I came of age at a time when birth control was easily accessible and safe, legal abortion had just become available. In my first job in 1976, I helped college students advocate for the delivery of free birth control on their campuses. I could not have imagined then that almost four decades later, I'd once again need to be working on access to birth control methods.
Yet, in 2014, there are those who are trying to make birth control availability controversial and even deny it as part of basic health care. Next Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will be hearing two cases where company owners who don't support contraception personally are denying their employees insurance coverage for birth control as mandated by the Affordable Care Act. The lawyers for these corporations go so far as to call birth control use sinful and immoral. The owners are claiming that including contraceptives in their employee's health insurance coverage violates their companies' religious freedom.
People of faith know differently. How could it be a sin to use birth control? Rather, the sin is denying women the right and the means to plan their families. Indeed, it is precisely because life is sacred that people of faith support the intentional and moral use of contraception. We also know that religious freedom means that each person must have the right to exercise their own religious beliefs; religious freedom cannot mean that an individual or a corporation gets to impose their religious beliefs on others.
This week, the Religious Institute released a statement signed by 45 nationally recognized religious leaders supporting universal access to contraception, and affirming that equal access to contraceptives through insurance coverage is a moral good. Together, these Christian, Jewish, Unitarian Universalist and Muslim leaders affirm:
As religious leaders, we support universal access to contraception. We believe that all persons should be free to make personal decisions about their reproductive lives, their health and the health of their families that are informed by their culture, faith tradition, religious beliefs, conscience, and community. We affirm, in accordance with each of our faith traditions, that ensuring equal access to contraceptives through insurance coverage is a moral good. Including contraceptives as a covered service does not require anyone to use it; excluding contraceptive coverage for those who choose to plan and space their families with modern methods of birth control will effectively translate into coercive childbearing for many.
We support social justice. We recognize the dignity and worth of each and every member of our communities -- including those uniquely vulnerable to the effects of unequal access to healthcare due to race, class, sex, sexual orientation, gender identity, disability or geography.
We support religious freedom. Religious freedom means that each individual has the right to exercise their own beliefs and the right not to have others' beliefs forced upon them. We believe no employer has the right to deny the women who work for them basic health care. Individuals must have the right to accept or reject the principles of their own faith without legal restrictions.
No single religious voice can speak for all faith traditions on contraception, nor should government take sides on religious differences. We call on our government to respect the beliefs and values of everyone's faith by safeguarding equal access to contraception for those whose conscience leads them to use it."
The full text of the statement and the names of the 45 national religious leaders who endorsed it can be found at here.
In addition, more than 3,200 people of faith have recently signed a petition supporting the birth control requirement in the Affordable Care Act. Hundreds of people of faith are expected to attend a pro-birth control faith rally before the Supreme Court hearings next week where participants will process to the court with a banner bearing the names of all those who have signed the petition and the statement.
It is a myth that people of faith don't support family planning. Most Jewish movement and Protestant denominations have had policies supporting family planning for decades, and more than nine in 10 U.S. women of almost every faith have used a modern method of birth control. The theological diversity of those who endorsed today's statement is further evidence of widespread faith support for birth control coverage in health insurance.
I hope you will join us in praying for the Supreme Court Justices to assure religious liberty for all -- and that you will also hold the millions of women who want and need birth control in their health insurance coverage in your hearts.