Hobby Lobby, The HHS Mandate And Why This Matters To Women
Religion & Liberty Online

Hobby Lobby, The HHS Mandate And Why This Matters To Women

I won’t bother reviewing all the details of the Hobby Lobby case before the Supreme Court regarding the HHS mandate (you can do more reading here, here and here.) I’d like to talk about why this issue is of particular interest for women, and why the voices of all women need to be heard.

The organization Women Speak For Themselves has been vocal in the fight against the HHS mandate. They want to make it known that the call for universal access to birth control and abortion via employee health insurance is not supported by all women, and that women from every walk of life deserve to be heard.

We are Democrats, Republicans and Independents. Many, at some point in our careers, have worked for a Catholic institution. We are proud to have been part of the religious mission of that school, or hospital, or social service organization. We are proud to have been associated not only with the work Catholic institutions perform in the community – particularly for the most vulnerable — but also with the shared sense of purpose found among colleagues who chose their job because, in a religious institution, a job is always also a vocation.

No one speaks for all women on these issues. Those who purport to do so are simply attempting to deflect attention from the serious religious liberty issues currently at stake. Each of us, Catholic or not, is proud to stand with the Catholic Church and its rich, life-affirming teachings on sex, marriage and family life. We call on President Obama and our Representatives in Congress to allow religious institutions and individuals to continue to witness to their faiths in all their fullness.

Helen Alvaré, professor of law at Georgetown University, has been particularly active in making sure that a multitude of women’s voices have been heard on this issue. In an amicus before the Supreme Court in January of 2014, Alvaré argued that the Department of Health and Human Services had not demonstrated a compelling argument for forcing employers to supply artificial birth control and abortion coverage as part of employee health insurance.

Why does this matter to women? Aren’t we supposed to be able to make decisions about our own health, well-being, fertility? Women Speak for Themselves [WSFT] says yes, but the HHS fight is about something more than birth control:

It is rather about whether practically and culturally severing human sexual relations from the fact of their originating new, vulnerable human lives, improves the lives of women, and along with them, of men, children and society. A great deal of reliable data indicates that the answer is “no” in some important aspects. This is the question the purveyors of the “War on Women” theme steadfastly refuse to engage. WSFT would like them, and all people of good will, to engage it, to get past sound-bytes and onto the hard questions for the sake of women and all society.

Putting it very simply, separating sex from reproduction has been disastrous. It has harmed women, their health, their relationships, their work, and their children. When our teen daughters have sex, even with birth control, over 16% of them will become pregnant within a year. Merck, the makers of the birth control device Nuva Ring, will pay out over $100 million in settlements regarding blood clots in women who’ve used the device. (One woman, Megan Henry, was a would-be Olympic athlete whose career was ended by use of Nuva Ring.) Alvaré points out that HHS gives no indication or data as to how birth control has any health benefits for women, and therefore has no place in health insurance.

At the very least, our health is at risk. Beyond that, our liberty is at risk, and the Obama administration has sorely misjudged how much our liberty means to us. We want to be able to practice our faith, guided by our conscience and our respective faith leaders, daily. We do not want our faith relegated to a once-a-week worship service. We have the God-given right to worship and practice our faith as we see fit. This does not mean we constrain others by our faith, but neither should our faith be constrained.

If a woman wishes to purchase birth control, it is widely available and inexpensive (in some cases, it’s free.) Many women (and men, of course) have deeply-held religious beliefs regarding this, and they cannot in good conscience pay for this. Our government should not be making this decision for us. Women’s rights – long-fought for, cherished and important to all women – cannot and should not be forcibly removed by our government. Women of all backgrounds, beliefs, political realms, ethnic origins, levels of education and income in the United States have the ability and desire to speak for ourselves. The HHS mandate will drown out the voices of many women. Let us speak for ourselves.

Elise Hilton

Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.