Author Zach Lorentz
Zach is the current Director of Public Affairs of the Secular Student Alliance at Missouri S&T. His interests include sexual freedom, reproductive rights, LGBT equality, and advocating for proper scientific education and understanding.
Today, we welcome a new contributor, Zach Lorentz! The following is his first post:
Today in cities across the country, pro-life advocates were demonstrating in an event they referred to as the #StandUpRally. In a quote from the organizing website, the goal of the rally nationwide was to “…(push) back against the new mandate from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) that requires all employers provide free contraceptives, sterilization and abortion-inducing drugs through their health plans, even in violation of their consciences.” Citing the freedom of practice clause in the US constitution’s first amendment, these pro-lifers argued that the employers should have the freedom of conscience to not provide for reproductive health choices in their company’s healthcare coverage.
This group of pro-lifers cannot seem to step back and realize that what they are fighting for actually reduces overall religious freedom in this country. This “freedom” for the employer allows them to implicitly dictate to their employees how the employees live their lives outside of the workplace; basically, this “freedom” allows for the employer to become a theocrat unto their employees, an authoritarian figure whose rulings are based on religious principles. But what an employee does in their private life is none of employer’s damn business! The employer must surrender their personal freedom of conscience to preserve the freedom of choice for their employees.
On the point of employers not wanting to pay for contraception, sterilization and “abortion-inducing drugs,” I proclaim that they are paying for it anyway, however indirectly. With their refusal to include it in their company’s coverage, they are just passing that cost off to their employees. The employees will then use the money from their paychecks to buy more expensive reproductive care because they have been eliminated from a much larger healthcare pool, which could leverage for lower costs for care. On the management side, employers would benefit from having more productive and equal women in the workplace, who would not have to miss months of work for unplanned pregnancies. Men to a smaller degree could have the option to cover their wives, partners, and families and prevent any lost time due to paternity leave. Even if the employer objects to some reproductive healthcare choices personally, I argue that it is actually in the employer’s best economical and productive interest to provide easy access to reproductive care for their workers.
In the cases of “secular” companies not wanting to provide for this healthcare coverage, they must surrender one of two things. They can surrender their individual freedom of conscience such that their employees can make their own choices, and this option is much preferred. The only other fair option is that the employer must no longer claim to be equal opportunity; they must state outright that they discriminate in their hiring, and that this discrimination is based on comparing the private choices of the candidate to those of the employer. Only in this case would an employer be accepted in denying their employees access to reproductive healthcare coverage.
In the very specific case of overtly religious institutions like hospitals, schools, ministerial offices, and churches, this issue gets a little more difficult. If the employees of the institution were all of the faith practiced and forwarded by the employer, then this mandate might not apply to them. However, I maintain, from personal experience of going to a catholic high school, that not every person who works for a religious organization is of the central faith of the organization. I had teachers that were not catholic at my catholic school, and this diversity must especially be present in catholic hospitals. The mandate would rightly require the school to make reproductive healthcare options available to those “heretical” employees. However, as detailed above, the employer could stop hiring anyone who doesn’t follow the organization’s faith. Again, employers would need to overtly discriminate, or hold their noses and allow others to make “wrong” decisions.
But what about the employees who are of the faith of the the institution they work for? To this, I would even go so far as to say that the employer should include reproductive healthcare choices in their employees’ coverage regardless. Because religion is an intensely personal choice, I find a religious institution’s assumption that their employees follow the top-down dogma exactly to be naive at best, bloody stupid at worst. This fact may come as a surprise to those at the top of Catholicism, but Catholic women take birth control! Catholic men have vasectomies! Again, from personal experience, some of the most prominent and active women and men in your local churches use contraception. This denial of dogma should always be a decision made between a religious individual and their God, not dictated to them by their employer. The individual’s choice of devotion level to their faith should be placed solely in their own hands, without interference from anyone else.
At this point in the argument, someone in favor of the freedom of conscience would say that an employee has the right to choose where they work. This is a “Shut Up, That’s Why” Argument if I ever heard one. This completely dismisses the idea of a fair, safe, and equal workplace that the labor movement fought for for over the last hundred years. Would these pro-lifers say to a factory worker, “If you don’t appreciate the unsafe cost saving measures, you can always find work somewhere else”? Their attitude is large step back from the progress of preferential treatment for the worker. A worker does not always have the flexibility to find other work, and they shouldn’t have to because of an employer’s arbitrary exclusion of healthcare coverage. Additionally, the healthcare coverage isn’t some sinful thing at the workplace; the employees’ reproductive choices are made outside of work, and the employer should not have the power of arbitrary moral exclusion in the employees’ homes.
Among the confusions the misguided people “Standing Up” today hold is that this mandate will lead to mandatory sterilization and birth control for all. This is a terrible non-sequitur slippery slope argument. Another falsehood is that this mandate requires free access to contraception. This mandate only says that the an employer’s healthcare coverage must provide for access to reproductive healthcare options. The employees indirectly help pay for their own healthcare from their work for the company. Yes, not everyone will use the reproductive health benefits, but that goes to the heart of the way insurance works. Not everyone will ever use the coverage, but it will be available to those that need it. As for the misinformation that Plan B causes abortions, I simply point to this article. The pro-life side needs to come back to facts as opposed to spin and lies, so that the country can have a better debate about the ethics of reproductive health.
But in any case, the point I have hammered on throughout this post has been that an employee’s reproductive choices should not be influenced by their employer. This freedom of conscience would put employers in the homes, bedroom, and reproductive organs of their workers. Let the employers have the freedom of their own conscience, but let everyone they employ make their own moral choices unto themselves. This agency is the fundamental right of all humans.
For more information about protesting the #StandUpRally, visit FFRF