Birth Control Debate: Separation of Church and Sex

Last month, Pres. Trump called for the Department of Health and Human Services to rollback protections sanctioned by the Affordable Care Act on contraception. The rollback “allows employers and insurers to deny birth control coverage due to religious beliefs or a moral conviction,” according to The Albany Times Union. The mandate seems to be a long-time coming from an administration that has been promising the repeal of Obamacare since its conception.

We at The New Paltz Oracle believe that this reduction in and removal of coverage violates a woman’s rights and her ability to properly make choices regarding her own health. By allowing insurers and employers to determine coverage for birth-control, we essentially say that a woman’s employer or insurer knows how to better manage her health and body than herself.

The issue extends beyond what is already a violation to a woman’s reproductive rights. For some, contraception, particularly oral contraceptive pills (OCP), is used for health benefits other than birth control.

According to a 2011 study published by the Guttmacher Institute, 1.5 million women take OCPs for noncontraceptive reasons. OCPs are used to regulate menstrual cycles, manage menstrual pain and treat acne. It is also used as a hormonal treatment for endometriosis, a condition where uterine-lining tissue grows outside of the uterus, helping to minimize pain associated with the condition by regulating periods, according to the Center for Young Women’s Health. If certain forms of contraception are used as a medical solution to conditions affecting an individual’s health, should they not be granted the same clemency as medication like Viagra?

After the introduction of Viagra to the American market, many insurance companies immediately disapproved of coverage for what they considered to be a “lifestyle drug.” However, companies began to provide coverage for Viagra prescriptions after lawsuits were levied against them, describing the pill as more medically applicable. This prompted states to create their own contraceptive coverage legislation. This coverage, however, does not apply at a federal level leaving those with self-insured plans, typically funded by employers and regulated by the Employee Retirement Income Security Act, to pay out of pocket for their contraception. Women of reproductive age “spend sixty-eight percent more on out-of-pocket health care expenditures,” than men according to the Tulsa Law Review.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo, however, is telling New York to rest easy. Since the Trump Administration’s first month, Cuomo has been reinforcing state regulations that shield insurance benefits from any changes to Obamacare or, more importantly, the administration’s general actions. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has helped to lead the charge for protection of contraception coverage by having the State join in a federal suit challenging the administration’s decision. However, despite their actions 1.2 million women working for employers providing self-funded care “would have to buy their own contraception, go without it, or seek access to contraception from the state,” according to The Albany Times Union.

Though many religious groups advocate against the use of contraceptives and support the repeal of contraceptive coverage, the absence of free birth control is projected to increase abortion rates.  According to a study conducted by the Washington School of Medicine in St. Louis, study participants, who were using some form of contraceptive, had lower annual abortion rates from 2008 to 2010 compared to the national average by 62 to 78 percent. The Center for Disease control lists IUDs, implants, injections and OCPs among some of the most effective methods of birth control. By removing insurance coverage for contraceptives we are dictating the sexual activities, reproductive health and overall well-being of women. If these same groups are also preaching against abortion, to call for the removal of insurance coverage for contraceptives is hypocritical and unrealistic. To advocate for what is essentially an abstinence-only approach to birth control is to advocate against proper and effective sexual education. Additionally to condone marital-sex as the only acceptable sexual practice one should engage in, assumes everyone who is married is fit to parent a child — a sentiment of which is also extremely unrealistic.

Arguments of religious freedom have been brought to the table in justifying a company’s ability to deny contraception coverage to their employees. Quoted in an Albany Times Union piece, Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council refers to policies put in place that ensure contraception coverage for women as “anti-faith policies.” Breaking down this statement, Perkins is virtually condemning policies that protect a woman’s choice to use contraception. Perkins leaves himself vulnerable for his statement to be interpreted as “women who do not have sex for reproduction purposes have no place in religious communities.” In our non-secular nation, an individual’s religious beliefs is not the factor which their health insurance policy is contingent on.

In considering these facts the federal government, upon allowing employers to opt out of no-cost birth control, is virtually encouraging employee discrimination based on religious beliefs. In dissent to this reasoning, religious zealots claim the federal government violates their freedom of religion upon requiring employers to provide no-cost birth control in their employee insurance plans. The Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment provides individuals the right to worship or not if they choose. Also included in this clause is the guarantee that the government cannot penalize an individual because of their religious beliefs. The logic is clear, in understanding this clause, the Trump Administration is ultimately infringing on and tampering with the First Amendment. We at The New Paltz Oracle consider the Constitution to be a living, breathing document that should be subject to interpretation that is dependent on the current age, even if that differs from its original implications. However, we believe the First Amendment ought never to be meddled with. Never should the importance and consequence of an American citizen’s guaranteed freedoms bend to fit the agenda of any given administration — an action which the Trump Administration seems to attempt to exercise quite often.