there is no medical evidence that the product will harm a developing fetus.”
With the lawsuit, Valley Forge is using the same argument used in Hobby Lobby: their belief that the drug is used for abortions.
Should Valley Forge fail to provide access to a third party administrator it would face fines of $100 per day per beneficiary under provisions of the Affordable Care Act.
“In its recent ‘Hobby Lobby’ decision, the Supreme Court of the United States made clear that citizens cannot be forced to choose between violating their faith and being punished by the government for following their faith,” explained Jeff Mateer, general counsel for Liberty Institute, which filed the suit along with a local law firm.
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, named in the suit, referred all questions to the U.S. Department of Justice, which has yet to respond to the Friday filing.
When the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that businesses get to decide whether their female employees should have access to contraception, five conservative men disagreed with three women and Justice Stephen G. Breyer. This gender split could have been incidental, since the three women on the court were appointed by Democratic presidents. But it also signifies a deeper misunderstanding about the experience of women, U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg told Yahoo News’ Katie Couric in an interview this week.
“Do you believe that the five male justices truly understood the ramifications of their decision?” Couric asked Ginsburg this week. “I would have to say no,” Ginsburg replied. “But the justices continue to think and change so I am ever hopeful that if the court has a blind spot today, its eyes will be open tomorrow.”
“Contraceptive protection is something every woman must have access to, to control her own destiny,” Ginsburg told Couric. The decision allowing an employer to refuse to cover those contraceptives “meant that women would have of that for themselves.”
She analogized the “blind spot” the justices had in this case to that in the 2007 ruling against plaintiff Lilly Ledbetter, a woman whose fair pay lawsuit was rejected by the court. She has framed on her wall the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, passed by Congress two years later to correct the Supreme Court ruling in which she dissented. It was the first piece of legislation signed by President Barack Obama.
Ginsburg said the passage of the law is one of her proudest achievements, because in her dissent to that case, “I said the ball is now in Congress’ court to correct the error into which the court has fallen. And Congress did it in record time.”
Lawmakers have already proposed the “Not My Bosses’ Business Act” since the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision in June. But Republicans in the Senate blocked the bill from moving forward.
In her interview with Couric, Ginsburg praised the U.S. tradition of dissents, noting that “many of those dissents are now unquestionably the law of the land,” pointing to Justice John M. Harlan’s dissent to the separate but equal ruling in Plessy v. Ferguson.
In her 35-page dissent in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Ginsburg lambasted the majority for asserting that employers have religious rights that trump those of employees.
“I certainly respect the belief of the Hobby Lobby owners,” Ginsburg told Couric. “On the other hand, they have no constitutional right to foist that belief on the hundreds and hundreds of women who work for them who don’t share that belief. I had never seen the free exercise of religion clause interpreted in such a way.”
She explained how the law is supposed to work with an analogy she used in her dissent: A person has freedom to move his or her arms until it “hits the other fellow’s nose.” “It’s the same way with speech. Same way with religion. You can exercise your right freely until the point where it is affecting other people who don’t share your views.”
On the male justices’ future evolution, Ginsburg said she believes that “daughters can change the perception of their fathers.” She also believes that progress wins out over the course of history. Asked about the landmark Citizens United ruling that struck down limits on corporate political spending, Ginsburg said she believes her dissent in that case will also one day be the law of the land.
“That is my expectation,” she said. “I may not be around to see it but it will happen.”
Above the framed copy of the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act in her chambers, Ginsburg has a photograph of the signing of the act, given to her by President Obama with a personal message. “Happy birthday,” he wrote, “and thanks for helping to create a more equal and just society.”
She’s right on.
h/t: Nicole Flatow at Think Progress Justice
Call the denial of contraceptive coverage what it is: discrimination.
In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, an all-male U.S. Supreme Court majority granted exemptions to “closely held corporations" that refuse to offer contraceptive coverage in employee health plans. In response, many have thrown up their hands, asking, Why should women have any faith in the law if it can’t even protect us from this?
But here’s the thing: It does. Employers who single out contraceptives as undeserving of coverage don’t only violate ethical expectations of gender equality. They also violate federal anti-discrimination law.
Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of sex, including enacting policies that, while gender-neutral on their face, disproportionately hurt either men or women. Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978 to clarify that it meant for Title VII to protect employees from discrimination based on pregnancy — even though such policies and harassment technically did not single out one sex, just “pregnant people” versus “non-pregnant people.” Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, pregnancy discrimination constitutes sex discrimination.
Title VII can apply to not only pregnancy but also the potentiality of pregnancy, so corporations that single out contraceptives while covering other medical care discriminate based on gender. According to a January 2000 Title VII ruling issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (as well as multiple lower court decisions), the very exclusion the court appeared to authorize in Hobby Lobby constitutes a violation of federal nondiscrimination employment law.
