“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…” is the part of the first amendment to the Constitution of the United States that is relevant to the debate surrounding the latest health care mandate controversy. When President Obama mandated birth control be provided by religiously affiliated institutions, Catholic church clergy members and conservative Republicans came out against the mandate.
The mandate was changed to state “that no religious institution that objects to birth control would have to provide it or pay for it. Instead, the institution’s insurer will have to offer contraceptive coverage,” according to the the San Francisco Chronicle. But the opposition was still not satisfied.
So the question is, does offering birth control prohibit the free exercise of religion? We always hear about “separation of church and state”, but what does that mean in practice?
We believe that free contraceptives are important for women. And the denial of resources for women is a part of the institution of religion that continues to oppress women.
In a recent interview on MSNBC, Foster Friess, a supporter of a Rick Santorum-leaning super PAC, said “Back in my days, they used Bayer aspirin for contraceptives. The gals put it between their knees and it wasn’t that costly.”
To translate, women are supposed to keep their legs closed so that men can’t put their half of the baby equation into the woman’s between-leg-area.
We’re apparently supposed to take this as a harmless joke and meet Friess more than halfway back to the 1950’s. Assuming that those of us offended by the joke took it literally as advice, or just have no sense of humor, completely misses the problem with this type of argument. Used again and again as a misogynistic tactic: such as, telling women to not dress like a slut so they won’t get raped, is as helpful to women as bayer is to preventing pregnancy.
Implying that women can be protected from unwanted pregnancy by closing their legs continues to place the burden and blame on women, not just to be the only ones responsible for protecting themselves against pregnancy, but also to be responsible for the costs. According to the Center for American Progress, the estimate cost for oral contraceptive is $1,210 a year without insurance.
When the opposition uses victim-blaming arguments, how can women help but feel targeted as villains for asking for a right that all men are granted by God himself: not having babies.
In America you are free to practice any religion you wish. Providing women with free birth control does not change that. If a religion believes that contraception is immoral they are not obligated to take it. If a religion that is against birth control is compelling enough to a woman, then she would not want to take birth control, which wouldn’t cost anyone a penny.
But obviously that’s not what’s happening. Some religious women do use contraception. And the church’s objection to this blocks the government from providing every person with the equal opportunities they deserve.