Population Connection staff at the Supreme Court on March 23, 2016

Zubik vs. Burwell, i.e. The Religious Right vs. Women's Health

Imagine having debilitating pain and heavy bleeding that prevent you from going to work or school every month. Imagine being a survivor of sexual assault without access to emergency contraception. Imagine being an undocumented immigrant who cannot even visit a doctor if she faces any of these difficulties. Imagine being a low-income woman who cannot afford the initial payment for an IUD, which could prevent another pregnancy and cut down on her family’s expenses.

These were just some of the stories we heard last Wednesday when we came together to call on the United States Supreme Court to protect the birth control benefit included in the Affordable Care Act (ACA).

Every one of the women who told her story spoke about the vital- and sometimes lifesaving- impact the ACA has had on her life. However the ACA is (once again) under attack by the religious right, who claim that having to sign a piece of paper is an “unreasonable burden” and an attack on their religious freedom. That piece of paper would declare that they object to providing contraceptive coverage in their insurance plans, which would enable their employees to get it directly from their insurance companies, through a segregated fund.

Make no mistake: Zubik vs. Burwell is the religious right’s attempt to receive special treatment and prevent women from getting insurance-paid birth control.

While the plaintiff claims to represent Catholic women and their religious freedom, the vast majority of Catholic women who have ever had sex have used modern contraceptives. And the majority of Americans of all faiths believe contraceptives should be covered by health insurance. The reality is that this case has nothing to do with religious freedom and everything to do with controlling women’s bodies.

It is ironic that despite climate change, poverty and dozens of other real threats to our communities and our world, the radicals of every religion seem to spend so much of their time obsessing over people’s sex lives. Of course women have a right to use birth control for family planning and avoiding pregnancy, but there are many more reasons why we need to keep contraception available, affordable and accessible for everyone.

A win for the plaintiffs, a coalition of dozens of religious institutions, could have devastating consequences for women in this country. Millions of women who work in religiously affiliated hospitals, universities, and other institutions would have to pay for birth control out of pocket, meaning that many would not be able to use it at all. This would endanger the lives of low-income women living with ovarian cysts and endometriosis and would place an undue burden on women seeking to prevent pregnancy. It could also create precedence for other religious organizations to seek exemptions from laws that are meant to apply to everyone.

This is why last week we stood with dozens of other activists and organizations to show the Supreme Court that access to contraception is a human right and an integral part of preventative health care. With increased attacks on women’s access to health care around the country, it is now more important than ever that we all speak up about the war being waged on women’s bodies under the disguise of religious freedom.

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