Posts tagged rights

Religious exceptions to health care coverage make for bad policy

As you might already know, the Institute of Medicine recently recommended that all health insurance plans should provide free coverage for prescription birth control, breast-pump rentals, counseling for domestic violence, and annual wellness exams and HIV tests.

While reasonable policy to most people, the move immediately drew criticism from the religious right. For example, Jeanne Monahan at the socially conservative Family Research Council said that many Americans object to birth control on religious grounds. “They should not be forced to have to pay into insurance plans that violate their consciences. Their conscience rights should be protected,” she said.

Is Monahan correct? Are your rights being violated when health-insurance plans are required to cover procedures you find objectionable due to your religious beliefs? The Economist argues the answer is absolutely not. You should click through to read the entire article, but here’s a snippet:

America has far and away the highest rates of teen pregnancy in the developed world. Research consistently indicates there are a lot of women out there, particularly low-income women, who want to have more control than they do over their reproductive timing. They don’t want to be having babies. I don’t want them to be having babies they don’t want, particularly if I have to pay for those babies. Requiring insurers to cover birth control and counseling will lead to these women having more control over their reproductive choices. It means that, as everywhere in the world where women gain control over their reproductive choices, they will have more freedom. If, of all the things that might offend your conscience at this moment in world history, you pick this, then I submit you’ve got a weird conscience.

Is the “global gag rule” coming back?

From Mother Jones:

A House committee has voted to reinstate a ban on US funding to organizations that offer or even refer women for abortions around the world. Often called the “global gag rule” or the “Mexico City Policy,” the measure goes so far as to prevent health and aid organizations from even presenting abortion as an option. …

While the provision is couched in the argument that it aims to prevent American taxpayers from funding abortion abroad, it’s a misleading one. The 1973 Helms Amendment already bans foreign aid money from being used for pay for abortion services. This goes a step farther and says that no organization that offers abortions at all, gives a woman a referral to seek one elsewhere, or even mentions abortion as an option is eligible for US funds.

Ronald Reagan, George H.W. Bush, and George W. Bush all adopted this policy via executive orders. And when Democrats Bill Clinton and Barack Obama took office, they both rescinded the rule, allowing international organizations that offer abortions to at least get funding for services like health care, family planning, or preventing the spread of HIV/AIDS. Now congressional Republicans want to make the rule law.

The provision was tucked into an authorization bill passed earlier this week by the House Foreign Relations Committee. It reads:

None of the funds authorized to be appropriated by this Act or any amendment made by this Act may be made available to any foreign nongovernmental organization that promotes or performs abortion, except in cases of rape or incest or when the life of the mother would be endangered if the fetus were carried to term.

Fortunately, it’s unlikely this measure will go anywhere. However, it does serve as another depressing example of reproductive rights coming under attack from Republicans.

Record attacks on reproductive rights

The so-called “war on women” is in full swing, according to a new report by the Guttmacher Institute:

In the first six months of 2011, states enacted 162 new provisions related to reproductive health and rights. Fully 49% of these new laws seek to restrict access to abortion services, a sharp increase from 2010, when 26% of new laws restricted abortion. The 80 abortion restrictions enacted this year are more than double the previous record of 34 abortion restrictions enacted in 2005—and more than triple the 23 enacted in 2010. All of these new provisions were enacted in just 19 states.

To put this in perspective, take a look at this graph:

Click here to read about the 162 new provisions in more detail.

NY clerk quits over marriage equality

A town clerk in upstate New York has quit her job in order to avoid having to sign marriage licenses for gay and lesbian couples, according to news reports.

Laura Fotusky wrote in her resignation letter that she would step down as town clerk on July 21, three days before New York becomes the sixth state to allow same-sex marriage. Her reasoning was based solely on religious belief.

Fotusky was not immediately available for comment, but in her letter, dated July 11, she said she believes the Bible takes precedence over man-made laws.

"The Bible clearly teaches that God created marriage between male and female as a divine gift that preserves families and cultures. Since I love and follow Him, I cannot put my signature on something that is against God. … I would be compromising my moral conscience if I participated in the licensing procedure."

The extent to which the government should recognize religious objections to same-sex marriage has been a topic of heated debate. While most state-level same-sex marriage legislation exempts private religious groups from performing marriages, it also requires government employees to follow the law (this is the case in New York). As explained by Gov. Andrew Cuomo:

Cuomo … told reporters that he agreed with Fotusky’s decision to resign because government workers have a responsibility to enforce the law.

"When you enforce the laws of the state, you don’t get to pick and choose the laws," Cuomo said.

Fotusky is the first clerk in New York to resign over objections to same-sex marriage (a town clerk in Syracuse has also cited religious objections, but said she will follow the law). I expect more government employees wil voice their objections, but given the poor state of the economy, I think most people will swallow their morals and continue doing their job.

"Heartbeat bill" divides reproductive rights opponents

Last week I informed you that the Ohio House of Representatives voted to ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detectable, which is usually around 6 or 7 weeks. The bill does not include exceptions for rape, incest, or the mother’s health, making it perhaps the most restrictive abortion legislation to pass a U.S. house of law in recent memory.

While one might think that opponents of reproductive rights would rally around this legislation, The Huffington Post reports that it has actually divided the community:

Ohio Right to Life has publicly refused to support the “heartbeat bill” since it was first discussed in March, despite its steady record of supporting and even authoring anti-abortion legislation. Gonidakis said a team of “national legal experts” helped his organization to determine that a legal battle over the bill could end up overturning other pro-life laws in Ohio, such as informed consent requirements. … Further, the pro-life group worries that taxpayers would have to foot the bill for a lengthy court battle that could end up costing millions.

Ohio lawmakers move to ban abortions after heartbeat

The Ohio House of Representatives voted 54 to 43 this week to ban abortions after a fetal heartbeat is detectable, which is usually around 6 or 7 weeks, Reuters reports. The bill does not include exceptions for rape, incest, or the mother’s health, making it perhaps the most restrictive abortion legislation to pass a U.S. house of law in recent memory.

The good news for now is that Ohio’s Republican-heavy Senate will reportedly not vote on the issue until the fall, allowing time for defenders of women’s reproductive rights to organize opposition. Furthermore, even if passed by the Senate and signed by Republican Gov. John Kasich, the legislation would face an immediate legal challenge and uphill legal battle. The Supreme Court ruled in the 1973 case Roe v. Wade that a woman has a right to an abortion until the fetus is viable outside the womb, usually between 22 and 24 weeks.

Proponents of the measure actually welcome a legal challenge, in hopes that courts will decide in their favor. Yet even the pro-life lobby group Ohio Right to Life opposes the so-called “heartbeat bill” on the grounds that the courts would almost certainly strike down the bill, and that defending it would cost hundreds of thousands of taxpayer’s dollars.