October 19, 2016

WELCOME TO THE ZOO | Health Insurance and Birth Control

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With an open mind and two sides of the story, you’re bound to learn something new.

Welcome to the zoo! This is a blog where both the Republican and Democratic viewpoints are represented. The blog is not meant to sway you either way necessarily, just to present both sides of the story. You may not agree with the whole article, but hey, you’re likely to agree with half! The topic this week: religious exemption from health insurance coverage of birth control.

Stance 1

Religion has no right to intercede with decisions I make regarding my body. Our government was founded upon the principles of separation of church and state. The laws mandating a woman’s rights should not be guided by religious principles. Health insurance coverage is an essential right for all citizens, half of whom are women.

The Supreme Court voted for religious freedom over women’s rights in the case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (2013). This decision held that for-profit companies do not have to abide by a law if they object to it for religious purposes. By taking advantage of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, Hobby Lobby’s founders, the Green’s, argued that providing health insurance to their employees, including coverage for specific birth control methods, is against their religious beliefs. The Court’s decision struck down the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act that required all health insurers to cover birth control costs. The Green family believes that life begins at conception; they assert that drugs that prevent the implantation of an egg is abortion. They did not want to cover the use of Plan B or IUDs. Unlike Plan B, IUDs prevent women from becoming pregnant. Birth control is not the same as abortion because it prevents the fertilization of an egg preemptively. Therefore, the pro-life argument cannot apply here.

Furthermore, this decision implied that a corporation can hold religious beliefs. For-profit corporations should not mirror the beliefs of company owners. Religious values are personal and should not fall under the veil of a corporation. As Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her dissent, “religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community.” Religious organizations are founded on religious beliefs; employees working for religious institutions typically believe in the ideologies of that specific religion. To the contrary, employees for large corporations come from all backgrounds; the cashier in the Hobby Lobby in Ithaca is probably not a devout Christian holding the same views as the owner of the corporation. This ruling also leads the way for many more problems in the future relating to the place of religion in the work world. As Justice Ginsburg asked, “would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus)?” Where is the line drawn? Which businesses owned by devout citizens can argue for religious exemption from certain laws?

The Colorado court held that it was illegal for the bakery in Colorado to refuse baking a cake for a gay couple’s wedding. Personally, I think it is despicable that the bakery would even imagine fighting gay rights; I also do not understand why the bakery lost their fight for religious rights while Hobby Lobby won. Is it because Hobby Lobby was discussing women? As a proud feminist, I cannot imagine that the Hobby Lobby case was infused with anything but sexism. Because a company is not and should not be treated as a person, corporations should not be allowed to deprive their employees of a statutory right. Corporations employ thousands of workers, many of whom do not share the religious beliefs of the company’s owners or shareholders. The Hobby Lobby decision gave corporations the right to discriminate against women by denying them equal access to health insurance coverage of birth control costs. By law, women are guaranteed equal health coverage, including birth control costs; this decision denies women this right.

Many people can’t afford the costs of birth control without health insurance coverage. This creates an endless cycle of low income families raising children they cannot afford and do not want. Birth control has the possibility to prevent an abortion in the future. Isn’t it better to prevent pregnancy before it happens than to have an abortion three months later? Birth control is an essential right that allows women to control what happens to their own bodies. If men are covered for all costs involving sexual interactions — including viagra — neither the government, nor any company, should be allowed to dictate what medical expenses health insurance covers for women.

Liberally yours,



Stance 2

I am not here to stop you from having sex. By all means, go ahead! It’s super fun! However, by having sex, you are accepting the responsibilities that come with it: birth control management (condoms, pills, IUD, etc.), possible pregnancy/abortion, STDs prevention, etc. Although I think contraceptive methods should be affordable, I do not believe religious company owners should be forced to go against their beliefs to satisfy the affordability.

What this issue comes down to for certain employers and universities is religious freedom. The Constitution guarantees religious free exercise while prohibiting the establishment of a natural religion. Consequently, the current ruling is that religiously affiliated nonprofit organizations, colleges and family-owned corporations with religious objections may not have to cover birth control without co-pay due to religious exemption. By doing so, the government does not force people to choose between loyalty to their religion and to their national authorities, as was intended with the “separation of church and state” – Thomas Jefferson.

An extremely controversial case of this kind is Hobby Lobby. The Supreme Court ruled that the store chain, owned by evangelical Christians, did not have to pay for health care coverage of contraceptives prohibited by its owner’s religion. My beef with the company is that although they refuse to cover birth control pills or IUDs, they still cover vasectomies and Viagra. They argue preventing a woman’s ovaries from releasing an egg that could be fertilized after unprotected sex is disrupting the first stages of pregnancy, which amounts to murder. By using this logic, wouldn’t the men with vasectomies be committing murder by not fertilizing those released eggs and therefore disrupting pregnancy? So maybe Hobby Lobby is just sexist. But in general, if a company wants to refrain from all contraception methods- for both men and women- because it goes against their religious beliefs, they have the right to do so.

There are also plenty of alternatives to obtain contraception. For college students, university health centers often provide free condoms. However, for women of all ages, there is access to more than just condoms. New health care plans must cover all FDA-approved birth control methods because they are categorized as preventative care. The benefit not only covers birth control, but the doctor’s appointments, any insertion or removal costs, and follow-up counseling. So employees who get their insurance through employers are still able to access birth control with no out-of-pocket costs by getting it directly from the insurance company, rather than their university or employer.

Martin Luther King Jr. stated “the church must be reminded that it is not the master or the servant of the state, but rather the conscience of the state. It must be the guide and the critic. Never its tool.” Religious freedom is a cornerstone of the foundation of this country, and it is a liberty that must be respected and protected.

Conservatively yours,


Rebecca Saber is a junior government major in the College of Arts and Sciences. She aspires to be Secretary of State, but is willing to settle for Supreme Court Justice. When she is not writing about politics, Rebecca can be found watching TV in her bed or at some musical theater rehearsal. Welcome to the Zoo appears on alternate Wednesdays this semester. If you want to chat, Rebecca can be reached at [email protected].

Katie Barlow is a junior biology major in the College of Arts and Sciences. When not debating politics, she can be found running half marathons, eating mashed potatoes, and teaching tree climbing for COE. Welcome to the Zoo appears on alternate Wednesdays this semester. If you’re up for a chat, Katie can be reached at [email protected].