A threat to religious liberty
Our nation was founded on religious freedom — not the freedom to use one’s religious beliefs to harm or discriminate. All people must be able to make reproductive health care decisions on the basis of their own circumstances and faith, no matter where they are employed or what their employer believes. To allow employers to interfere with decisions of health and faith is unconscionable.
The U.S. Supreme Court case Zubik v. Burwell will establish whether women and families can determine their own health choices and whether they will be based on their faith — or that of their employer. The lead plaintiff in this case, Bishop David A. Zubik of the Catholic Diocese of Pittsburgh, along with several religious nonprofits, disputes provisions of the Affordable Care Act’s birth-control benefit that allow religious organizations to opt out from providing health coverage that includes birth control. All such employers need to do is file a one-page document or inform the government, making known their religious objection to contraception. And yet, the plaintiffs still object because their employees would ultimately be able to access vital reproductive care.
Now the plaintiffs in Zubik v. Burwell are pushing for further carve-outs, which have one unfortunate theme: they discriminate against women and force us into a separate health care system. These carve-outs would create additional obstacles that women must overcome simply to access vital reproductive care. Creating a separate system not only stigmatizes this preventive health care, but also makes it more difficult to obtain.
What the plaintiffs are arguing for is ripe for satire. As if women today didn’t have enough inequities to overcome, we would now be required to run to several different doctors’ appointments, juggle multiple insurance plans and fill out increasingly complex paperwork, all because employers don’t share our religious beliefs. We deserve better. We deserve to make our own personal moral decisions about our health.
As women of faith, we cherish the protections for free exercise of religion enshrined in the Constitution. Freedom and respect for differing opinions and beliefs is a core American — and Jewish — value. We must each be allowed to make our own faith-informed decisions about our bodies and reproductive lives. This right should not hinge on an employer’s religious beliefs.
Our reproductive freedoms are integrally bound to our religious liberty. That is why the National Council of Jewish Women, along with 12 other Jewish organizations, signed an amicus brief opposing the plaintiffs’ case. We respect the right of every person — an employer, school official or politician — to hold his or her own religious beliefs and to make decisions about their health, their bodies and their families as they see fit. But we ask no less for ourselves.
Millions of people of faith believe in access to affordable birth control. We know expanding affordable coverage is critical to advancing women’s equality and economic security. It’s key to making progress on health equity for individuals and families struggling to make ends meet, women of color and young people. It is a critical step in the march toward reproductive justice, which affirms our right to make personal moral decisions about our lives, including family planning.
The outcome that the plaintiffs in Zubik v. Burwell seek would not only deny women their dignity when accessing health care, but would also undermine women’s religious liberty. As people of faith, we affirm the right of women, workers and students to access affordable birth control.
We agree that the Zubik v. Burwell case is fundamentally a question of religious freedom: Employers cannot be allowed to use religion to harm or discriminate against their employees. Women deserve the right to make personal health care decisions according to our own religious beliefs.
Andrea Kline Glickman is executive director, Paula L. Garret is president of the board of directors, and Tanya Bielski-Braham is on the advocacy committee of the National Council of Jewish Women, Pittsburgh Section.
(Editor’s note: This column was written prior to Monday’s Supreme Court decision sending the case back to the lower courts for resolution.)