Just last week, in the wake of the Hobby Lobby decision, the EEOC issued new guidance on pregnancy discrimination, reaffirming that excluding contraception from an employer health plan that covers other preventive services amounts to sex discrimination. The Hobby Lobby decision did not address Title VII simply because the court wasn’t asked to. The lawsuit was a challenge from corporations seeking to get out from under the contraceptive mandate, not a discrimination claim by the craft chain’s employees.
Nonetheless, the justices should have considered the anti-discrimination law on the books. By ignoring the discriminatory aspects of the denials, the Hobby Lobby majority was able to argue that the government’s interest in protecting contraceptive access could not sustain the Religious Freedom Restoration Act challenge mounted by the objecting corporations.
However, the government’s interest, as expressed in Title VII and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, in protecting people who are or have the potential to be pregnant from discrimination could — and should — have been marshaled to tip the scale against Hobby Lobby.
We may still see a successful Title VII challenge to employer insurance policies that deny contraceptive coverage. Just because the Affordable Care Act can’t require closely held corporations to follow its mandate doesn’t mean anti-discrimination laws can’t produce the same result.
It’s important to call the denial of contraceptive coverage what it is: illegal discrimination. The policies in question in Hobby Lobby are not merely the stuff of culture wars. They discriminate against women in violation of a civil-rights law passed half a century ago.
The White House has announced it will no longer require non-profit religious organizations to fill out a form in order to opt out of furnishing contraception coverage for employees.
The Affordable Care Act, (ACA) colloquially known as Obamacare, will soon have revised procedures that will allow non-profit religious organizations to avoid providing contraception coverage to its employees.
A spokesman identified as a “senior administration official” assured CNN they had found a “fix” that would allow religious organizations to opt out, while ensuring their employees will still have contraception coverage with no co-pay:
"In light of the Supreme Court order regarding Wheaton College, the Departments intend to augment their regulations to provide an alternative way for objecting nonprofit religious organizations to provide notification, while ensuring that enrollees in plans of such organizations receive separate coverage of contraceptive services without cost sharing"
The move is a pre-emptive one by administration officials, who anticipate that the Supreme Court could soon make final - and extend to other religious institutions - a temporary order that currently allows one Christian college (Wheaton) to refuse its employees contraception coverage, without first filling out the ACA required form stating their objection. College officials claim even filling out the form violates their religious beliefs.
The Justice Department filed a brief with the Supreme Court yesterday, notifying the High Court of new rules governing the religious exemption accommodation process that will no longer require the use of a form, before they finalize their Wheaton College ruling. The brief said the rules will apply to Wheaton and any other institutions to which the Supreme Court might extend the religious exemption.
A White House spokesman said the new procedures, which are still being finalized, will provide an “alternative way for objecting nonprofit religious organizations to provide notification.” He added that ”the administration believes the accommodation is legally sound.”
The new procedures are expected to be in place next month, at which time the Justice Department will notify the Supreme Court.
Republican-majority legislatures in many red states are gorging themselves on new laws to restrict safe, legal abortion out of existence, but things have been pretty stable for the women of Tennessee, a state that has 14 doctors providing abortion, compared to a mere eight in Alabama and two in Mississippi….
Republican-majority legislatures in many red states are gorging themselves on new laws to restrict safe, legal abortion out of existence, but things have been pretty stable for the women of Tennessee, a state that has 14 doctors providing abortion, compared with a mere eight in Alabama and two in Mississippi. Because of this, 1 in 4 women getting an abortion in Tennessee hails from out of state.
One major reason it’s relatively easy to get a safe abortion in Tennessee is a state Supreme Court decision in 2000 that held that “a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy is a vital part of the right to privacy guaranteed by the Tennessee Constitution,” meaning that medically unnecessary abortion restrictions are largely unconstitutional.
Now anti-choicers are pushing back, advocating for a ballot measure called Amendment 1 that would amend the state constitution to single out abortion as the one medical procedure not covered by the privacy rights enshrined elsewhere in the state constitution. “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion,” reads the proposed amendment, and activists on both sides of the issue are pouring money into the campaign to determine whether state legislators can be free to pass laws restricting safe abortion access in the state. “We’ve been trying to put this back to a neutral position to say that the legislators should be the ones setting this policy, not liberal courts,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey told an audience at a fundraiser last November.
So far, polling data shows that the anti-abortion side isn’t doing well in the polls, with 71 percent of voters opposing attempts to give the legislature more power to regulate abortion and even a majority of Republicans disliking this proposed amendment.
Anti-choice efforts to turn public opinion in their favor seem misguided, if you ask me. According to ThinkProgress, “They’ve even enlisted Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, who star in the TLC reality show ‘19 Kids and Counting,’ to drum up public support for Amendment 1.” People may like that TV show, but if you’re trying to persuade voters to support anti-choice laws, it’s probably not wise to put extremist Christian fundamentalists who believe you should have a bazillion children at the front of your campaign. For most of us, living like the Duggars sounds like a nightmare, regardless of your position on abortion. Putting them out front only serves to confirm people’s worst fears about the end goals of the anti-choice movement.
