Growing up a New Yorker, I was fortunate enough to live in a state that mandated insurance plans cover birth control. Growing up the daughter of a nurse who was employed by a Catholic hospital, I was not fortunate enough to ever actually reap the benefits of this policy. My mother is not a Catholic woman, and neither are the great majority of nurses, doctors and support staff she works with. However, New York state law also provided her Catholic employer the right exclude birth control coverage for their employees and families of diverse backgrounds based on the principal of religious freedom.
This summer, our country took strides toward gender equality beyond the New York law when Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued guidelines under the Affordable Care Act requiring private insurance plans to cover a comprehensive range of women’s preventive care – without a co-pay. But, as we have seen over and over this year, there are people in this country who are afraid that women’s equality will jeopardize their profits and the status quo that they benefit from.
Leading this charge is the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops and the Catholic Health Association who are currently arguing to expand the religious exemption to include all religious institutions. Currently, the exemption would only include non-profit religious organizations that primarily employ and serve persons following those same religious tenets.
Being covered under my mother’s insurance for most of my life, our lack of coverage forced my mother and I to instead pay full price for contraception to keep me healthy. We paid an average of $60 a month, and it’s worthwhile to note that my mother was graced with three daughters. That’s four women unable to access basic preventive health care, at a cost of about $240 per month. My mother worked extremely hard and was committed to enabling us all to control our reproductive lives, which is why I was fortunate enough to never have experienced an unplanned pregnancy.
But millions of women who work for faith-based organizations do not necessarily have the resources to provide the help that my m0ther did. The intention of the Affordable Care Act is to allow individuals and families to access the care they need – as determined by their doctor’s advice and their own personal beliefs – regardless of their employment status or “pre-existing condition.” It can also easily be argued that denying coverage based upon a single religious belief is in fact a greater violation of religious freedom than allowing individuals to make those decisions for themselves.
It is dangerous and unfair to exclude millions of women and families from this care because of the beliefs of a powerful few at the top. Our values as Americans reflect this; not only do 71% of American voters support birth control coverage without co-pay, and that number goes up among Catholic women with 77% of Catholic women voters in support of the policy.
Cross posted from Feminist Campus