What’s Left: Victory or Flub?



Dena Robinson

Last week, President Barack Obama implemented a new rule mandating that reli­gious schools and hospitals provide insurance coverage for birth control to their employ­ees. Part of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act enacted in March 2010, it provides women with access to free birth control.

Republicans and Conservative Democrats have taken issue with this mandate, spe­cifically because they believe it goes against the constitutional protections for religion. As a feminist, I am deeply committed to women having complete access to all facets of reproductive care and health, including preventive care. However, as a feminist who is also equally committed to constitutional rights and protections, I am unsure of whether to praise or shun Obama’s rule.

Despite numerous criticisms of Obama’s mandate, many states have had rules on the books that essentially achieve the same goal. For instance, in New Hamp­shire there are laws that require insurance coverage for contraceptive services without religious exemptions.

Religious organizations in the state have been covering contraceptive services for years, but are now changing tune due to Obama’s mandate, saying that it violates their religious beliefs. The issue I take with this is whether religious beliefs should trump individual rights.

Is it possible to comply with federal law without liking said law? All women and men should have access to comprehensive insurance that covers all things including family planning services, contraceptive services and the like.

I do not think that religious beliefs can be touted as the reason to limit those rights that, I believe, are intrinsic. This issue is aligned with conscience clauses, which prevent healthcare providers, including pharmacists and nurses, from declining to treat patients seeking reproductive or contraceptive services because of their religious beliefs. It does not seem horrible to me to suggest that, while religious beliefs can be maintained, people still deserve adequate medical care, including contraceptive care. While the mandate may somewhat infringe on religious beliefs, it allows insurers to provide adequate birth control coverage in their plans.

Despite the intrinsic benefits of the plans, I fully acknowledge that some religious­ly affiliated organizations may view this as an assault on their religious beliefs, mainly because their insurance companies will be forced to provide coverage for services that violate said beliefs.

However, it is unfair for these religiously affiliated organizations and leaders in Con­gress to criticize the Obama Administration for enacting a law that has already been enacted in the past by several states. Why have those states not been charged by a similar decree?

Ultimately, it is important to strike a balance between a woman’s right to healthy, low-cost preventive care and maintenance of the protection of religious beliefs. Here, that balance may not be apparent, but what is discernible is that the Obama Administration has made a commitment to preserving women’s rights in healthcare.

Contact Dena Robinson at [email protected]