It’s been a month since the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that employers can deny their workers birth control coverage on religious or moral grounds.
Under the ruling, which was decided by a 7-2 vote, as many as 125,000 women will lose previously mandated contraceptive coverage while in the middle of a triple pandemic, as the COVID-19 pandemic, an economic recession, and racism are at their peak. This decision is one of many that upholds employers’ rights to deny health-care protections to historically vulnerable communities.
As the director of HEART, a national reproductive justice organization serving Muslim communities that will inevitably be affected by this decision, I am deeply disturbed by the continued trend of vulnerable communities’ rights being ignored under the pretense of “religious freedom.”
My journey to feeling a sense of self-determination over my body and reproductive health began when I was in elementary school, attending sex education classes and voraciously reading as many resources as I had access to. As I grew older, I started exploring how my cultural and faith identity fit into all of it—and realized much of the information and discourse fell short.
In mainstream spaces, the discourse exoticized and otherized—and often policed—people who looked like me, challenging whether sex positivity was even possible in a perceived conservative faith community. Meanwhile, religious spaces often shamed and judged Muslim women for their sexual health experiences.
And yet my traditional religious education had given me enough understanding of the faith to know that Islam was not in conflict with empowered decision-making about sexual and reproductive health. HEART was founded to uplift this very notion, and to ensure all Muslims have access to the information they need in a way that considers all their identities, including their religious identity.
As a Muslim woman, I have had the particular privilege of accessing health care when I needed it, in a way that also respected my faith practice. This included being able to safely secure birth control whenever I needed, allowing me to parent the three beautiful children that I now have. I can safely say I’m done. My eldest daughter just turned 16, and when I think about the future that I want for her, it centers on choice: the choice to parent, or not to parent, how to parent, and most importantly, when to parent.
If my daughter chooses to wait to parent, I want her to have the knowledge, resources, and birth control access to do so. I want her to understand that our faith affirms that right to choose. Islam does not value her as a Muslim based on her parental status. Islam affirms the rights of couples to have sex for pleasure, not just for reproduction. Islam encourages Muslims to take care of their bodies, including their sexual health, and sometimes this can mean taking birth control.
I want her to know that protecting her religious freedom means protecting her right to access birth control at every stage of her life.
My faith is not a monolith. No faith is. With every religious doctrine, there are multiple interpretations of the text and endless ways to practice that faith. Even within my family of five, we each approach our faith in nuanced ways according to our personal understandings of doctrine. As such, there is a wide range of religious opinions that uphold the permissibility of birth control in Islam. The beauty of that diversity of opinion is that it encourages choice: the ability to make a decision that aligns with your faith values, not one dictated by your employer or government.
Yet I would be remiss not to acknowledge the difficulties my communities continue to face when it comes to feeling safe to practice our religion in this country. Muslims across the nation have experienced the impacts of Islamophobia. For that to permeate into our health-care decision-making is another example of how this country continues to deny Muslims space to live freely.
We know our reproductive rights continue to be at risk of being trampled: We’re already seeing it with this recent Supreme Court vote. We can expect local governments to follow suit and double down on restrictions. In a time when religion is often perceived as a tool of oppression and has been in the hands of white cis men, it is time we also recognize how faith can be used as a tool for decision-making in positive ways and create space for Muslims to live freely.
As one of the most critical elections of this century approaches, we hope to mobilize our communities and bring attention to the intersection of reproductive rights, faith, Islamophobia, and anti-Blackness.
In an era of heightened Islamophobia, anti-Blackness, and violence against Muslims, this Supreme Court decision only makes access to contraception for those who want it even harder and places an additional burden on Muslim people seeking care.
True liberation can only exist when we actively work to dismantle the structures that have created these social injustices. We have an opportunity to work toward this shared vision of liberation: where Muslims are no longer othered, our rights are no longer restricted, and our ability to practice Islam is protected. Our choice is protected.