The Santa Clara
October 12, 2017
This past Friday, the Trump Administration rolled back provisions in the Affordable Care Act that made nocost birth control coverage available through employers. These new rules afford private companies and insurers more leeway in their ability to deny such coverage to women on the basis of religious freedom. Naturally, the administration’s actions have provoked a polarized response.
The religious right has been ecstatic in the wake of the new policy; Paul Ryan even referred to it as “a landmark day for religious liberty.” Obviously, the left has been less receptive to the shift; many see it as an affront on both women’s rights and the separation of church and state.
Before discussing the nature and ramifications of Trump’s decision, it is important to understand both what the policy established by the Obama administration was and what Trump’s decision to rescind it entails. Believe it or not, the provision in the ACA regarding no-cost birth control coverage was not some Orwellian mandate forcing every religious employer to cover birth control. In fact, religious organizations and family-owned businesses could opt out of covering contraceptive care under the ACA, and female employees would still receive that kind of coverage separately through insurance companies.
Donald Trump has made it so that any company, even a publicly traded one, can opt out from covering birth control in its health insurance plan by invoking moral or religious values. On top of that, he has essentially done away with the mandate making insurance companies pay for contraceptive care when an employer would not. Several companies will now likely opt out of covering contraceptive care in their health insurance plans, and many women could lose their access to birth control coverage.
The underlying theme of this policy shift points to the troubling ways women’s health is conceived of and debated in this country. Donald Trump’s decision rests on the idea that religious freedom and reproductive rights have to be inherently at odds with one another in every case, without exception.
Providing birth control is really not that big of a deal. It is a harmless, medical routine that does not magically strip an employer of its ability to practice religion freely. With this decision, the Trump administration is being petty, and that pettiness is coming at the expense of women’s rights.
Birth control is not just some catalyst for promiscuity. It does not kill babies, and it does a great deal more than compel young women to sin and have extramarital sex. Married couples use it as a means of responsible family planning, and the drug also has medical applications beyond contraception.
According to the Guttmacher Institute, a research and policy organization dedicated to sexual health, 58 percent of women use birth control “at least in part for purposes other than pregnancy prevention.” These purposes include conditions like menstrual pain and endometriosis. Birth control is also one of the last lines of defense in preventing unwanted pregnancies and in turn, abortions—the quintessential “affront on religious freedom.”
Paul Ryan billed Trump’s rollback of the ACA provisions on birth control as a “landmark” for religious liberty, but is it really? How, exactly, are religious people any freer today than they were before the administration’s decision? Affording religious employers the option of depriving women of contraceptive care is not a “landmark” so much as it is a statement. With this decision, the President is saying religious freedom and reproductive rights are irreconcilable. Women are going to bear the brunt of that conflict.
Jay Fuchs is a senior communication major.