What We Don’t Yet Know For Sure (in the name of religious freedom)
This past week, the state legislatures in two states, Indiana and Arkansas, approved so-called “religious objections” laws. These types of legislation (previously passed by 18 states) are ostensibly based on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which was the effort of a coalition of groups, many of them progressive, to ensure that individuals and their faith traditions were protected from inadvertent discrimination, especially religious minorities.
The federal law was in play last year when the US Supreme Court ruled on the so-called Hobby Lobby case argued before it, that “closely held” corporations have the same basic rights of religious belief, allowing businesses to assert their faith positions by opting out, for example, of providing free contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act if they found it objectionable.
In both recent state battles over proposed legislation loosely mirroring the federal statute, vociferous and effective opposition has been focused on the very real threat to gays and lesbians, even more acutely in these states which offer no constitutional protection against discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity.
Upon signing by the Governor, there was immediate backlash, first in Indiana and then Arkansas (where WalMart executives have asked for the law to be amended to make clear that discrimination against gays and lesbians will not be allowed). But as far as I can tell, the potential for damage to the reproductive rights of women and girls has not been the subject of outrage, let alone education on the potential harm. If language is indeed added that would thwart the threat under these laws to GLBTQ persons and these bills are signed into law, there is no assurance that “religious objections” won’t be used to deny access to contraception or other goods, services, and status that are disapproved by a business or individual.
My policy colleagues in the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice have not had the bandwidth to do the kind of analysis necessary to pinpoint the instances and conclusively support the suspicion that on the state level in the name of one person’s faith, another’s human rights — in this case the legal rights to choice in becoming pregnant or having a baby — may be compromised. There’s no reason to think otherwise.
Let’s hope that the righteous furor around these unnecessary and insidious bills will slow down the rush to sign them into law, giving us more of a chance to add our voices to the resounding NO.