Last month, the Trump administration revised an Obama-era mandate requiring employers to provide contraceptive coverage to their employees, creating exemptions for employers who object to contraception on moral or religious grounds. These exemptions should be appreciated for expanding religious liberty — no employer should be forced to provide a service which conflicts with their own religious beliefs. Conservative organizations should think carefully about how they use this new liberty, however, and continue to provide contraceptive coverage to their employees.
The new exemptions benefit organizations with a history of opposing contraceptive access. The mandate was originally challenged by groups such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, an order of Catholic nuns. The drivers of the policy change share similar ties. Matthew Bowman, one of the primary authors of the new exemptions, has legally represented conservative pro-life advocacy organization March for Life in the past.
Of course, conservative groups like these usually vehemently oppose abortion as well as contraceptive access. This raises a logical inconsistency.
Improved contraceptive access and technology has caused abortion rates to plummet in the last few decades. Between 2008 and 2011 alone, the abortion rate fell 13 percent, largely because of a decline in unintended pregnancies. After Republican lawmakers cut Planned Parenthood funding in Texas, reducing contraceptive access, teen abortion rates soared. When every other choice is removed, women turn to abortion.
This shouldn’t be surprising. The relationship between contraception and abortion is simple. The more access to contraception, the fewer abortions there will be. The reduced contraceptive coverage that these exemptions could bring will be no exception to this rule. If organizations use these new exemptions to make contraception more difficult and costly to attain, it’s very likely that we’ll see a significant rise in abortion rates. So what are conservative organizations thinking?
If these groups are honestly opposed to abortion, they should take a good long look at the data. If abortion is such a grave moral issue, these groups should be eager to distribute contraceptives to prevent it. These organizations need to be honest about their priorities. Even groups that oppose all forms of women’s reproductive health care — contraception and abortion — should support contraception as the lesser of two so-called “evils.” It is idealistic and highly impractical for them to denounce abortion and then make it difficult for women to access any other option.
The Trump administration’s policy changes constitute just one instance of a larger conservative effort to restrict access to contraception. These changes follow on the heels of conservative opposition to sensible sexual education in schools and Planned Parenthood cuts that have increased abortion rates. Republican lawmakers and organizations need to reevaluate their priorities, especially in the wake of these new exemptions. If they are honestly pro-life, they should be implementing adequate sexual education. They should be subsidizing PP. They should be providing total contraceptive coverage to their employees. They should be doing everything possible to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
While the new exceptions to the Obama-era mandate expand religious liberty, the organizations misusing these exemptions to cut contraceptive coverage are the very entities who should be most eager to provide it. Conservatives: figure out what your priorities are, and be consistent.
Leake is a Plan II and business freshman. She is a columnist. Follow her on Twitter @grace_leake.