First Amendment Does Not Give Church Leaders Right to Impose Beliefs on Women

Terry L. Fromson, Women’s Law Project Managing Attorney

Advancing the church’s unrelenting pursuit of control over women’s reproductive lives, Joe Watkins’ op-ed published in The Philadelphia Inquirer on June 3 (Mandate for health services touches full religious spectrum) incorrectly labels the federal contraceptive coverage rule unconstitutional.  The First Amendment does not give church leaders any right to impose their beliefs about contraception on women.

Nor do women want the church to interfere in their personal decisions about use of contraception.  Most women, including active churchgoers, use contraception at some time in their lives.  They do so because contraceptive coverage is essential to their health care, both for achieving healthy pregnancies and for combatting medical conditions unrelated to pregnancy. The cost and lack of insurance coverage for contraception have remained barriers to access for many.

The federal contraceptive coverage rule, which ensures access to contraceptive services, prescriptions, and devices for millions of women, is constitutional.  Neutral laws that do not target a particular faith and apply to everyone equally do not violate the First Amendment.  The contraceptive coverage rule is such a law.

Contrary to the op-ed’s assertion, the challenged federal rule does not require religious institutions to pay for contraceptive coverage.  It exempts churches themselves and then goes beyond and provides that religiously affiliated institutions that perform non-religious functions do not even have to pay for coverage.  Religiously affiliated schools, hospitals and charitable institutions employ individuals of all faiths and accept public dollars to provide their services.  Individuals who work for them should not have to give up their Constitutional rights.

For more information, see our blog from February, “Obama Administration Ensures a Wide Range of Contraceptive Insurance Coverage, Even at Religiously-Affiliated Institutions

Also see WLP work on Health Care Reform.

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The Women's Law Project creates a more just and equitable society by advancing the rights and status of all women throughout their lives. To this end, we engage in high-impact litigation, advocacy, and education.
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