Women, the Bedroom, the Workplace, and the Government

[From the Charlotte Observer, October 23, 2017. Rabbi Schindler is a Contributing Editor for the Observer Editorial Board]

What happens in the bedroom is meant to stay in the bedroom. That is why most women do not talk publicly about the personal and private issue of birth control. Because most healthy women can get pregnant over the span of 35 years, and almost all women do not want to spend 3 1/2 decades pregnant, 9 out of 10 women will use some form of contraception during their lives.

Unfortunately, recent actions by the Trump administration are directly threatening women’s access to affordable contraception and forcing many of us to talk about it. New rules effectively grant permission to any employer to opt out of providing birth control coverage based on “moral” or “religious objections.”

Here are just a few of the real scenarios capturing why a woman might use birth control:

For health reasons. Your neighbor uses birth control because of endometriosis, painful cysts, uterine problems or an illness that makes pregnancy dangerous to her health.

For economic reasons. Your co-worker is married with three children. She and her husband are struggling to make ends meet: to pay for rent, for child care, for school supplies. She wants to support the kids she has.

For professional reasons. Your friend is finishing college, graduate school or starting a new career. She wants to wait to have kids until her education is complete and her career and finances are on solid ground.

For emotional reasons. Your cousin is in her late forties and has kids in high school and college. The thought of another pregnancy and rearing children at this stage is overwhelming.

Whatever a woman’s personal reason may be for needing it – birth control is a basic part of women’s health care. The Trump administration’s most recent rules could affect hundreds of thousands of the 62 million women covered by the former contraception coverage mandate. These rules will limit access by increasing costs.

Some say birth control is affordable, even cheap. It simply is not. Without insurance, the most reliable methods are costly – long-acting reversible contraceptives range from $500-$1,000, and the birth control pill or patch ranges from $160-$600/year. Even with insurance, women can face a wide range of prices for the birth control that is right for them.

Some say employers with deeply held religious beliefs shouldn’t be forced to pay for such care. The Supreme Court already exempted religiously affiliated nonprofit and for-profit organizations.

Many Charlotteans are focused on upward economic mobility. The 2017 Leading on Opportunity report identifies family planning as a significant strategy for reducing intergenerational poverty. This new rule will most hurt those who are poor and struggling to get by.

It represents a step on the slippery slope of allowing employers’ rights to override those of employees with no government safeguards. Giving companies this latitude could lead to employers objecting to covering other health essentials based on religious grounds – from immunizations to mental health coverage, from Scientologists refusing to pay for psychiatric medications to Jehovah’s Witnesses refusing coverage for blood transfusions.

While on the surface this rule appears to focus on exempting religious groups from the mandate, in truth it diminishes women’s rights. This action will have negative health consequences for women and their families.

Call your representatives to let them know that you believe access to affordable birth control needs to be expanded rather than reduced, and that they should support Sen. Patty Murray’s bill to reverse this new Trump administration exemption.

This is a health issue, a moral issue, a religious issue, and a profoundly personal issue that affects all women, their families and all those who care about supporting the women in our lives.

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