How 'Conscience Clauses' Reinforce the Glass Ceiling

Floridian Senator Marco Rubio has introduced a bill that would allow all employers to pass on paying for birth control for their employees on the grounds that having to pay for woman-sex-problems is against many people's moral beliefs. Sounds like someone's pretty darn nostalgic for the good old days of the steel-reinforced glass ceiling. Denying women birth control coverage is one way to bring it back with a vengeance.

Rubio's plan, which is cosponsored by Democratic Senator Joe Manchin of West Virginia, would allow an employee's boss to decide what health care coverage is available to his or her employees based on "beliefs." Seeing as most business owners are men and most executive suites and board rooms are filled with dudes and women who are not on birth control are more likely to get pregnant than women who are not on birth control, this boils down to giving employers the right to make sure that women have a tough time advancing.

A woman who is not on birth control will either have to pay for it herself (expensive) or not take anything at all. If she's unlucky and ends up getting pregnant while not on birth control, she can opt to terminate the pregnancy (expensive, and probably not covered by employee insurance if her company is run by someone morally opposed to contraception) or continue the pregnancy and have a child that she did not plan for but that's covered by company insurance (unless, of course, a business owner has simply declared that he's morally opposed to covering any women's health care). Kids are expensive and time consuming, and maternity leave is time that a woman isn't using to advance at work. Further, as her child ages, she'll still have to take care of him or her, feed, clothe, educate, and nurture.

The best, most realistic way to give women the tools they need to delay motherhood , minimize the negative financial impact of children, and reduce the overall cost to all employee plan participants is to provide women with birth control coverage. Denying them access to that, or giving men the power to deny them access to that, is just reinforcing the same old boys' club bullshit that had an top-20 college educated woman I know working the reception desk at a brokerage house.

Rubio doesn't think birth control should be outright banned, though; as he sensitively put it in an op-ed to the Tampa Bay Times if a woman wants to work for an employer that provides birth control coverage, "that worker could pay for it themselves or choose to work elsewhere." That's uh, a pretty dicky thing to say, considering that there are currently 4 job seekers for every job opening, and considering that birth control costs hundreds of dollars per year. It encourages unplanned pregnancy (or constant pregnancy-related anxiety) and discourages professional advancement.

But a complete lack of knowledge of how women's bodies or women's health works has never stopped men in Washington from attempting to legislate those bodies before, so why should it stop now? Men like Marco Rubio are why women are still able to get away with using "I'm on my period!" for things that are not related to their periods— we can count on a certain ilk of men to be so disgusted by or apathetic to the workings of our gross ladybodies that we can say whatever we want, and they'll say they believe us so we shut up.