Obamacare's Religious Exemptions Are a Bad Joke

The Supreme Court is still unsure whether the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate violates "religious freedoms." When will we grow up, get real, and stop pretending that nonsensical religious beliefs are just as important as women's health?

CNN reports that the Supreme Court has ordered a federal appeals court to reconsider whether it's unconstitutional for Obamacare to require all employers (except for certain religious organizations) to cover all sterilization and FDA-approved contraceptive methods.

Haven't we been over this before? Yes, we have. Last summer, the Supreme Court upheld Obamacare but left room for "continued legal challenges to certain aspects of the law's application" to assuage fears that Obama would force his Satanic beliefs on every purity ring-wearing American. Religious organizations already had fodder for challenging the Act, thanks to the religious exceptions that the White House was forced to include in January due to some extremely whiny bishops.

Some Obamacare supporters felt the exceptions were a necessary compromise. But religious entities such as Liberty University, the gigantic Christian evangelical college that prompted this week's Supreme Court order, don't think of it that way, and never have. They see the exceptions and subsequent legal open-endedness as an opportunity to stop as many women as possible from accessing whatever types of health care they personally feel are morally corrupt.

Liberty University once claimed that the Affordable Care Act would result in taxpayer dollars funding abortions and contraception, because, as we all know, it's a short and slippery slope from birth control coverage to the Abortionplex. A three-judge panel of the 4th Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals in 2011 unanimously said "nope," concluding that the university's lawsuit should be blocked on jurisdictional grounds. But after the Supreme Court decided that the Affordable Care Act's funding mechanism was constitutional, Liberty University refiled its lawsuit like a cross-bearing cockroach, arguing that its case should be reconsidered due to the court's 5-4 ruling.

Basically: some religious organizations aren't ever going to stop challenging Obamacare's contraceptive mandate because they don't want compromise or a real separation between Church and State. They want to restrict a woman's control over her own body and her right to reproductive choice.

Today's Supreme Court order makes sense, because similar cases with sympathetic judges have been popping up all over as of late. In one, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction to a Christian publishing company that didn't want to cover "contraceptives that it equates with abortion," including the emergency contraception and IUDs. In another, a federal judge issued a temporary injunction to the Roman Catholic boss of a secular for-profit Michigan company who didn't feel comfortable providing his female employees with insurance coverage for contraceptives.

Real (and repetitive) talk: Plan B has no effect on women who are already pregnant; it only prevents ovulation or fertilization of an egg. Likewise, IUDs block sperm, therefore barring women from getting pregnant, which is not the same thing as terminating a pregnancy. Some other facts: RU486, which does induce abortions, isn't covered under the Affordable Health Care Act. No individual health care provider will be forced to prescribe contraception under the Affordable Health Care Act. Obviously, no one will be forced to buy or use contraception under the Affordable Health Care Act. Women who want contraception will have access through it through their insurance without co-pays or deductibles. That's it!

If you don't want to believe the above paragraph, that's your prerogative. Go crazy! We hear ignorance is bliss. You can believe whatever you want. But you can't impose your beliefs on other people, especially if your beliefs are oppressive as fuck.

Some more truth: Access to free birth control leads to lower rates of abortions (Remember abortion, religious conservatives? That medical procedure you really hate?) and teen births. Women say that contraception has a significant impact on their lives by allowing them to take better care of themselves and their families, support themselves financially, complete their education, and stay gainfully employed. Women have different health needs than men, and those needs are more expensive; those of childbearing age spend a whopping 68 percent more in out-of-pocket health care costs than men.

We can no longer afford to indulge ridiculous and dangerous religiously-informed policies just because they claim to follow very old, ambiguous books that some people believe were written by a "God" whose existence is disputable, to say the least — books that also suggest lots of batshittery we legislate against, like, you know, stoning unclean women to death. We literally can't afford it; unplanned pregnancies total $4 billion a year in direct medical costs alone, and the average cost per publicly financed unintended pregnancy is nearly $10,000. Religious exceptions just don't work when it comes to women's health. It's so obvious. Can we stop pretending? Please?

No, probably not, because few politicians will risk coming off as disrespectful or, even worse, anti-"religious freedom." But even the First Amendment and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which plaintiffs in these types of cases love to cite, decrees that officials may not restrict one's exercise of religion unless they can prove "a compelling governmental interest." The Obama administration has said that promoting public health and gender equality are compelling enough interests. We concur! But how can the administration promote public health and gender equality if they also give power-tripping zealots the leverage to impose "moral" agendas that directly contradict those crucial interests?

We need to start acting like adults and stop letting fringe beliefs dictate public health policy. Plan B and the IUD are not abortion pills, no one is force-feeding birth control down anyone's throat, and women who want contraception and gain access to it will not prompt the End of Days.

Image by Jim Cooke, source photo via Tinydevil/Shutterstock