By Katherine Yordy
Fifty years after the Roe v. Wade decision was handed down, the legal landscape of health care and bodily autonomy is on fire. Not only has the constitutional right to abortion access been revoked, but threats to other dimensions of reproductive health care, such as access to contraceptives, abound.
Recently, a lawsuit was filed in Texas by a former employee of a CVS drug store who was fired for refusing to prescribe contraception. The plaintiff, a nurse practitioner, claimed her termination was wrongful because she sought a religious exemption to avoid prescribing these medications. The lawsuit is new, but it has the potential to cause great damage to the separation of church and state in health care. It is only the latest of a long line of cases of providers refusing to provide reproductive health care, including emergency contraception and medication abortion. It’s also part of the larger Christian Nationalist agenda that seeks to use our court system to dismantle civil liberties and warp religious freedom into the religious privilege of a few.
It came as no surprise that First Liberty Institute is representing the plaintiff in this case. This is the same organization that successfully argued before the Supreme Court that a high school football coach praying on the 50-yard line is “private” prayer and that has backed the idea that publicly funded school vouchers can be used for private religious institutions. First Liberty Institute proudly claims it defends religious freedom, but the group leaves out the part where it fights to impose a Christian Nationalist agenda on the public. First Liberty leaves out the part where it undermines our First Amendment right to a separation of church and state.
A Twisted Definition Of ‘Religious Freedom’
While the nurse’s case has a long way to go before it reaches the Supreme Court, if it ever does, it’s another example of the attempt to chip away at our rights under the guise of so-called “religious freedom.”
As someone who has relied on contraceptives for health care purposes aside from just preventing pregnancy, the idea that this important form of health care could become harder for some women to get because of a stranger’s religion terrifies me.
Religious exemptions have a special place in my heart; I have family members who relied on religious exemptions to military service as conscientious objectors. But there’s a key difference between that scenario and the nurse’s case: By refusing to prescribe contraception, she is imposing her religious views on others. This is not the first and won’t be the last time a “religious exemption” is used this way.
Do No Harm!
To ensure we are protected from religious freedom wielded as a weapon instead of as a shield, we must demand that our policymakers pass the Do No Harm Act. This bill, currently pending in Congress, will help protect everyone’s religious freedom while ensuring that no one can misuse it to harm others.
Religious freedom is a cherished right. But it has limits. Your religious belief does not give you the right to discriminate against me or impose your views on me.
Katherine Yordy is a member of Americans United’s Youth Organizing Fellowship.