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The Dartmouth
June 17, 2024 | Latest Issue
The Dartmouth

Saklad: Rosaries Out of Ovaries

Ending birth control coverage is an attack on women’s reproductive freedom.

Every woman deserves uninhibited control over her body. To question her dominion over her very self is to threaten her most intimate security, to impose inequity in interpersonal relationships, to inherently discriminate against her in professional environments and to put an essential element of her ability to lead a healthy, productive and happy life into the hands someone else. How can any person claim to know the best or most morally right path of action for anybody other than himself? Yet in opposition to what ought to be an unalienable right, a war for reproductive rights has been waged for decades, and on Oct. 6, President Donald Trump’s administration predictably stoked the flame.

The Department of Health and Human Services repealed federal requirements put in place by former President Barack Obama’s administration as part of the Affordable Care Act that mandated that all employers include birth control in their health insurance plans. The Trump administration authorized the repeal in response to protest that the Obama administration’s policy threatened employers’ freedom to practice religion without government interference. Thanks to the Trump administration’s actions, it is now permissible for employers to impose their religion upon their employees, but not for the government to protect the bodily autonomy of American women.

This decision is in direct conflict with the First Amendment, which states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion.” Although the amendment also guarantees all Americans the right to practice their religion, the moral indignity of those employers who opposed Obama’s mandated birth control coverage policy is still groundless. Under the Obama-era policy, any employer who was religiously or morally opposed to providing birth control for his personnel was free to notify the government of their conviction and opt out of the mandated coverage program. The government would then work with individual employees to ensure that their health care plan would cover birth control costs directly and completely independently of their employer. No employers were ever forced to defy their religion in the name of the law.

Several religious employers including the Roman Catholic nuns of Little Sisters of the Poor, the craft chain Hobby Lobby and the produce company Freshway Foods, put pressure on the Trump administration to repeal the mandate because they believed the policy forced them to support anti-Catholic actions, such as premarital sex or sex without the intent of reproduction, despite the obvious loophole which guaranteed them religious freedom. The government’s compliance with these employers’ desire to force their religious beliefs upon their employees has numerous weighty implications.

The rollback of birth control coverage places implicitly greater value on male workers, as it denies sexually active women who may become pregnant in the absence of birth control the same right afforded sexually active men to remain in the workforce. The men who do not have to carry fetuses have no need to sacrifice their jobs in favor of their health or the care of their child, but a woman who becomes accidentally pregnant is forced to make a decision between her family and her career, not because she is more responsible for the conception of the child but because of intrinsic human biology. Although many female employees of religious bosses do not view sex as sinful and therefore ought to have the right to enjoy their bodies in any way they see fit, those unable to obtain birth control on their own are now burdened with the possibility of pregnancy even during responsible, consensual sexual encounters because of the beliefs of someone with no right to control their sexual autonomy.

The financial implications of non-coverage of birth control also promotes a class divide in the area of reproductive health. Those employees who no longer have free coverage of birth control will be forced to pay as much as $66 for a monthly supply of birth control pills or $1,000 or more for an intrauterine device — costs which are simply insurmountable for many American women. Does this mean that lower-class women do not have the same right as upper- or middle-class women to control their reproductive health? To put some women at a greater risk of unwanted pregnancy places an undue burden on those who cannot afford to take time off work or away from other children to care for a new child, but in an era when abortion rights are endangered as well, these women may have no other choice than to carry their pregnancies to term.

Birth control pills are also used to treat many non-sexual medical conditions. The progestin and estrogen in birth control pills help to control hormone levels, so many women with no means of purchasing birth control are therefore at risk of suffering adverse effects in the absence of this necessary regulator. Five to 10 percent of all women between the ages of 15 to 44 suffer from polycystic ovary syndrome, 11 percent of American women have endometriosis and countless women experience excessive pain, nausea, vomiting and other symptoms caused by menstruation. All of these conditions can be medicated by birth control pills, and all of these conditions are back on the table for women whose health care will no longer cover their reproductive health.

If the Trump administration’s policy rollback holds, it sets a discriminatory precedent for future legislation. Not only is the reproductive health of women on the line — so is the equality of people of all gender identities in the work place. Denying women birth control on the basis of religious opposition is a small step from denying employment or service to LGBTQ individuals whose rights are constantly under threat. The Trump administration has already made a habit of violating the rights of the oppressed, calling for a ban on transgender individuals in the military in August and ruling on Oct. 5 that transgender people are not protected by the Civil Rights Act of 1964, which outlaws sex-based workplace discrimination.

The continuation of policy on this trajectory is a threat to the civil liberties of all Americans who have fought to make our country a safe space for everybody. The pledge of “liberty and justice for all” on which our country rests cannot apply only to one privileged group of people. It must encompass the vast spectrum of individuals who call these United States their home. While guaranteeing birth control to the over 55 million women who benefitted from the Affordable Care Act birth control policy won’t rid the U.S. of all discrimination, retaliation against an administration which seeks to repeal it will demonstrate that we are not a people who tolerate inequality.