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Mandate Exemption Protects Vital Religious Freedom

Last Friday, the Trump administration put forth an interim final rule to roll back the HHS mandate for religious employers to cover contraception in their health insurance plans. This is a victory for religious freedom and for the religious groups who have been fighting for this since female contraception was added to the list of preventative services covered by the Affordable Care Act in 2011. Most notably, much of the impetus for this ruling came from the Little Sisters of the Poor, a group of Roman Catholic nuns, in Zubik v. Burwell. Objecting to the mandate on the basis of their religious beliefs against funding contraceptives, abortifacients, and sterilizations, the Little Sisters of the Poor sought to have their First Amendment rights upheld. According to the new HHS mandate, which is only an interim rule, the Little Sisters of the Poor, and similar religious groups, are provided an exemption from the original mandate:

“These interim final rules expand exemptions to protect religious beliefs for certain entities and individuals whose health plans are subject to a mandate of contraceptive coverage through guidance issued pursuant to the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act. These rules do not alter the discretion of the Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA), a component of the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to maintain the guidelines requiring contraceptive coverage where no regulatorily recognized objection exists… Because FDA includes in the category of “contraceptives” certain drugs and devices that may not only prevent conception (fertilization), but may also prevent implantation of an embryo, the IOM’s recommendation included several contraceptive methods that many persons and organizations believe are abortifacient—that is, as causing early abortion—and which they conscientiously oppose for that reason distinct from whether they also oppose contraception or sterilization.”

These facts and the reasoning behind this mandate seem to have been lost on the staff at the Daily Collegian. In their recent article, titled “Employers should provide birth control coverage for women regardless of religious beliefs,” author Antonia Jaramillo falsely reports that “employers no longer have to provide birth control coverage for women.” As seen above, the exemption only applies to religious groups, whose members refuse to use or purchase contraceptives personally and reject the mandate that they buy into insurance plans that would subsidize contraceptives. This would have no effect on women’s access to contraceptives for those who want them; the Little Sisters of the Poor are celibate and morally opposed to contraception.

In the typical collectivist fashion, Jaramillo presumes to speak on behalf of all women with her use of first person, diverting the issue away from religious freedom and turning instead to sexism. This is nonsense. The article goes off on a tangent, focusing on the benefits of taking birth control for non-contraceptive purposes and using that as justification for forcing religious group to subsidize contraceptives. She insinuates that to not support all forms of female hormone therapy is sexist, which ignores the real issue at hand and attempts to turn the religious freedom argument into a strawman. The moral issue with funding birth control concerns its contraceptive and abortifacient nature, not the other health reasons why a woman may elect to take synthetic hormones. Contraceptives are the problem for these religious groups, not the use of hormones in women’s health care for other purposes. In addition, the theological qualms of certain groups are irrelevant, as they do not impede access to contraceptives for those who want it.

This has nothing to do with sexism or controlling women’s bodies, but since every piece of conservative legislation seems to be viewed in that ridiculously dim light, here are a few articles on the subject written by women, which magically gives them more validity in the eyes of the left: here, here, and here. Jaramillo writes that “for employers to take that benefit away from women displays a certain level of ignorance that appall and disgust us.” As a woman myself, and as evident by the articles of these women above, this does not, in fact, “appall and disgust us.” The new mandate may appall and disgust you, but you do not speak for me or for all women. We are individuals, and we have different values, beliefs, and principles. As independent thinkers, some of us happen to be religious and morally opposed to subsidizing contraceptives, which is much more pertinent than agreeing with whatever talking point is uttered by my fellow “sister” who seems more interested in using women to push a political position.

Jaramillo then claims that “Regardless of religious beliefs, providing birth control coverage to women does not impede on anyone’s religion.” In fact it does; hence the controversy. The issue here is not that women are obtaining contraceptives, but that religious employers are forced to buy into insurance plans that subsidize contraceptives. The groups that qualify for the exemption, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, have no interest in taking advantage of the contraception coverage. So why go on about how birth control is the saving grace of women everywhere? They simply do not want to be forced to subsidize products that they will not personally use and are morally opposed to. It should not matter why they oppose certain products or practices; no one should be forced to pay for something, and thus participate in it, against their will, especially if that transaction would violate their religion.

Ironically, her article then states that “Instead of preventing women from attaining birth control, we should instead inform and provide the option for them to have access to it.”  The key word here would be “option,” something that a mandate inherently lacks. If the Little Sisters of the Poor refused the “option” of subsidizing contraceptives, they would be fined $70 million dollars, annually. Kind of doesn’t seem like an option, does it? Even if this exemption was a blanket rule, which it isn’t, lifting a mandate for contraception coverage would not prevent women from obtaining (not “attaining”) birth control elsewhere. For one, employers would likely still provide coverage anyway, as more benefits would attract employees; they would just no longer be legally compelled too. Also, women would still be entirely free to purchase their own contraceptives.

To suggest that women are incapable of paying for their own contraceptives and somehow disadvantaged without government subsidies is a bit sexist, no?  And what’s even more insulting is assuming that women need contraceptives at all, as if self-control is so difficult for women that without government subsidized contraceptives, unplanned pregnancies would be rampant. According to the CDC, only 24% of women aged 15-44 use contraceptives anyway, as the pill, IUD, or other methods. This is not an issue that affects most women, and many women, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, are even directly opposed to the use of contraceptives. Stop making this about sexism when it clearly concerns religious liberty. No service or product can ever be a right, but the freedom to express your own religious beliefs is.

Get your facts straight, Collegian; these dreadfully biased opinion pieces do not suit you.

Sarah Nahrgang

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