Included among a list of notable figures with demonstrable achievements being considered for TIME’s “Person of the Year” lies an anomaly, a curious aberration. And, no, I’m not talking about Stephen Colbert (number 11 out of 40 contenders). I’m talking about Sandra Fluke, a law student famous only for supporting a new federal mandate.
But Sandra Fluke’s nomination comes as no real surprise considering that she embodies a nationwide narrative that was effectively disseminated this year—the “war on women.” A mythical message, the phrase “war on women” paints a nasty picture of an army of religious groups trying to rip contraceptives out of the hands of women.
This myth supposedly justifies the coercive HHS “preventive services” mandate. A regulation under the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (also known as Obamacare), the “preventive services” mandate forces employers to provide contraception, sterilization services, and abortion-inducing drugs to their employees. Because the mandate only exempts select religious institutions from the mandate, many organizations that have conscientious objections to providing these products and services are being forced to violate their beliefs. Currently, there are 40 lawsuits on behalf of around 100 plaintiffs contesting the mandate.
Proponents of the mandate,such as Sandra Fluke, claim that the government needs to ensure greater access to contraception (specifically the birth-control pill). The problem with this argument is that it asserts that there are such substantial barriers to accessing contraception that the government must force employers to provide it. This argument is a red herring that distracts from the valid religious-freedom violations created by the HHS mandate.
Birth control has been available in the United States since 1960, when the FDA approved the first birth-control pill called Enovid. Five years after Enovid was approved, the Supreme Court struck down all state laws prohibiting married couples from attaining contraception services. By 1972, the Supreme Court had expanded access to contraception even to unmarried couples.
Furthermore, access to contraception has proliferated since the 1970s — and not just through non-profit organizations like Planned Parenthood.
Taxpayers spend over $300 million annually to fund the federal Title X Family Planning Program, which already provides “preventive services” to low-income individuals across the nation. Every year, about 5 million low-income individuals receive free contraceptives from 4,500 Title X clinics across the nation. Even if women earn more than the low-income threshold for assistance, Title X clinics will provide federal aid based on a sliding-scale fee for those earning up to 250 percent of the poverty level.
Religious organizations that oppose the mandate are no more “denying access” to contraception to their employees than they are denying access to food or alcoholic beverages. Employers pay their employees money, which the employees may use to buy bread or wine at the grocery store. They don’t “deny access” to bread or wine by not giving it to their employees directly. The baselessness of the “denying access” allegation exemplifies the baselessness of the “war on women” rhetoric.
TIME’s consideration of Sandra Fluke for “Person of the Year” shows just how far the “war on women” myth has gone. The myth hides the fact that the majority of women (56%, pg. 43 of this survey) are opposed to the idea of the government forcing anyone to provide services that offend her deeply held religious beliefs.
Women are significantly more religious than men, and millions are involved in the charitable work of their religious organizations. Women recognize that religious employers objecting to the mandate merely want to do what they have always been permitted to do in America—act according to their religious and conscientious convictions.
Brooke Cook works in public policy in Washington, D.C. Image of woman with contraception courtesy of Big Stock Photo.
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Joseph Hammond
Source: AFF Doublethink Online | Emma Elliott Freire