Today the Supreme Court announced it will hear two cases concerning the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that companies’ insurance plans cover birth control. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties claim the mandate violates their belief against certain kinds of contraception—pitting female employees’ right to a nondiscriminatory health plan against a company’s religious freedom. (I also fervently hope these companies are fighting as hard to ensure that their unmarried male employees don’t have access to sin-pills like Viagra.)
Most American women—99 percent—will use birth control at some point in their lives. Twenty-seven million women are being covered by this provision right now. So I have to wonder what companies that don’t want to cover birth control will tell their female employees should the contraception mandate be struck down. Abstinence? Aspirin between the knees, perhaps?
There’s also an incredibly slippery slope here—if employees’ health plans have to adhere to company owners’ religious beliefs, what happens if your boss doesn’t believe in vaccinations? Or as Guardian columnist Jill Filipovic tweeted, “What if your blood transfusions violate your employer’s religious beliefs? No surgery coverage?” Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America said in a statement, “Allowing this intrusion into personal decisions by their bosses opens a door that won’t easily be shut.”
Judy Waxman, vice president of health and reproductive rights at the National Women’s Law Center, says these scenarios are real possibilities. “What if an employer believes women should be subservient and doesn’t believe in providing the same wage and hours for them as male employees?” She relayed one case where a private school denied health insurance to married women, because school management believed husbands are the “head of the household” and should provide for their wives.
The truth is that this is not about religious freedom, it’s about sexism, and a fear of women’s sexuality. When Sandra Fluke testified in favor for birth control coverage, she wasn’t criticized for trying to curtail religious freedom—she was called a ‘slut’ and a ‘prostitute’. When the FDA held up over-the-counter status of emergency contraception for years, it wasn’t because of the medication’s efficacy or potential health risks but because of a fear it would make girls promiscuous. The same thing happened when the HPV vaccine was being reviewed. Just this morning, I came across a conservative political cartoon that really says it all.
Reproductive health needs are just that—health needs. But because we live in a country that has a ridiculous hang-up over women and sex, we’re still debating the morality of birth control and calling women whores instead of giving them the care they need. We know why conservatives want to limit birth control access—they show their true colors every day. So let’s not pretend these cases are about religious freedom or employer’s rights. Call it what it is: misogyny.
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