Today, the Supreme Court will hear a new challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage requirement. Two companies are arguing that obligating businesses to provide insurance plans that cover contraceptive services free of charge intrudes on their owners’ religious rights. A victory for the companies could open the door for any private for-profit employer to interfere with its employees’ health care on the basis of the employers’ personal beliefs.
In this case, the plaintiffs are challenging commonsense public policy. The costs associated with birth control interfere with women’s ability to use it consistently and effectively, leading to higher numbers of unintended pregnancies. That leads to more abortions and negative outcomes for mothers, babies, and families who do go through with an unplanned birth.
Allowing women to plan their pregnancies yields healthier babies, more stable families, and better economic and social outlooks for women. There’s also evidence that covering contraceptives saves insurance companies, employers, and taxpayers money; one study suggested that unintended pregnancies cost taxpayers $11 billion each year.
Yet leading conservative politicians and right-wing groups insist on slapping a scarlet letter on contraceptive care, painting this sound health care policy as a question of religious intrusion. According to Rep. Steve King (R-IA), for example, “preventing babies from being born is not medicine.” And Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) insists that the controversy over women’s access to contraception “is not about women’s rights or contraception, this is about the religious liberties that our country has always cherished.” However, these Republican critics are out-of-step with the mainstream. Polling shows that 99 percent of women – including most Catholic women – have used birth control, and most women approve of the contraceptive coverage rule.
A look at some of the groups supporting the plaintiffs reveals their real priority: advancing a conservative culture war. Some of the parties weighing in against the mandate – the Family Research Council and the American Center for Law and Justice – are among the country’s most viciously anti-gay advocates. The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, which represents one of the plaintiffs, has board members with ties to right-wing interest groups and extreme views on Muslims and gay rights. The Susan B. Anthony List’s biggest issue is ending abortion, but it maintains a remarkably hostile attitude to family planning, with president Marjorie Dannenfelser betraying her extreme beliefs by pitting “religious freedom” against the “ideology of reproductive health care.” Phyllis Schlafly, who leads Eagle Forum, believes that “the feminist movement is the most destructive element in our society.” Groups like the American Civil Rights Union, the Pacific Legal Foundation, and Judicial Watch keep a more measured tone, but work through the legal system to further right-wing policies and legal interpretations.