Much to the chagrin of women’s rights advocates, Hobby Lobby has won its legal battle — but claims of “victory” for religious freedom must be emended. Make no mistake: This is no victory for the freedom to exercise Christian principles. Though employers like Hobby Lobby are now free to deny women access to contraceptives through their employer-subsidized health plans on the basis of religious objection, they will be violating their own purported Christian principles if they do. While Christians are not compelled by their faith to engage in religious practices that impose upon the freedoms of others, they are compelled — by their belief that all persons, men and women, are created in the image of God — to oppose discrimination.
Some corporations that have objected to the contraceptive requirements of the Affordable Care Act, like Hobby Lobby, claim that they do not wish to discriminate against women by denying them access to contraceptives generally, and that their opposition is merely to abortion. However, their understanding of which medications act as abortifacients rests on an outdated understanding of medical science and is at odds with the facts of the matter. Use of these contraceptive methods is not tantamount to abortion, and moreover, providing women with access to safe, reliable contraceptives for free drastically reduces the actual abortion rate.
It is likely that women will ultimately retain coverage, anyhow, though religious employers are now able to legally withhold it. The Supreme Court assumed in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that the government has a compelling interest in ensuring that women have full access to preventive care. It appears that a majority of the court believes that this interest is compelling. The issue still under real legal dispute is how that coverage will be provided.
One suggestion is that the Obama administration extend to closely held, for-profit corporations the same accommodation already in place for religiously affiliated nonprofits. If a corporation objects, on religious grounds, to covering contraceptives in its health plan, it can fill out a two-page form, with five questions (two of which are providing a signature and the date), self-certifying that it meets the requirements for religious accommodation. By submitting this form, employees will be provided contraceptive coverage directly from their insurance company rather than through their employer.
This very exemption, however, currently faces its own legal threat from some Christian religious organizations, which claim that notifying the government of their objections to contraceptive use is itself religiously objectionable, as doing so will “trigger” the provision of coverage by a third party. The University of Notre Dame and Wheaton College are among several institutions that have brought such challenges. There is very little sense to be made of claims that your freedom of religion is substantially burdened by someone else’s providing services that you do not want to provide yourself. This suggests that the legal challenges are not merely aimed at allowing corporations to abstain from facilitating behavior they deem immoral but instead are seeking to effectively prevent women from engaging in that “immoral” behavior by keeping financial barriers for women, and administrative barriers for the government, in place.
This is economic coercion. Opponents to the contraceptive mandate have insisted that women remain free to purchase whatever health care services they choose, but this is woefully insensitive to the reality that low-income women and families face. For these women, there is a very large difference between what is available to them for purchase in principle and in effect. It is easy for those who do not regularly face desperate decisions due to financial insecurity or medical complexities to forget the difference. An intrauterine device, for example, can cost a low-income full-time worker more than a month’s wages. For some women, this is both the safest and most effective medical option, yet hopelessly unaffordable.
This kind of economic coercion is distinctly at odds with Christian principles. There is only one incident described in the Christian scriptures where Jesus is represented as employing coercive force, and it was not used to prevent people from engaging in sin. It was used, instead, to prevent people from dishonoring God by exploiting religious practice for personal gain. The gospels describe Jesus’ reaction to those who sought to profit from the Passover pilgrimage to the temple as fierce: “And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, ‘Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.’” This is where corporations that claim their operations constitute religious practice of the Christian faith ought to take note.
Read previous contributions to this series.
Hobby Lobby offered coverage for some of the contraceptives it now claims its religious faith forbids it to have any association with, until shortly after the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom asked it if it would be interested in filing suit. The company continues to profit from investments in the manufacturers of the “objectionable” contraceptives through the 401(k) plan it offers its employees. Recently, Hobby Lobby has faced legal trouble for false advertising. It has built a fortune, in large part, by selling goods manufactured in China, infamous for its poor labor conditions and related human rights violations. These are the practices of a corporation that will emphasize the Christian faith of its owners when convenient and profitable, but set that faith aside when it would be costly to do otherwise.
Hobby Lobby is not the only corporation which has objected to the law through what seems to be quite selective applications of Christian principle. Offering health care coverage as called for by the Affordable Care Act is morally permissible according to the Catholic philosophical tradition, and the sincerity of institutions like the University of Notre Dame is questionable.
The more pressing question religious corporations should ask themselves is whether denying women comprehensive health care while providing it to men, and so failing to respect women’s inherent dignity and equality, is consistent with their religious values. Since the Supreme Court focused on the practical effects at stake (that is, whether women would be able to obtain coverage elsewhere, and thus by a less restrictive means) rather than on the expressive function of the law, Hobby Lobby is now free to discriminate in its provision of health care. But the question remains, why would it want to?
Since Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger coined the term “birth control” in 1914, contraception has truly revolutionized women’s lives in the United States, and around the world. Brush up on your birth control history, and see just how far we’ve come in 100 years.
Anyone who thinks you can just walk into a convenience store and get the affordable birth control you need clearly has no understanding about the reality of women’s lives — and no business making decisions about them.
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