Supposed Threats to 'Religious Freedom' Really About Access to Contraception, Women's Advocates Say

April 24, 2012 — Although opponents of the federal contraceptive coverage rules claim their fight is about "religious freedom," women's and family planning groups say opponents' true objective is to restrict access to contraception, Kaiser Health News/Sacramento Bee reports.

The debate also is progressing at the state level, with five states -- Arizona, Georgia, New Hampshire, New Jersey and New York --debating measures that would give employers more leeway to bypass their contraceptive coverage laws. Similar legislation has been proposed in Idaho and Oklahoma, even though those states do not have existing contraceptive coverage requirements.

Although antiabortion-rights groups behind these efforts claim they do not take a position on birth control, this "doesn't tell the whole story," according to Kaiser Health News/Sacramento Bee. Many of the groups link certain forms of contraception with abortion or discourage the use of some types of birth control altogether.

For instance, Jeanne Monahan -- director of the Center for Human Dignity at the conservative Family Research Council -- has stated that the group is "opposed to any contraceptive that would have an abortion-inducing mode of action," which the group claims includes some intrauterine devices and emergency contraception. Other groups have alleged that the use of certain birth control pills alters the lining of the uterus to prevent a fertilized egg from implanting, a mode of action questioned by scientists.

"There is a lot of deliberate obfuscation going on with the purpose of pretending that this debate is not really about birth control, when it most definitely is," Susan Cohen, director of government affairs for the Guttmacher Institute, said. She cited efforts over the last year to defund Planned Parenthood and cut funding for family planning services for low-income women as further evidence that birth control is under attack by social conservatives.

Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women's Law Center, said that no other state or federal health care mandate has provoked a similar outcry about religious freedom, which underscores that "[m]uch of the opposition being voiced is, in fact, being driven by opposition to contraception" (Graham, Kaiser Health News/Sacramento Bee, 4/22).