Religion, Jane Doe, and your boss

Activists posing as "Jane Doe" in hospital gowns gather in the Capitol Rotunda prior to legislative visits protesting HB3994 restricting abortion for minors on May 22, 2015. Photo by Bob Daemmrich

A lot has been written in recent weeks on the young immigrant woman, called Jane Doe in court filings, who was blocked for weeks by the Trump administration from ending her pregnancy after a Texas judge authorized her to do so. A lot has also been written on the Trump administration’s recent decision to allow any employer to deny coverage of birth control for their employees based on that employer’s own personal views on contraception.

Not enough, however, has been written on the links between the two acts.

Doe, on orders of the federal government, was forced to go to a religiously affiliated organization with a mission to keep women from choosing to end their pregnancies. The head of the Office of Refugee Resettlement, a man whose immediate past position was in public policy for the Catholic organization Knights of Columbus, personally visited the young woman to try to dissuade her choosing abortion.

But after experiencing all this coercion in the name of religion, Jane still publicly and powerfully testified to her own beliefs, saying, “I made my decision, and that is between me and God.” Reading that line, it is not hard to imagine just how many times this young woman must have been forced to defend her right to hold her own personal beliefs — including those on abortion — to the U.S. government over the past several weeks.

And though Jane ultimately prevailed in court, the Trump administration and its officials will continue to push their preferred interpretation of morality on others in refugee shelters seeking abortion care, even in cases of rape or incest.

They are also pushing it, of course, on many other women.

Under the president’s recent rollback of health insurance for birth control, companies will be able to cancel coverage of birth control for their employees on the basis of any personal objection. This loophole extends to all insurers, including universities.

Previously, the Affordable Care Act required contraceptives to be covered as part of preventative care. This financial offering women will be forced to give to their boss’s religion is not insignificant — some of the most effective forms of birth control can cost over $1,000 out-of-pocket — and the slippery slope we’re on in regard to public policy may cost a great deal more.

Some compare these types of recent events to something out of "The Handmaid’s Tale," a novel-turned-TV show wildly popular in feminist circles, but while those invoking that comparison have the best of intentions, it risks suggesting that these actions should only be matter of concern for those who get the reference.

That would be a mistake. While just one government-sponsored intrusion should be enough to cause alarm — and certainly, the government’s health care policies affect women of all ideological stripes — women’s health care will not be the only target of these types of actions. Already, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has acted to encourage employers to also exempt themselves from civil rights protections on the basis of religion.

I haven’t met one person who thinks the government’s actions described above are seriously a manifestation of “religious freedom.” More common are those who agree wholeheartedly with the government because these they see their own personal beliefs being furthered by these actions.

Religion, while often a powerful force for good in this world, has also been used as an excuse to suppress those who don’t agree with a particular set of beliefs. Those who stay silent as the government strips away the rights of our neighbors under the guise of religion — no matter if we agree with the ultimate policy or not — are on the wrong side of that history.

Maggie Jo Buchanan

Women's health policy consultant