Americans United has worked for decades to protect Americans’ access to effective and affordable birth control, standing up to foes who seek to use religion as an excuse to deny healthcare that is so vital to women and their families. Contraception is crucial to women’s health and equality.
AU raised awareness about this issue in the 1950s and ‘60s when we fought state laws – common in some parts of the country at the time and enacted at the behest of religious groups opposed to birth control – that made it illegal for doctors to even discuss contraceptives with married couples, let alone actually dispense it.
Those laws were invalidated by the Supreme Court in the 1965 decision Griswold v. Connecticut, but the fight over birth control never really went away. AU has been involved in recent legal battles brought by corporations like Hobby Lobby and religious non-profit groups that claimed the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers cover contraception in their employees’ health insurance violated their religious beliefs (even though in many cases these employers aren’t required to pay for their employees’ insurance coverage for it). When these groups get religious exemptions, it makes it difficult for their employees to access birth control.
We can expect to see more attacks on birth control access under the Trump administration.
Through our Protect Thy Neighbor project, AU fights any attempt to deny healthcare and health insurance in the name of religion. When religion is used as a justification to deny healthcare, it puts patients’ health and well-being in jeopardy.
Now it looks like our work is about to get harder because President Donald J. Trump is putting two leading anti-birth control zealots into powerful positions in the federal government.
Exhibit A is Teresa Manning. Trump has named Manning, a former lobbyist with the National Right to Life Committee and legislative analyst for the Family Research Council (FRC), to serve as deputy assistant secretary for population affairs at the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
As The Huffington Post pointed out, the Office of Population Affairs “administers the Title X program, which subsidizes contraception, Pap smears and other preventive health care services for 4 million low-income Americans, roughly half of whom are uninsured.”
Manning has made it clear that she opposes family planning. In 2003, she told NPR, “Of course, contraception doesn’t work. Its efficacy is very low.”
Talk about “alternative facts”! Reality says something different: As the American Sexual Health Association explains, if used correctly and consistently, certain forms of birth control, notably birth control pills and IUDs, are more than 97 percent effective.
Education about and access to contraceptives helps lower the unintended pregnancy rate. The Guttmacher Institute notes that the teen pregnancy rate has reached historic lows, and without Title X, the federal family planning program, it would be 30 percent higher.
Now Manning, who doesn’t think contraception works, is in charge of running this key program.
Trump has also appointed Charmaine Yoest to be assistant secretary of public affairs at HHS. Yoest is the former president of an anti-abortion group called Americans United for Life and, like Manning, once worked for the Family Research Council. (In 2007, I debated Yoest, who was then with FRC, on CNN about science education in public schools. During our spirited exchange, she doggedly defended creationism and refused to admit that the Earth is ancient.)
Americans had to fight long and hard to win the right to plan whether or when to start a family. Far-right religious extremists are still trying to chip away at that right, and these recent Trump appointments show that they may plan to start by targeting vulnerable populations – teenagers and low-income families.
Americans United has been a part of this fight since the 1950s all the way through ongoing cases challenging the ACA’s contraception coverage rule. We aren’t going anywhere.