My View

Forces Championing Religious Liberty and Contraceptive Coverage Head to Supreme Court

A minister with an intensely personal experience on this issue says the two need not be at odds.

The Rev. Angela Herrera is a Unitarian Universality minister at The First Unitarian Church in Albuquerque.
National Journal
The Rev. Angela Herrera
Add to Briefcase
The Rev. Angela Herrera
March 25, 2014, 7:17 a.m.

The Rev. An­gela Her­rera, 37, is a Unit­ari­an Uni­ver­sal­ist min­is­ter in Al­buquerque, N.M., and a mem­ber of the 2014 Faith and Re­pro­duct­ive Justice Lead­er­ship In­sti­tute at the Cen­ter for Amer­ic­an Pro­gress in Wash­ing­ton. Al­buquerque is a city where, ac­cord­ing to Her­rera, wo­men of child­bear­ing age may ex­per­i­ence dif­fi­culty ac­cess­ing a full range of con­tra­cept­ive ser­vices. As a res­ult, it’s a com­munity where Her­rera and oth­ers will watch closely the out­come of Tues­day’s Su­preme Court ar­gu­ments cen­ter­ing around the ob­lig­a­tion of for-profit cor­por­a­tions to provide those covered un­der their em­ploy­ee health in­sur­ance plans with ac­cess to sub­sid­ized con­tra­cep­tion.

Her­rera shared a very per­son­al ex­per­i­ence with The Next Amer­ica and talked about what she sees as the false per­cep­tion of a clash between wo­men’s health and re­li­gious liberty.

As a wo­man and a re­li­gious lead­er in my Al­buquerque com­munity, I’ve been pay­ing close at­ten­tion to the law­suits claim­ing the Af­ford­able Care Act vi­ol­ates “re­li­gious liberty.” Cor­por­a­tions are ask­ing to be ex­empt from re­quire­ments with­in the law that health plans provide ba­sic pre­vent­at­ive health care ser­vices to wo­men — in­clud­ing con­tra­cept­ive cov­er­age.

I have per­son­al ex­per­i­ence with an­oth­er per­son’s claim to re­li­gious liberty threat­en­ing to de­rail and ser­i­ously com­plic­ate my life. This is more in­form­a­tion than I’d usu­ally share with strangers or even with my con­greg­a­tion, as I did last Sunday. But my story is par­tic­u­larly rel­ev­ant now that the U.S. Su­preme Court is about to hear ar­gu­ments in the Se­beli­us v. Hobby Lobby and Con­es­toga Wood v. Se­beli­us cases.

In 1999, my hus­band and I ex­per­i­enced a birth-con­trol fail­ure. I was a part-time stu­dent and already had a new­born and a 3-year-old. My hus­band and I knew im­me­di­ately we were in trouble. I called the mid­wife who had de­livered my son a few months earli­er, and she phoned in a pre­scrip­tion for emer­gency con­tra­cep­tion. Emer­gency con­tra­cep­tion works by pre­vent­ing a preg­nancy from oc­cur­ring. It is not the “abor­tion pill.”

The soon­er you take the pills, the more ef­fect­ive they are. So, you’d bet­ter be­lieve that first thing in the morn­ing I got the ba­bies up and ready, buckled in­to the car, and I headed straight to the phar­macy. But when I got there, the phar­macist — a big, stern-look­ing man in his 50s — in­formed me that he would not fill my pre­scrip­tion be­cause he thought it was im­mor­al.

My ad­ren­aline surged. Did he have the right to cause a delay that could get me preg­nant? I in­struc­ted him to trans­fer my pre­scrip­tion to the nearest phar­macy.

Luck­ily, it was just four miles away.

Luck­ily, I had a car.

Luck­ily, I didn’t have to hurry to an un­for­giv­ing job.

And luck­ily, the next phar­macist did fill my pre­scrip­tion.

I say “lucky” be­cause if any of those things wer­en’t in place, I could have had my third baby in four years. And then what? Would I have been able to con­tin­ue with my stud­ies at com­munity col­lege, lead­ing to a uni­versity schol­ar­ship, then gradu­ate school at Har­vard, and my be­com­ing a faith lead­er in Al­buquerque? I can­not say with cer­tainty that I would have. All be­cause a phar­macist dis­agreed with my mid­wife’s pre­scrip­tion for emer­gency con­tra­cep­tion.

After my ex­per­i­ence, I was able to use my in­sur­ance to get an IUD, one of the most re­li­able forms of birth con­trol avail­able and something that would have cost too much for my fam­ily out of pock­et. IUDs and emer­gency con­tra­cept­ives are both forms of birth con­trol that Hobby Lobby and Con­es­toga Wood re­fuse to cov­er for their fe­male em­ploy­ees. And not just fe­male em­ploy­ees, but em­ploy­ees’ fe­male part­ners, and ad­oles­cent daugh­ters.

As a faith lead­er, I be­lieve deeply in your right to be the au­thor of your own life. I hon­or your in­her­ent worth and dig­nity and your ca­pa­city for mor­al reas­on­ing. I re­spect that you and you alone know what is best for you, and I would nev­er seek to in­ter­fere with your abil­ity to pur­sue your life or your call­ing in the way that phar­macist al­most did with me. Or like the plaintiffs in the Hobby Lobby and Con­es­toga Wood cases are at­tempt­ing to do.

It’s no sur­prise that the pub­lic health ex­perts who de­veloped the list of re­quired wo­men’s pre­vent­at­ive ser­vices in­cluded con­tra­cep­tion. Nu­mer­ous stud­ies show that wo­men are health­i­er and have bet­ter health and preg­nancy out­comes when they can plan when and if to be­come preg­nant.

