When women make important decisions, we usually consult more than one resource. We consult our families, our faith communities and, quite frequently, our bank accounts.
Accordingly, the public policy conversation surrounding women’s health care coverage should not only include faith and personal morality, but the matter of providing options for women to make sound financial decisions.
When it comes to any decision about family planning, whether a woman who is not pregnant decides to have a baby, or if she is pregnant and must make the difficult decision about whether to see the pregnancy to term, a woman must explore all her options. She may ask her family and friends and rely on her faith to make the best decision. But family planning decisions must happen well before a woman decides to become pregnant, and she needs adequate health care options to do so.
As is well-known now, North Carolina decided not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Such an expansion would have allowed lots more women to get health care coverage, that would have included yearly exams and contraceptive coverage. Without this expansion, we further limit family planning for women and their families.
We know that women who are not covered by health insurance experience stress about getting sick. We know also that if they get sick they are frequently buried under medical bills. Without adequate health care coverage, women forgo yearly checkups for fear of fees and high copays. If we don’t give women the option of having healthy bodies, then the decision to have children is limited. Long before a woman decides she wants to become pregnant, health decisions before that determine the viability of her pregnancy.
Of course when a woman doesn’t have the resources, she is faced with difficult decisions every day. Does she put gas in the car or buy three day’s worth of groceries? Does she skip the phone bill to pay the electric bill?
Before we can even question a woman’s faith, we must first make sure she has all options available to her to make a decision that’s right for her and her family.
Ninety-nine percent of women age 15 to 44 who are sexually active have used some form of birth control. Not only do women use them for contraceptives, but also for treatment for ovarian cysts, hormone replacement after chemotherapy, endometriosis and more. In other words denying this coverage will simply be denying access to basic medicine.
Since contraceptive coverage affects so many women, faith leaders should be paying attention. Such discussions will no doubt affect the members of their congregations. Faith leaders can help by speaking in favor of contraceptive coverage mandates. We cannot leave the faith conversation to leaders opposed to contraceptive coverage, because we know that many faith leader support women and their faith journey.
This week the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius, a case brought by an arts and crafts store that is opposed to the birth control benefit. Hobby Lobby does not believe it should be required to provide insurance coverage that covers birth control to its employees. Although the Affordable Health Care Act provided exemptions for 350,000 churches, religious school and houses of worship, corporations and for-profit business are not exempt under current law.
North Carolina is no stranger to the rights of religious-organizations-versus-the-health-of-women debate. On November 20, 2013, Belmont Abbey College, a small catholic liberal arts college in Belmont, North Carolina sued the federal government for mandating that birth control be covered in students and employees health plan under the Affordable Health Care Act. The college said the Act violated its religious liberty by forcing it to provide contraceptives it deemed “immoral.”
But if we’re going to talk about religious liberty, we should consider the religious liberty of women too.
Many women of faith believe strongly that contraceptives should be covered by health insurance. Seventy-five percent of American voters agree that contraceptives should be covered. Faith leaders who support women should speak in their churches, synagogues or mosques in support so we know that there is not only one side of the debate.
If faith leaders have any opinions about contraceptives or abortion coverage, they would consider the importance of adequate health coverage. Raising a family takes financial, emotional and spiritual fitness, and families should have all options available to determine when the time is right.
We don’t need people judging a woman’s faith because she made decisions that were right for her family. As leaders of faith, we must support healthy decisions in love.
Rev. Emma Akpan is an ordained minister in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and a Board Member of North Carolina Women United.