Arizona is a lovely state, geographically speaking. It’s home to the Grand Canyon, for one, where I went on an overnight white-water-rafting camping trip down the mighty Colorado River with my dad when I was twelve or 13 or so.
As an introduction to Arizona’s many beauties and wonders, it wasn’t a bad one. Except for the part where the bathroom was a smallish box one sat on, placed out in the open, around a bend downriver. And except for the part where it got dark. We were camping on a small beach at the bottom of the canyon, right beside the river. We didn’t have tents because, well, it wasn’t like it was going to rain. It’s a desert.
As night fell, I started seeing these odd little birds darting around overhead. “Hey,” I said to our friendly hippie-esque river guide. “What are those funny birds? I’ve never seen birds fly like that before.”
“Oh,” said the river guide. “Those aren’t birds; they’re bats.”
I didn’t sleep much, and instead lie wide-eyed and panicking, burrowed deep in my sleeping bag, convinced one of those bats was going to land on me.
I admit that in general I liked Arizona, and my memories of it are fond ones. I’m just glad I don’t live there.
In the latest move against reproductive rights, Arizona legislators are moving ahead with a proposed bill that would enable employers to deny women coverage of hormonal birth control on moral grounds, unless said women can prove they are using it exclusively for medical reasons.
More than that, the bill may help empower employers to fire women if it is discovered that they are in fact using HBC to avoid pregnancy in violation of said employer’s prohibition. No, not just if she’s using her employer-provided health insurance to pay for it; if she is using contraception to avoid pregnancy, period. The ACLU puts it this way:
…[W]e aren’t talking here just about exemptions for religiously affiliated employers like Catholic hospitals and universities. We are talking about authorizing secular, for-profit employers to deny a woman coverage for birth control if the employer doesn’t believe that she and her partner should be allowed to have sex without getting pregnant.[…] Arizona legislators know that whether or not her insurance covers it, a woman may get the prescription she needs to prevent an unintended pregnancy. They want to give her boss the right to control that too. The bill they are pushing would not only allow employers to take the insurance coverage away, but it would also make it easier for an employer who finds out that his employee uses birth control to fire her.
The current law in Arizona is that all health plans that cover other prescription medication must also cover contraception; this bill obviously aims to change that, under cover of protecting religious freedom.
The prospect of allowing religious institutions to refuse HBC coverage is already a touchy issue, with supporters believing that it is unfair (not to mention unconstitutional) for the government to force employers to fiscally subsidize a practice they believe is immoral. The Arizona example is especially troubling because in practice it would necessitate that any biologically female employee disclose to her employer potentially sensitive and certainly private medical information in order to justify her use of HBC for medical reasons.
Some women may not have an issue with discussing the state of their ladyparts with their bosses -- but many will, and this becomes an issue of privacy as well as religious freedom. Exactly where does religious freedom end, and a woman’s right to privacy (and self-determination) begin?
The broader issue here, however, is whether the private healthcare decisions of an individual should be open to public, or semi-public, debate, and whether a woman should be compelled to discuss and explain her medical care to someone who is not her doctor.
If we are enabling employers to pass moral judgements that actually affect the lives of individual women today, where does it stop? What if doctors begin refusing care on moral grounds?
That’s already happened: In 2008, President Bush passed a policy enabling doctors to decline to treat patients with whom they have some religious beef. This made it legal for health care workers to refuse care to gay people, for example. Most notably, it empowered pharmacists (or even just other pharmacy employees) to refuse to give women Plan B contraception, on the grounds that it is a medically-induced abortion.
Early last year, the Obama administration amended the so-called “conscience rule” to make it less broad, and to remove the application to Plan B and other forms of “morning after” contraception.
People certainly have the right to their own morals and beliefs, and I would never argue that a government body should limit that.
But morality is subjective, and it ends where you do; why should one person’s freedom of religion override another person’s freedom of expression? I can at least logically understand the sentiment against paying for an employee’s contraception if one is morally opposed to it, but I can’t accept that having the option to fire a woman for making private decisions about her own fertility which have nothing to do with her job is appropriate, fair or right.
It turns out Arizona still has the capacity to keep me up at night, even from thousands of miles away.