To ac­com­mod­ate re­li­gious con­cerns about this re­quire­ment, while still pro­tect­ing the abil­ity of wo­men to ac­cess con­tra­cep­tion if they choose, the ACA al­lows non­profit re­li­gious or­gan­iz­a­tions to avoid dir­ectly provid­ing this con­tra­cept­ive cov­er­age. These or­gan­iz­a­tions can fill out a form and be­come ex­empt from pay­ing for con­tra­cep­tion or be­ing in­volved in the pro­cess.

Hobby Lobby and Con­es­toga Wood are for-profit cor­por­a­tions with in­ter­faith work­forces, yet their lead­er­ship claims the law vi­ol­ates their re­li­gious liberty. Cor­por­a­tions don’t go to church. They don’t light candles, sing hymns, or med­it­ate. Cor­por­a­tions are not en­titled to re­li­gious liberty be­cause they can­not be prac­ti­tion­ers of re­li­gion.

These cases are about for-profit cor­por­a­tions claim­ing to have civil rights that trump their em­ploy­ees’ rights.

We are now en­gaged in a kind of polit­ic­al jujitsu — with re­li­gious and so­cial con­ser­vat­ives us­ing the lan­guage of “free­dom” to con­strain the choices of oth­ers. The me­dia has im­pli­citly agreed, mak­ing it sound as though these cases are about re­li­gious liberty versus wo­men’s health. As a faith lead­er, I know re­li­gious liberty and wo­men’s health are not — and should not be — in op­pos­i­tion. They go hand in hand.

The U.S. Con­sti­tu­tion says that the own­ers of Hobby Lobby and Con­es­toga Wood may ex­press their views, but may not im­pose them on you or me. Be­cause in or­der for us to co­ex­ist, re­li­gious liberty must end at the tips of our noses. In my case, the phar­macist’s claim to re­li­gious liberty did not stop at the tip of my nose. It barged right in­to the most private part of my life. If not de­cided wisely, these Su­preme Court cases will take that kind of in­ter­fer­ence in the private lives of oth­ers to a sweep­ing level by al­low­ing cor­por­a­tions to in­ter­fere in the per­son­al health de­cisions of thou­sands of wo­men and fam­il­ies with var­ied health cir­cum­stances, world­views, and fin­an­cial situ­ations.

That’s whose rights are really at stake. Real wo­men like me. Real fam­il­ies like mine. It’s not re­li­gious liberty versus wo­men, but re­li­gious liberty for a few versus re­li­gious liberty for all, in­clud­ing people whose faith al­lows them to fol­low their own con­science and make the best de­cisions for their own lives.

The Rev. An­gela Her­rera is a Unit­ari­an Uni­ver­sal­ist min­is­ter at the First Unit­ari­an Church in Al­buquerque,  N.M. Fol­low Her­rera on Twit­ter at @re­va­her­rera.

“MY VIEW” OF THE NEXT AMER­ICAS

Are you part of the demo­graph­ic that is the Next Amer­ica? Are you a cata­lyst who fosters change for the next gen­er­a­tion? Or do you know someone who is? The Next Amer­ica wel­comes first-per­son per­spect­ives from act­iv­ists, thought lead­ers and people rep­res­ent­at­ive of a di­verse na­tion. Email Jan­ell Ross at jross@na­tion­al­journ­al.com. And please fol­low us on Twit­ter and Face­book.

What We're Following See More »
STAFF PICKS
Bannon Still Collecting Royalties from ‘Seinfeld’
49 minutes ago
WHY WE CARE

The Hollywood Reporter takes a look at a little-known intersection of politics and entertainment, in which Trump campaign CEO Steve Bannon is still raking in residuals from Seinfeld. Here's the digest version: When Seinfeld was in its infancy, Ted Turner was in the process of acquiring its production company, Castle Rock, but he was under-capitalized. Bannon's fledgling media company put up the remaining funds, and he agreed to "participation rights" instead of a fee. "Seinfeld has reaped more than $3 billion in its post-network afterlife through syndication deals." Meanwhile, Bannon is "still cashing checks from Seinfeld, and observers say he has made nearly 25 times more off the Castle Rock deal than he had anticipated."

Source:
IT’S ALL CLINTON
Reliable Poll Data Coming in RE: Debate #1
1 hours ago
WHY WE CARE
NEXT THURSDAY
Trump Transition Team Meeting with Silicon Valley VIPs
3 hours ago
THE DETAILS

Donald Trump's "transition team will meet next week with representatives of the tech industry, multiple sources confirmed, even as their candidate largely has been largely shunned by Silicon Valley. The meeting, scheduled for next Thursday at the offices of law and lobbying firm BakerHostetler, will include trade groups like the Information Technology Industry Council and the Internet Association that represent major Silicon Valley companies."

Source:
WHAT WILL PASS?
McConnell Doubts Criminal Justice Reform Can Pass This Year
3 hours ago
THE LATEST
ALSO FIRED UNATTRACTIVE WAITRESSES
Trump Did Business with Cuba
4 hours ago
THE LATEST

Today in bad news for Donald Trump:

  • Newsweek found that a company he controlled did business with Cuba under Fidel Castro "despite strict American trade bans that made such undertakings illegal, according to interviews with former Trump executives, internal company records and court filings." In 1998, he spent at least $68,000 there, which was funneled through a consluting company "to make it appear legal."
  • The Los Angeles Times reports that at a golf club he owns in California, Trump ordered that unattractive female staff be fired and replaced with prettier women.
×