Almost 20 years ago I went to my first women’s rights rally wearing a button that read, “If men could get pregnant, abortion would be safe, legal and federally funded.” That supposition seems just as fitting today when analyzing the debate over whether birth control should be covered for free as preventive health care by employers.
Within the last few weeks, we have seen congressional panels composed solely of men and have heard many other prominent men use their platforms to condemn women’s rights to access preventive health care. Not for one minute could anyone really believe that if our gender roles were reversed, these same men would ever be voting to deny themselves, or publicly damning, access to free contraceptives. They certainly aren’t discussing limiting coverage for vasectomies or ED prescription treatments.
And if history is any indication, men have rarely, if ever, voted against their own self-interests — voting rights, property rights, a free education, etc. Yet somehow, across this country, male politicians have used arguments of “religious freedom” as a pretense for deciding what health care services women should be “privileged” to have access to.
This is not a freedom of religion issue. Gratefully, we live in a country that exemplifies great religious freedom and tolerance. We are free to worship where we want and practice any religion we see fit. No one is taking that away.
But when a religious institution chooses to run an entity that employs workers, they are required to follow the same laws that protect those employees, such as minimum wage and child labor laws, as any other employer. If a religious employer decided that following child labor laws or OSHA requirements was against their beliefs, would the government then be required to allow those entities to ignore them? Of course not.
Remember, it’s not like the Obama administration is forcing women to use birth control; they are merely saying it must be offered free along with other preventive health services. Over 90 percent of women use birth control during their lifetime. This is about giving women tools to decide what’s best for their families and themselves.
As we celebrate Women’s History Month, we must always remember that women cannot be on the sidelines as men dominate the conversation about our bodies and our rights. In the birthplace of the suffrage movement, we must celebrate how far women have come, but we must be cognizant of how truly far we still have to go.
In 2012, women still make less than male counterparts for the same work; serve in fewer positions of power than men; and live in many states which have taken barbarian measures to limit our right to choose. Enough is enough. We must stand up. We must speak out. We must be treated equally.
Andrews is assistant minority leader in the Monroe County Legislature.