The one-year anniversary of the devastating tornado that blew through Joplin on May 22, 2011, had Missouri residents paying tribute yesterday to the courageous survivors and 163 lives that were lost during the disaster. But for the past year, another storm has been brewing, one with the potential to affect many millions more.
“We’re telling [women] that their employer knows better about family planning than they do.”
What’s been dubbed the “War on Women” is a battle going on in a number of states over a mandate in the Affordable Care Act that requires all employers, including those with religious affiliations, to offer birth control in their healthcare plans. Not surprisingly, the provision has conservative and religious groups up in arms.
Back in February, seven states sued over the controversial mandate.
Last week, the Missouri House successfully voted to repeal the mandate, passing a bill that would give its employers the right to refuse workers health care coverage for birth control on religious or ethical grounds. Rep. Stacey Newman, a Democrat who opposed the measure, said: “We’re telling [women] that their employer knows better about family planning than they do.”
The Show-Me State is now the latest in a gang of states that have moved to reverse the Affordable Care mandate and limit access to birth control:
—In New Hampshire, the Tea Party-controlled house passed a bill in March allowing employers with religious objections to opt out of contraception.
—In Georgia, the state senate passed a bill allowing employers to do the same. It also approved a bill that would criminalize abortion after 20 weeks.
—In Arizona, the senate voted to allow employers to drop health insurance coverage for birth control on religious grounds. In March, it went further, amending the bill to allow opting out on ethical grounds as well.
—In Idaho, a similar bill was narrowly shot down in March.
This week, no doubt emboldened by the Missouri bill, religious groups went on the attack. On Monday, 43 Catholic groups including the University of Notre Dame, Catholic University, and the Archdiocese of New York, filed suit against the government, arguing that mandating employer-provided birth control coverage for workers violates the religious freedom of the Catholic institutions.
Are Americans really so divided over birth control? Contrary to the recent political firestorm, a Gallup poll released this week indicates that the vast majority of U.S. voters—89 percent of Americans surveyed from May 3 to May 6—think birth control is morally acceptable.
Most revealing? Eighty-two percent of Catholics agreed. Which isn’t surprising; according to one study, 98 percent of Catholic women have taken advantage of “unnatural” birth control methods.
This statistical disconnect confirms what we’ve suspected all along: The birth control debate isn’t a war on women or a war on religious freedom. It’s a political war during an election year, one in which women—and their bodies—have become the battleground. The only question is if we can afford the casualties.
Would you work for an employer who didn’t cover birth control? Let us know in the COMMENTS.
Oliver Lee has been covering social justice and other issues for TakePart since 2009. Originally from Baltimore, he lives and writes on a quiet, tree-lined street in Brooklyn. Email Oliver | @oliverung