On Eve of “Fortnight of Freedom,” North Dakota Votes By Wide Margin to Maintain Firewall Between Religion and Health Care

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Commentary Law and Policy

On Eve of “Fortnight of Freedom,” North Dakota Votes By Wide Margin to Maintain Firewall Between Religion and Health Care

Jodi Jacobson

Last night, the voters of North Dakota decisively defeated a ballot initiative that one news outlet called an "ecclesiastical mugging." By a margin of 64 percent to 36 percent, voters said "no" to an effort to impose religious doctrine on health care, social policy, and law in the state.

An error contained in this article was corrected at 1:07 pm on Wednesday, June  13th, 2012. The correction, of the percentage share of the vote against Measure 3, appears in the article.

For all the hand-wringing in national polls about what share of the population identifies as “pro-choice” and what share “pro-life,” large majorities of voters in one conservative state after another have shown, resoundingly, that they have no desire to interfere in the personal health concerns or religious decisions of their neighbors.

Voters in South Dakota have twice rejected attempts to impose abortion bans via ballot initiatives. In 2010, voters in Colorado decisively rejected efforts to define a fertilized egg as a person, a step that would have conveyed more rights onto a fertilized egg before pregnancy was even established than on the woman in whose body it floated. A similar so-called personhood initiative was also soundly defeated in Mississippi last fall, again by a large majority of voters.

Now, another conservative state has delivered a huge win in the effort to keep religious ideology out of personal medical decisions. Yesterday, by a margin of 69 66 percent to 34 percent, voters in North Dakota could not have been clearer in rejecting Measure 3, a ballot initiative promoted by, among others, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishop (USCCB), whose Orwellian campaign to promote “religious freedom” actually seeks to impose strict Catholic doctrine on everyone, no matter their professed religious affiliation (or lack thereof), via state and federal law. An editorial on Measure 3 in the North Dakota news site, Inforum, called the effort by the USCCB to pass it “an ecclesiastical mugging.”

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Laws such as Measure 3 are being pursued by religious fundamentalists throughout the country, and they have profound implications for the health and rights of individuals, and for public health. Measure 3, for example, would have allowed physicians, nurses, and pharmacists to refuse to provide care and medication which “conflicts with their religious beliefs,” and would have extended “conscience protections” to virtually any employee of any medical facility, ensuring that one reilgious belief could prevail over another in the realm of health care. Measure 3, according to NARAL Pro-Choice America, would also have allowed “a man to claim that domestic-violence and child-abuse laws don’t apply to him because his religion tells him he has the right to discipline his wife and children as he sees fit,” and would have allowed employers to use their personal religious beliefs to discriminate against their female employees by denying contraceptive coverage under insurance plans.

Inforum noted:

Proponents of the measure insist the language is clear and ironclad. But respected lawyers and retired jurists who have analyzed the language disagree. They have concluded the measure is so vague and so broad that it opens the door wide to individual and organizational interpretations of “religious liberty” that would result in dire consequences.

And like many other such efforts by the far right to pass laws, Measure 3 was “a dangerous solution in search of a nonexistent problem,” according to the Inforum editorial.

When pressed to cite one – just one – example of denied or even attenuated religious liberty in North Dakota, measure supporters come up empty. There are few states where religious liberty is practiced as openly and frequently as North Dakota. Churches and religious-based organizations do vital and excellent work every day in adoption, refugee resettlement, missions, health care, community service and faith-based education. The spiritual lives of North Dakotans who chose a spiritual life – as most do – are sound and secure.

Measure 3 threatens that honorable heritage and history. It’s a self-serving scheme that has the potential to deeply divide people of faith, and thus undermine religious liberty, not protect it. Vote “no.” 

The win in North Dakota, noted NARAL, “marks the 10th pro-choice victory out of the 11 ballot measures affecting reproductive rights that have appeared before voters since 2005.”

“The message to anti-choice groups is clear,” stated Nancy Keenan, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, “voters are tired of your divisive attacks that undermine the fundamental American values of freedom and privacy.”

The results are no less important because they come on the eve of the USCCB’s “Fornight for Religious Freedom,” during which the Bishops intend, incomprehensibly, to reprise their role as long-suffering victims of religious discrimination if they are not enabled by law to exert complete control over the health care and reproductive choices of individual women and their families.

After the results were in, Sarah Stoesz, President of the Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota Action Fund, stated:

“Tonight, North Dakotans – with a strong and clear NO vote – affirmed that religious liberty is securely protected in the US Constitution. Measure Three was divisive, unnecessary and could have had dangerous consequences. Tonight’s vote protects state laws against child abuse or neglect, laws against domestic violence, laws that affect access to health care, including birth control, and laws that ensure equal opportunity in the workplace.”

“We applaud North Dakotans Against Measure Three for working tirelessly to educate voters about the dangerous consequences this amendment could have had for women and families in the state.”

Planned Parenthood joined with a number of organizations to defeat Measure 3, including ND Healthy Families Opposing Measure 3, Choice USA, Feminist Majority, and the National Organization for Women. NARAL Pro-Choice America launched a nationwide public-education campaign.

And just as in Mississippi, South Dakota, and Colorado before, North Dakota voters decided that “religious freedom” isn’t compatible with laws mandating that one religious view govern the very health and lives of every person, and most especially women.