Access to Contraception Is a Moral Issue

Woman's hand holding birth control pills, cropped
Woman's hand holding birth control pills, cropped

As a religious leader who is committed to ensuring that everyone has the access to contraception, I am anxiously awaiting oral arguments in an upcoming Supreme Court case. The case, Zubik v. Burwell, will be argued this Wednesday, March 23, and it centers on the ability of women to be able to access seamless contraceptive care, regardless of where and for whom they work.

The justices will consider whether religiously affiliated nonprofits, such as Catholic hospitals or religious universities, will be able to use their religion to prevent their female employees or students from being able to access contraception through their health insurance plans. Under the Affordable Care Act, health insurance plans are required to cover all FDA-approved methods of contraception at no cost to women. That means that women can go to their doctor, get information about contraceptive care, and make a decision about which method is best for them, regardless of price.

As part of the ACA, the Department of Health and Human Services offered an exemption to religious nonprofit employers who said that their faith prevented them from offering contraceptive care within their health plans. Religious groups who objected to providing contraception to their employees needed to register their objection with the government by simply signing a form that allowed them to opt out of the contraceptive benefit. The government would then be alerted that insurance companies should provide contraceptive care directly to these women without involving the objecting employers.

This provision has been challenged before, in the 2013 Hobby Lobby case. The justices opened the exemption to more employers, saying that as long as they signed the opt-out form, closely held for-profit corporations, such as the Hobby Lobby craft store chain, were also able to bypass offering contraceptive care. Now, a small minority of religiously affiliated institutions are claiming that their religion is burdened by the act of signing the opt-out form. The reality is that they are claiming this as an undue burden because they disapprove of their employees using birth control.

As a religious leader, I support religious freedom. Religious freedom means each individual has the right to exercise their own beliefs; it cannot mean that an employer has the right to deny its employees the right to exercise their own personal beliefs. All individuals must have the right to accept or reject the principles of their own faith without their employers' objections or legal restrictions.

That's why the Religious Institute joined the friend-of-the-court brief filed in the Zubik case to highlight the vast numbers of people of faith who support women's access to basic health care, including contraception. We were joined by countless religious organizations who understand that no single faith can claim final moral authority over others and that contraception is part of preventive health care.

It is inconceivable to me (pun intended) that contraception is being made to be seen as controversial. Almost all American women, regardless of religious affiliation, use contraception. Almost all faith traditions in the United States accept modern methods of contraception, and even within faith groups that limit or prohibit such access, the religious commitment to freedom of conscience allows couples to intentionally create their families. Almost nine in ten people in the United States believe using birth control is morally acceptable.

Moreover, as a religious leader, I believe that in a just world, all people would have access to contraception. Denying women health insurance coverage for family planning services effectively translates to coercive childbearing, and disproportionately hurts low-income women and their children.

Religious leaders support universal access to family planning because it saves lives, improves health, enhances sexuality, and assures intentional parenthood. I oppose any attempt to restrict or deny access to family planning services and am offended by those who falsely use religious freedom as a way to force their morality on others. As a person of faith, I cannot stand by while this happens. I hope the Supreme Court joins me in affirming the dignity and moral agency of women and maintains their access to contraceptive care.