If you are unfamiliar with the Blunt Amendment, the shorthand summary is it is a proposed amendment to the requirement within the 2010 health reform act that requires employers to provide coverage of preventative services to women. The amendment seeks to allow for an opt out for employers who don’t want to provide such coverage. The Catholic Church and other religious groups who disagree with this (and who are also employers) were able to pressure Obama into exempting them from the mandate based on the First Amendment’s protection of separation of church and state. Religious freedom, they argued, was eroded by the requirement of preventative health care services.
The First Amendment states:
Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
The First Amendment is one powerful little amendment. It has a lot of individual protection within it. The protection of religious freedom is what is said to be in play here. Congress cannot do anything that leans toward the establishment of a national religion or inhibits the practice of a chosen religion by individuals. The rub is that Congress can, and does, affect the operation of business and there is an area where churches that also operate as businesses (of sorts) run afoul of state. So the water gets pretty murky here and few want to wade in it. But please do allow me to put on my hip waders (appropriately color accessorized to my outfit of course) and say a few things about the challenge of balance in this area.
First of all, the biggest challenge in freedom of religion exists in walking the finest of lines. In regard to religious freedoms the First Amendment seeks to establish the line between individual freedoms and government control, and to avoid government leanings that favor a religion. Different faiths believe different things and live according to different doctrine. Government is supposed to represent the collective which would ideally mean the areas in which we all agree in regard to basic human rights and liberties, necessary laws and protections, and required governmental services. Unfortunately, religious beliefs are so diverse that there is rarely complete agreement on all governmental function. Yet, for over two hundred years, the United States has worked with honoring this line and in doing so has arrived at a centrist position that while rarely hailed as perfect has served to honor the basic tenet of the religious freedom in the First Amendment.
The Bill of Rights remains a powerful guidepost for maintaining our country’s strength by clearly delineating what our government is, and is not, able to do. But what of human rights? Are human rights synonymous with religious beliefs or are they even more basic than the sometimes complex beliefs held in religion? When basic human rights become involved in the discussion where should our government fall? Should folks be able to make their own decisions about their bodies, their health and the quality of their lives? Who defines the line about individual choices and freedoms in regard to caring for oneself or for affecting the health and well-being of others?
Historically, the U.S. has been fairly paternalistic in regard to dictating individual choices as far as the value of established life. Suicide – either at one’s own hand or as a choice with assistance – has been rallied against. Of course injury to others (intentional or otherwise) based on individual choices is not acceptable. Abortion of a viable life in utero remains a critical, although hardly settled, debate. Yet, even with some items in debate, it is clear from looking at our society that we don’t want life tinkered with…well, at least until it comes to the death penalty (I leave the nuances of this discussion for another day).
It is also clear that we don’t want to be told what we must do with the bodies we have. We don’t want mandated what we must eat or how we care for our bodies. We want to be able to express ourselves through our body – whatever that expression may look like. We want to be free to be us and live the life we choose. Amazingly, almost everyone is on that page and within that freedom individuals’ religious doctrine choices can be embraced.
So the summary is – we value life and we value freedom. We don’t want life destroyed, but short of decisions that destroy life we want freedom to choose what our own lives look like. These basic concepts (which align with the freedom of religion ideology) are what keep the country strong. What’s not to love here?
There is this one wrinkle though – one area where the congruency of the collective thought process seems to go adrift – women’s reproductive rights. This area, an area where religious groups place quite a bit of focus, has been the ongoing topic of debate for decades and one of the places where the First Amendment’s religious freedom clause has been most powerfully wielded.
Why have women’s reproductive choices been the purview of such debate? Why hasn’t the country followed the same centrist view it applies to the valuation of life and freedom?
And this is why I must be blunt here today – blunt as it applies to consistency and reason in the establishment of laws in this country. The fact is that reproductive issues are (for the most part) a freedom issue, not a life issue. And let’s be clear, I am not talking late term abortion here – I am talking access to birth control and early pregnancy termination options. I am talking about allowing women the freedom over these choices – choices about their bodies…choices about the way they live their lives.
Now, you may feel inclined to point out that freedom is not secured based on required paid preventative care, but that is simply not true. Freedom is not just about lack of interference, it is also about access to choices. If there is no access, and thus no choices, there is no freedom. Having preventative measures covered provides access to choices. Those are choices that individuals can select for themselves. Indeed, part of that individual selection process may be based upon religious beliefs, but the choice still needs to be there and protected whether anyone chooses it or not. This is about freedom…and freedom is what the United States is about.
The requirement for preventative services for women is not an infringement on religious freedom and is not in conflict with the First Amendment. It is instead the protection of freedom – freedom for women. I am a woman and I must be blunt – don’t tread on my freedom.
Day nine hundred and seventy of the new forty – obla di obla da