wsftAn important religious freedom case in the US Supreme Court last week had women’s groups of opposing persuasions standing outside in the sleet, brandishing banners and addressing anyone who would listen.

Part of President Obama’s health reform orders all employers except traditional religious congregations to include in their employee health insurance plans coverage of the full cost of contraceptives, including those which can cause an early abortion – or pay a fine, or restructure their business in a such way that they could be, technically, disconnected from the content of health insurance.

Many institutions with religious connections which don’t qualify for an exemption are refusing to accept the new law, and a number are suing the government. But businesses can have a conscience too, and last week’s plaintiffs were the craft chain Hobby Lobby, and Conestoga Wood, whose owners object to abortifacients. Note, they are not objecting to coverage of contraception as such.

But to come back to the women. All the way through this debate – and it has been going on for at least two years – the White House, its experts and friends have tried to smother the conscience issue by framing the opposition as a “war against women”.

The message is that women are poor little vulnerable creatures who just can’t help getting pregnant at all the wrong times and who depend utterly on Big Brother to make their employers provide them with free contraception, morning after pills and sterilisations. There are no freebies for the men who get them pregnant, though.

This so annoyed George Mason University law professor Helen Alvare and friends that they launched a platform for women who do not want to be patronised by a state that is only interested in keeping them infertile – at whatever cost to their health and happiness that a decade or two of ingesting powerful drugs (and undergoing the odd surgical abortion) might bring.

The group is called Women Speak for Themselves and here is representative Meg McDonnell with the speech she delivered about it on the courthouse steps last week:

Women Speak For Themselves is a grassroots organization with more than 41,000 women from all 50 states and various political and religious backgrounds. Our list is made up of diverse and intelligent women–including doctors, lawyers, teachers, businesswomen, homeschooling mothers, and longtime community advocates. Our partnership with these women—which began in 2012—has produced hundreds of letters to the editor, town hall meetings, letters and meetings with congressional representatives, social media postings, and the occasional protest, all in support of women and religious freedom. Our women and their efforts have shown time and again that women care about religious liberty!

Statistics show that women practice religion more than men and claim more often that it is crucial to their lives. Also, fascinating data shows that countries around the world which respect religious freedom are also more likely to recognize the equality of the female half of the human race. Those who are supporting the HHS Mandate and claim to speak for all women are simply trying to divert attention away from the serious religious liberty issues at stake.

Our women stand with Green and the Hahn families in their pursuit of protection for their deeply held beliefs. Both family businesses currently provide benefit packages that are more generous than is required and than many of their competitors provide. Both families run their businesses with the demands of family life at the heart of their practice. All the Green and Hahn families want is to continue running their businesses as their consciences direct. The HHS Mandate, and particularly the expectation for businesses to pay for drugs which can act to kill an embryo—a human life—interferes with the Greens’ and the Hahns’ freedom to run their businesses according to their consciences.

Some of our women agree with the Green and Hahn families’ objections to these drugs, some do not. All of our women agree, however, that businesses with consciences are good for women, good for families, and good for America. No one speaks for all women on these issues. Women Speak for Themselves.

In a brief prepared for the court on behalf of WSFT, Helen Alvare had pointed out (among others things) that the government cannot have any compelling interest in a mandate that will not accomplish its own stated ends – that is, improving women’s health and promoting their equality with men.

Besides facilitating women’s ingesting chemicals which have some proven harmful side effects, the mandate also endorses “placing the entire burden of pregnancy prevention on women.” Furthermore, data show that government programs have corresponded with increases – not decreases – in unintended pregnancies, abortions and nonmarital births. All of these outcomes are borne nearly exclusively by women.

How can that be a blow for equality?

It was disappointing, Dr Alvare says, that the justices last week did not pick up on this critique of the mandate.

“When the topic did arise, briefly, it seemed that the female justices were assuming that insurance coverage of contraception is a vital interest for all women. We don’t know what the Justices who were silent on this point believe, but the female justices — all of whom are on the very liberal wing of the Court — seemed to assume the importance of a state goal of free contraception.”

It’s a funny thing that what 40,000-odd women say about a policy supposedly for women is of no interest to three of the most powerful women in the United States.

Carolyn Moynihan

Carolyn Moynihan is the former deputy editor of MercatorNet