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Handmaids in Gilead move over —you have company in the United States

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Catholic bishops will now determine the contraceptive rights of working U.S. women.


The Trump administration just released a draft that places the contraceptive choices of women workers at the mercy of any wacko religious objections their employers might conjure up. As House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi put it, it’s a “sickening plan to roll back women’s access to contraception.”

No sooner did President Trump win worldwide censure for abandoning the global climate accord than he lowered this boom on women’s rights. In both instances, Trump has played to his religious base in making faith-based decisions that go against the facts.

The rollback comes in the wake of more than 75 lawsuits, most by Roman Catholic or other religious individuals, hospitals, colleges and universities, seeking to kill the Obama administration’s contraceptive mandate. That mandate made access to contraception a regular benefit of health insurance, which previously often penalized insured women by forcing them to pay for contraceptive needs out of pocket. As a result, more than 55 million women have had contraception fully covered as a basic part of health care.

But the Obama administration already had offered exemptions for all church denominations. And following misleading cries of foul play, the administration also carved out an accommodation for some religious societies, allowing them to opt out, with federal plans covering their employees’ contraceptive choices.

Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic religious order singled out by Trump during his May 4 “religious liberty” announcement, were among the litigants who had been offered this accommodation. Trump assured them during his Rose Garden speech that “your ordeal will soon be over.” What was their “ordeal”? That any of their employees — most of whom were not nuns but hired for secular work at their nursing homes — would be able to choose the contraception of their choice, with the feds picking up the tabs. Some ordeal. Being exempted from providing contraceptive coverage wasn’t enough for the “Little Sisters.” They insist on inflicting their Catholic dogma on women workers to the detriment of their rights, health and privacy.

The draft rule relies on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, as did the Supreme Court in its infamous Hobby Lobby ruling. RFRA is a misguided act of Congress that needs to go, as we argued in our Hobby Lobby amicus brief. (Incidentally, FFRF was the only group to submit an amicus brief calling for the Supreme Court to declare RFRA unconstitutional.)

The Hobby Lobby ruling allowed a “closely-held corporation” to be exempted from the contraceptive mandate based on religious objections even if it is a secular corporation and even if the religious objections are invalid. Hobby Lobby’s CEO insisted two forms of contraception are abortifacients, even though they simply prevent implantation. But we’re dealing with faith, so the Supreme Court didn’t let the facts get in the way.

Trump, after heralding our country as a “nation of believers,” belatedly discovers the nonreligious in this draft rule. It claims RFRA “does not provide protection for nonreligious, moral conscientious objections.” Therefore the rule would “exempt any entity possessing religious beliefs or moral convictions against the coverage required by the mandate, regardless of its corporate structure of ownership.”

Perhaps the rule’s bizarre acknowledgment of the nonreligious will open up an intriguing legal weapon for seculars to wield in the future. But the only organized opposition to contraception is religion-based. There simply are no secular arguments for denying women access to birth control. And without the means to determine and control if and when they will become mothers, all other civil rights for women fade to insignificance.

As Margaret Sanger noted: “No woman can call herself free who does not own and control her body. No woman can call herself free until she can choose consciously whether she will or will not be a mother.”

Women — and their friends — must revolt against this cavalier assault on our basic liberties. Handmaids in Gilead move over. You have company in the United States of America.

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