Change The Birth Control Conversation from Theocratic to Democratic

The fight against birth control coverage smacks of theocratic thinking – the notion that government ought to be ruled by or subject to religious authority. Clearly we need a much more inclusive conversation about religion and reproduction. That’s the goal of the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice’s (RCRC) “I’m a Fan of Birth Control” campaign, which is bringing diverse voices of faith into the conversation.

The culture warriors who are dominating the current conversation claim the religious liberty of their institutions is being violated by required coverage of contraception. Their argument is out of touch with reality. It ignores the rich diversity of religious views in America today, the fact that religious freedom applies to individuals, and the compelling interest to expand availability of contraception.

Putting institutional creeds above individual needs goes against basic democratic values.

Despite the impression that the Catholic hierarchy and its Religious Right allies speak for all religions, they don’t. Including contraceptive coverage in the new health care law is perfectly compatible with official positions of many of the nation’s religious bodies. The United Methodist Church holds that health care – including contraception – is a basic right. United Methodist official Jim Winkler says, “Religious freedom is not violated by denying religiously affiliated hospitals, universities and other institutions the right to discriminate on the basis of race or gender.”

From an independent Baptist perspective, scholar Valerie Elverton Dixon says that exempting religiously affiliated employers from covering contraception would violate the First Amendment – by establishing a religious principle in the law – and the Fourteenth Amendment – by denying women equal protection under the law.

Reverend Dr. Alethea Smith-Withers of the RCRC Board of Directors says that “While we respect differing religious views on contraception, the fact is that the religiously-affiliated employers that object to birth control being covered in their health plans are publicly funded, serve the public, and employ people of all faiths. They must comply with the law.” Strictly religious institutions such as churches that exist to inculcate religious faith are already exempt from this law.

Expanded access to birth control is very important to RCRC as an organization dedicated to reproductive justice. RCRC believes that society has a responsibility to create the economic, social and cultural conditions that support all of its members. The decision to become pregnant and have children is one of the most important decisions couples and individuals can make and affects not only the family but also the community and society as a whole. Access to birth control should be a national priority and should be covered by health plans and insurers as preventive care.

Including contraception without co-pays in all health care plans directly addresses a key disparity in our health care system. A lower-income woman is four times as likely to have an unintended pregnancy and five times as likely to have an unintended birth as a higher-income woman. If we are serious about alleviating poverty, contraception must be universally accessible.

Across all economic levels, increased access to contraception will help to build strong families, protect the health of women and children, reduce child and spousal abuse, prevent unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases, and treat serious medical conditions.

This is a matter of justice. Let’s put the Religious Right’s unconvincing “religious freedom” argument where it belongs, in the dustbin of history. Theocratic thinking has nothing to do with the needs and values of our democracy.

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