I'm worried about what the next Congress will do do further discriminate against women and limit their reproductive rights.
We've already seen how religious conservatives will deny the facts and distort the law to advance their right-wing agenda.
For example, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), which passed unanimously in the House and with only three dissents in the Senate, was designed to prevent laws that burdened a person's free exercise of religion, not to allow extremists to impose their unpopular views on the rest of us.
But what began as a move to overturn a Supreme Court decision that upheld the firing of two Native Americans for using an illegal drug (peyote) in a religious ceremony has been twisted beyond recognition. This summer, at the behest of an extremely small but well-funded network of religious extremists, the Supreme Court used RFRA as a trump card against women in its infamous Hobby Lobby decision. The Court ruled that RFRA allows employers to keep birth control off the list of preventive services the Affordable Care Act requires all insurance policies to cover. Suddenly, RFRA trumped Title VII's protection against sex discrimination in the workplace.
Don't think for a moment that this "religion exception" actually reflects the views of most faith communities. Dozens of faith organizations signed an amicus brief in Hobby Lobby arguing that employers should not be able, in the name of religious liberty, to impose their views on their employees. Nor do women of faith have a problem with birth control -- not even close. Over 97 percent of sexually active Catholic and evangelical Protestant women have used birth control at some point.
But the "religion exception" is emerging as a favorite tactic of the religious right. Back in July, when President Obama was drafting an executive order banning workplace discrimination against LGBTQIA employees of federal contractors and the federal government, conservatives pushed the Administration to include an exemption for employers on the grounds of religious liberty. President Obama stood up to this pressure and issued an executive order without discriminatory loopholes.
Now he needs to do more. President Obama should issue an executive order to all federal contractors who provide a group health plan for employees ordering that these contractors must comply with the contraceptive mandate of the Affordable Care Act. Singling out women to give up their health care rights for purely political reasons is bigotry, pure and simple, and our government should have nothing to do with that.
President Obama has said that in the final two years of his term, he will use executive orders and other powers of his office to achieve progress that would otherwise be blocked by Congressional inaction. I admire his determination to do the right thing. And until Congress reverses Hobby Lobby, we should, at the very least, have a rule that the United States government will not do business with gender bigots who would withhold basic health care from women.
Add your voice to the call for President Obama to issue an executive order protecting birth control here.
Unintended pregnancy is deadly. It is closely correlated with infant and maternal mortality and is a significant risk factor for domestic violence homicide. Half of pregnancies in the U.S. each year are unintended, and our country has the highest rates of infant and maternal mortality among developed countries, higher than in some developing countries. Birth control is life-saving, life-affirming health care for women. There is nothing "pro-life" about restricting birth control, and religion is no excuse for this dangerous and ugly form of discrimination.
As I wrote here back in March,
I want to propose that we lay to rest, once and for all, the tired old I'm-a-bigot-because-God-wants-it argument. Think about it. Proponents of discrimination have routinely used religion to justify their hurtful policies: two shameful examples are slavery in the United States and segregation in the Deep South.
Unfortunately, stripping birth control from the ACA's list of covered preventive services is just part of the religious right's hostility toward women. Believe it or not, conservative senators in Washington are fighting an effort led by Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA) to require that emergency contraception be made available to rape victims at federally funded hospitals. You read that right. They're fighting a bill that helps rape victims prevent pregnancy.
As Sen. Murray told TIME,
As we saw in the aftermath of the Hobby Lobby decision, and as we've seen in state legislatures across the country, Republicans are intent on standing in the way of women and their ability to make their own decisions about their own bodies and their own health care. It is our job to protect these kinds of decisions for women, their families, and particularly for survivors of sexual assault. Emergency contraception is a critical part of these family planning choices and it's time.
Ask your Senator to become a co-sponsor of the Emergency Contraception Access and Education Act here.
The latest plank in the Republican war on women is based on the false logic that there can be such a thing as a religious exception to women's basic health care.
It began as a simple and uncontroversial affirmation of individuals' religious freedom, but today, RFRA has been weaponized to attack women's basic well-being. RFRA needs to go, and until that happens, the U.S. government needs to stand up and say it won't do business with gender bigots.