birth controlI have an interesting job as a religious professional. I’m not an ordained clergy person in a parish or congregation. I’m the deputy director the Religious Institute, a multifaith non-profit that works to change the conversation about religion and sexuality in this country.

And God knows, that conversation needs to change. Fast. Because apparently we still haven’t settled a couple of questions about birth control.

First, women should be able to use contraception if they choose, regardless of their income. Being able to plan and space children makes women’s lives, and the lives of their families, better and healthier. The inclusion of contraceptive services in the Affordable Care Act, without cost-sharing, is an important step forward in women’s health and economic justice.

Second, religion and contraception are not opposed to each other. Not at all. As a matter of fact, it’s quite the contrary. It was 85 years ago, in 1929, that the first faith tradition in the US came out in support of birth control and today, more than 14 denominations and movements officially support family planning. (Check out page 4 of the Religious Institute’s Open Letter on Family Planning to see which ones.)

In just over a month, the Supreme Court is scheduled to hear cases about so-called “religious freedom” and the contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act. Reading the media reports around these two cases, a person could easily conclude that all religious people are opposed to contraception.

Two corporations, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, are claiming that the law that provides contraceptive services to women violates their religious freedom. Hobby Lobby and Constoga Wood are citing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) in their lawsuits. RFRA states: “Government shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion…” (Emphasis mine.) Just to be clear: a corporation is not a person, despite the Citizen’s United and subsequent Supreme Court  decisions. Individuals form corporations in order to shield themselves from personal liability. In so doing, they agree that the corporation will follow the laws of the United States. Corporations must follow the law and they cannot exercise religious freedom.

Religious freedom is about individuals. Religious freedom should protect each person’s right to make healthcare decisions according to their own beliefs and conscience. No business owner should be able to impose their religious beliefs on their employees, which is exactly what the plaintiffs in this case want to do. The owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood want to deny their workers access to health care services and take away their individual religious freedom.

These cases are about women’s bodies, and who has control over them. The claims of religious opposition to contraception are mixed up in the messiness of our culture’s squeamishness about sexuality in general, and women’s sexuality in particular. The idea that a woman might want to have sex for pleasure and not worry about pregnancy is really disturbing to some people.

I’m unutterably tired of religion being used as the cover for limiting women’s moral agency and sexuality. I am a religious leader and a person of deep Christian faith. And I believe that God created us as whole beings, our sexuality included. Indeed, sexuality and the pleasure and intimacy that it brings are one of God’s great gifts to us. And I am but one voice among millions of people of faith who have no problem with contraception.

So let’s talk about that. Let’s talk about the fact that millions of people ground their commitment to reproductive justice in their faith. Click here for a few ideas from the Religious Institute and some of our colleague organizations about how to do that. And if you are a religious leader, consider adding your endorsement to our Open Letter on Family Planning. Keep your eye on our website for more ways to speak out in the coming weeks. Let’s change the conversation.



5 thoughts on “Religion, Sex, and Politics

  1. Thank you for your message, Marie. Though I knew about the RCRC, I didn’t know about the RI. The attempts to limit access to contraception are scary. Too many anti-choice people don’t seem to get that if women don’t have unwanted pregnancies then they won’t have abortions. (That’s simplistic, I know, and it is good to read that the RI deals with other aspects of sexuality.)


  2. Thank you for articulating this so thoughtfully, Marie. It *is* about women’s bodies and who will control them. Apparently there are those who would have us go back to the biblical, but arguably not God-ordained, societal structure where women are property. (sigh)


  3. Why is it ok to force business owners to pay for things they personally consider immoral?

    The end result of that is that anyone who does think contraception is immoral may not own a business, that does not to me seem like the hallmark of a free society.

    Its a non issue in terms of access to contraception because anyone can go to a family planning centre and get free contraceptives anyway.


    1. I assume you would make the same argument about other religious beliefs held by business owners, in that case. Those who believe all medical intervention is immoral don’t need to offer insurance at all. Those who don’t believe transfusions are acceptable can cut those from their coverage.
      Why is the employee’s health only covered at the pleasure of the employer? A system like that would require that every employee be of the same religious beliefs as the owner…otherwise there is no freedom for the employee.

      And actually there are very few “family planning centers” that offer free contraceptives on an ongoing basis, especially if you live away from a major city. (and outside the major cities, there are also fewer employment options, so let’s not pretend that people have tons of choice in where they get a job, so they could just choose to work for a different employer whose religious beliefs match their own health needs.)


      1. Well I favour a fully state run health service which would sidestep the whole thorny moral issue, but yes, if people have sincerely held moral convictions against something, to the point they would consider themselves evil for doing so, I think they should not be forced to do those things – regardless of what those things are.

        It’s probably not an absolute, if someone had a strong moral conviction that allowing people to continue to exist and thus experience suffering was wrong and thus felt morally convicted to murder everyone they saw I’d probably not endorse that degree of moral autonomy – but I don’t think paying for other people’s birth control is an issue of that nature.

        Unfortunately taking absolutes of the table makes discussions a lot more messy and convoluted so I am kind of loathe to do so 😛


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