Religious freedom at the expense of women everywhere

Before high school, the only exposure to sex education my school provided was a 2-hour session in sixth grade, where the boys and girls were separated, the girls taught about menstruation and their breasts growing, and the boys told about who knows what. There was no discussion of sex per se on the girls’ side, though there were allusions to the fact that our bodies were changing so that we could have children. When we got to high school (after at least one girl in my class had gotten pregnant in middle school), driver’s ed was spliced together with Health (the bifecta of necessary high school life skills), which everyone knew was supposed to be sex ed. When we got to the class, the teacher laid down the law: the district required us to take a sex ed class, but he didn’t feel comfortable teaching us anything our parents wouldn’t want us to know. So, rather than health class covering the basics of contraception, or sexual anatomy, or discussing the dozens of other sex-relevant topics that teenagers so desperately need and want information regarding, we went through the process of rotely memorizing the components of every other system of the human body: digestive, endocrine, skeleton, nervous, cardiovascular. I remember thinking how little many of my friends knew about sex. Rather than learning which contraceptives were best for what, we were memorizing the names of major arteries, information I’m sure as high school students we were putting to regular use outside the classroom. This was before the era that everyone’s parents had computers in their homes, and the school computers had pretty substantial content blockers on them, so I’d guess that even if anyone had googled (which was only added to the OED as a verb in 2006, once I graduated) their questions, they’d have had a hard time finding what they were looking for.

I also remember thinking how it wouldn’t have been easy for everyone to get birth control if they’d wanted. Every checker at the IGA knew me by name, most of the pharmacy staff had kids who went to school with me and my brother, and many of the people working in gas stations were my friends or parents of my friends. There weren’t clinics or many doctor’s offices in town. It would be impossible to get an appointment without half of town knowing you went to the doctor, and your parents would definitely know if you tried to fill a prescription with your health insurance. If you wanted to go “into town” to go to one of the clinics that had reduced cost women’s health care, you’d need gas money and a car. As usual, everything was made harder for kids whose parents didn’t have as much money. Then, when a girl whose parents’ finances or religion kept her from having adequate information or access to birth control, and acting without this information or birth control had unintended consequences, the whole town would talk about her like she was ignorant and amoral.

I remember several women from a year or two ahead of me returning home from college, pregnant, to have the baby with the help of their parents and take classes at the local community college. They never came back with the fathers of the babies. I’d never once heard of a guy dropping out of college because he’d gotten someone pregnant. I’d never even known a guy known to be responsible for a woman’s pregnancy in high school or college. How was all the responsibility of raising these kids falling on the shoulders of young, competent women, while the guys responsible seemed to be relatively unscathed? I remember thinking for the first time that public schools’ failure to educate all kids about safe sex and consent was just another way to keep women and poor people ‘in their place’. How could the beliefs of one high school teacher, at odds with the district’s policy, control what information we would have when making choices of consequence in the coming years? How do we expect young women to avoid STDs and pregnancy when we give them neither the information nor the tools to do so? How do we expect men and women to treat one another with respect when no one will have a frank conversation with them even about the biology of sex or consent, let alone about a more nuanced conversation about sexual health?

I doubt much has changed in my hometown, other than the short-term benefit that all health insurance needs to cover birth control. If Obamacare is repealed, even this very minor improvement could be lost. Biology disadvantages women in that we are the ones who bear the physical burden of unplanned pregnancy; our laws and our schools need not reinforce this burden by making it harder for us to learn about and access contraceptives. Why is women’s health care so different from human health care? Men’s sexual health is still happily covered by companies that refuse to cover many types of women’s contraceptives (…/hobby-lobby-viagra_n_554391…). Religious companies which are “closely held” can choose to deny their employees birth control because of their religious beliefs that they cause abortions, despite this being at odds with our scientific understanding of how these forms of birth control work and most medical definitions of conception, and despite the fact that 63% of Catholic women and 66% of Protestant women think employers should provide no-cost contraceptives to their employees (…/what-do-religious-wome…/388159/). Only 23% of Catholic women think not-for-profits should be able to opt out of the mandate, despite the fact that Catholic not-for-profits are the loudest opponents of the contraceptive mandate applying to them. The *men* of the Catholic church oppose private corporations and not-for-profits needing to provide contraceptives. What if I belong to a religion that allows slavery, and I believe it impinges on my religious freedoms to pay my workers the minimum wage? I’m aware the SCOTUS has said the ruling on IUDs and the morning after pill for private corporations and the birth control mandate generally for not-for-profits should not be interpreted as meaning other religious exemptions to Obamacare or other laws would be made. That being said, I don’t see much of a difference difference is between saying my religion forbids/allows X, the law requires/forbids X, and I want to have my company flaunt/utilize X, for different values of X. The case law history will be different for different X, but the logic appears to be the same. If you’re a company, you should have to follow the same laws as other companies, regardless of your religious beliefs. Otherwise, you essentially get a tax break for being religious at the expense of the opportunities of young women everywhere.

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