Guilty Consciences: Midwest States Seek to Deny Access to Birth Control by Peddling “Religious Freedom”

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Commentary Law and Policy

Guilty Consciences: Midwest States Seek to Deny Access to Birth Control by Peddling “Religious Freedom”

Kari Ann Rinker

Whether related to the topic of contraception or not, the “Obamacare” contraceptive boogey man serves its function as a multi-purpose political tool in red state debates. In Kansas right now, there are different so-called conscience bills pending across red state America.

The Obama Administration’s recent decision on insurance coverage of contraception and the political sideshow that subsequently ensued has been the topic of much conversation in the national media and blogosphere.  

It also has set off a firestorm of fear-mongering in the Midwest, as red-state sovereignty champions use the latest and greatest “national mandate” to press their stateside legislative agenda items.

The “Obamacare” contraceptive boogeyman serves its function as a multi-purpose political tool in red state debates.  The news broke this week that seven states have entered a lawsuit challenging President Obama’s decision to approve birth control for all women under the Affordable Care Act.  There are also several legislative challenges being pursued under the guise of “religious conscience.”

Kansas’s HB 2523 is the expansion of one of the four conscience refusal laws currently on the books that “protect” individual physicians, hospitals and pharmacists. These conscience clauses allow refusals for medication, abortion, and sterilization. HB 2523 seeks to amend an existing Kansas statute, changing its clear language relating to pregnancy termination and replacing it with vague language that encourages subjective interpretations allowing for “an effect which the person reasonably believes may result in the termination of a pregnancy.” The introduction of Personhood in Kansas is more than enough proof that there are some Kansas citizens that “reasonably believe” that pregnancy begins at conception and that a fertilized egg is a person, and therefore many forms of contraception could be legally denied with the passage of this legislation.

Sex. Abortion. Parenthood. Power.

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The bill would have the effect of individual and even institutional denial of the administration of emergency contraception and even the referral for the medication for victims of sexual assault. The application of a state-sanctioned “institutional conscience” or an individual conscience upon Kansas’ most vulnerable women facing possible pregnancy from a sexual assault allows medical providers to “opt out” of a necessary element of compassionate care for female survivors of rape.

HB 2523 does not allow for an adequate plan for referral. Instead, it intentionally includes language that would allow for the absolute denial of a referral, leaving women in need of health care without any medical advice or direction.

This bill was also introduced in Oklahoma last year, according to PoliticsUA:

Republicans in the House proposed a bill (HR 1179) called “Respect for Rights of Conscience Act of 2011.” The bill, introduced by Jeff Fortenberry (R-Neb), allows health care providers and pharmacists to deny birth control to women if it conflicts with their religious or moral convictions. The Senate is expected to vote on its version of HR 1179 during the week of February 27 where it is known as S. 1467, whose primary sponsor is Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO) and has become an amendment to Transportation Authorization Bill S. 1813.

And meanwhile from Planned Parenthood in Missouri:

SB 749 and HB 1730 are attempting to supersede federal law and deny access to birth control for women that work for a religious institution. If these bills were to become law, thousands of Missouri women would be denied access to no cost birth control. Birth control is not just basic health care for women, it is an economic issue. Without this new birth control coverage benefit, many women would pay $15 to $50 a month. This benefit will help thousands of Missouri women save hundreds of dollars each year.

These red state “conscience” bills are nothing but tools for contraceptive discrimination and the state-sanctioned furtherance of the agenda of Catholic Bishops, their radical parishioners and other far-out followers of perhaps even self-created religious dogmas that perpetuate myths about “abortifacients” and women’s rightful role as human incubators.

They create broad avenues for individuals and institutions to act as medical gatekeepers for a women’s reproductive healthcare decision making. They give cover for anti-choice medical professionals and employers to dispel with pesky edicts of professional responsibility and allow for state-sanctioned interference in patient-physician relationships.

These bills are attacks on the dignity of women. They would subject women to a host of opportunities for shaming and condemnation for having sex for purposes other than pro-creation. Since the right to use contraception is constitutionally protected, the anti-choice squad sees this type of legislation as their only option for oppression, resting under the umbrella of religious freedom and conscience protections.