Framing the decision with the language of religious freedom, the Trump administration moved to terminate an Obama-era directive under the Affordable Care Act that required employers to provide insurance coverage for contraception for their employees, as of Oct. 6. This change comes after years of litigation over the mandate, notably the Supreme Court’s landmark Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision. The contraceptive coverage mandate removed cost as a barrier to birth control but last weekend hundreds of thousands of women found themselves immediately vulnerable to losing access at the mercy of their employers.
In a coordinated action, Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued sweeping new guidance to federal agencies and prosecutors, emboldening business owners to seek exemptions from nondiscrimination laws on the basis of religious objections. His recommendations characterize a striking divergence from Obama-era interpretations and greenlight discrimination against LGBTQ people under the guise of religious liberty.
The actions reek of Christian patriarchs invested so deeply in their own exceptionalism that the hypocrisy of their xenophobic admonitions of creeping “Sharia law” is lost on them. It takes gall to issue far-reaching initiatives after years of persistent, harsh criticism of President Obama for acting “like a king” while his administration relied on executive actions as a recalcitrant Congress all but refused to work with him, too.
At the root, though, these reversals are about shaming women and queer people. We find ourselves living in an era of conservative reactionary rule in which bigoted plutocrats actively seek to regain a sense of lost authority over the bodies and day-to-day lives of marginalized people. Remember, Vice President Mike Pence is a proponent of administering shock therapy to LGBTQ Americans in order to “correct” sexuality and Sessions dreams of a world where no gay couple is served a wedding cake, let alone a marriage license. Internalize, also, that the battle for reproductive rights has less to do with religious beliefs than it is about who gets to control reproduction.
As women’s rights advocates push back against infringements due to broadened religious discrimination, it is crucial to talk about the medical conditions like hormonal imbalances, ovarian cysts, endometriosis that birth control can help manage. Many women find themselves in emergency rooms when denied access to the contraceptive medication they need. But it bears repeating: It’s okay to use contraceptives to prevent pregnancy. Full stop, unequivocally. People assigned female at birth are not incubators and are owed sovereignty of their bodies under the law.
But with Neil Gorsuch sitting in a stolen Supreme Court seat and conservative politicians from grossly gerrymandered districts occupying congressional chambers, millions of people’s bodies and livelihoods are on the line. Make no mistake: Such rollbacks are only the beginning, especially as the administration struggles to exact change through the legislature.