Religious Freedom: A Trojan Horse to Control Women

On June 14th I had the privilege of attending the press conference where democratic Sens. Ed Markey (MA), Mazie Hirono (HI), Tammy Duckworth (IL), and Rep. Kathy Manning (D-NC) announced the reintroduction of the Right to Contraception Act (S. 1999/H.R. 4121). If passed, this legislation would guarantee access to birth control by codifying the right to contraception into law—a right which was granted in Supreme Court cases Griswold v. Connecticut (1965) for married couples and Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972) for unmarried persons. 

The bill was first introduced last year following the devastating reversal of Roe v. Wade (1973) with the Supreme Court’s ruling in Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization (2022) and Clarence Thomas’ statement they “should reconsider all of this Court’s substantive due process precedents, including Griswold, Lawrence, and Obergefell.” The act was passed in the Democratic-controlled House despite opposition from 195 Republicans but was ultimately blocked in the Senate by Republican Senator Joni Ernst (IA) who objected to Senator Markey’s request for unanimous consent to pass the bill. 

Many Americans, including Republicans and Catholics, use birth control for a variety of reasons besides preventing pregnancy such as regulating periods, relieving endometriosis symptoms, helping with polycystic ovary syndrome symptoms, etc. According to a Kaiser Family Foundation 2021 survey, almost one in five women use contraception solely for reasons not pertaining to pregnancy prevention and one in four say preventing pregnancy is not a priority. 

Both Republicans and Democrats believe in access to contraception; a 2018 poll by Power to Decide found that 72% of Republicans support policies that make the full range of birth control methods more easily accessible for people 18 and older. Likewise, a Gallup poll found that 88% of Republicans believe birth control is morally acceptable. 

So why do Republicans in Congress oppose such basic reproductive healthcare despite support from the public?  

The Republican Party has a history of siding with conservative Catholic leaders who have extreme views on abortion and contraception access; they oppose the Right to Contraception Act because they believe it infringes on their religious freedoms.  

The Catholic Medical Association put out a statement last year in opposition to the act out of fear it might be used to “coerce doctors, nurse practitioners, physician assistants, pharmacists, and other healthcare practitioners to provide services which violate their consciences.” Essentially, they demanded that healthcare workers have the right to refuse abortions and contraception if it goes against their religious beliefs.  

“While the language touts supporting access to family planning, in reality, it’s likely a $5 billion gift for Planned Parenthood and other abortion-related providers,” says Senator Joni Ernst to the New York Times. It’s not clear how improving access to contraception would increase the need for abortion care. But who cares about logic? 

Republicans call this act a “trojan horse” for more abortions. In reality, the trojan horse is Republicans citing religious freedom as justification to oppose this legislation rather than admitting they don’t want women to have control over their own bodies.  

Since the introduction of birth control, women’s educational opportunities have expanded and their incomes have increased. Limiting access to birth control not only affects women’s health but also their autonomy and wealth. Having a child at a young age restricts women from pursuing higher education and higher-paying jobs; 61% of students who have a child after enrolling in community college, do not finish their degrees, according to NCSL. As a woman and college student, I am grateful for the opportunities I’ve been granted due to having access to comprehensive reproductive health care.  

In a win for access to contraception, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has recently approved an over-the-counter, prescription-free birth control pill, which would expand access to birth control, which is especially important for young and rural women. Additionally, 22 states now permit pharmacists to prescribe women birth control pills without a prescription from a doctor. While these victories are important, it is just as crucial to codify the right to contraception into law to permanently secure these rights. 

Following the Supreme Court’s decision in Dobbs, codifying the right to contraception into law is imperative. Considering other court decisions, it would not come as a surprise if the extremely conservative majority on the Supreme Court followed Thomas’ recommendation and rule that states have control to expand or limit access to contraception. This would have a drastic effect and would likely leave many women in southern and some mid-western states without access to essential reproductive health care. 

Marianna Anagnostou, NOW PAC Intern 

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