WASHINGTON — Women supporting employers challenging the government’s contraception spoke out in support of a vision of women’s equality that supports fertility and women’s role as employers, as the case was argued before the U.S. Supreme Court Tuesday.
“All issues are women’s issues,” said Ashley McGuire of The Catholic Association, quoting an earlier statement by Sen. Kelly Ayotte, R-N.H.
“Women are just as entitled to religious liberty as any man, and women have as much of a stake in the outcome of this case as any man.”
McGuire was speaking at a March 25 demonstration in front of the Supreme Court building, as the high court heard oral arguments for two appeals challenging a mandate issued by the Department of Health and Human Services under the Affordable Care Act.
The mandate requires that employers provide and pay for drugs and devices including contraception, sterilization and some products and procedures that cause early embryo death.
Both the Hahn family, the Mennonite owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties, and the Greens, an evangelical Christian family who own and operate the Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby, object to the mandate’s requirements that it provide and pay for certain drugs that can kill human persons in their earliest stages of development.
While some religious nonprofits and houses of worship have been given an exemption or accommodation by the administration, for-profit businesses have been told they must comply or face fines of up to hundreds of dollars per employee per day.
Supporters of the mandate have said that those claiming a religious or conscientious opposition to complying with the mandate are waging a “war on women.” McGuire said that this framing of the debate “has been hijacked by an alarming paternalism and sexism.”
This approach equating an objection to contraceptives and early abortion-causing products as an opposition to women in general speaks “as if women aren’t bosses, as if all women think the same way on issues such as contraception and abortion,” she said.
‘Women Speak for Themselves’
Meg McDonnell, communications director for Women Speak For Themselves, a women’s group supporting opposition to the mandate on religious-freedom grounds, challenged that those “who are supporting the HHS mandate and claim to speak for all women are simply trying to divert attention away from the serious religious-liberty issues at stake.”
“Some of our women agree with the Green and Hahn families’ objections to these drugs; some do not,” McDonnell said. “All of our women agree, however, that businesses with consciences are good for women, good for families and good for America. No one speaks for all women on these issues. Women speak for themselves.”
Penny Nance, president of Concerned Women for America, noted that “fully a third of the plaintiffs against the mandate are women-owned businesses,” adding that these women business owners “want the opportunity to live out our faith in every sector of our lives.”
Jeanne Monahan, president of the March for Life, stressed that the challenge to the mandate is not about contraception, but “is about religious liberty.”
“This is about President Obama changing the landscape of the separation of church and state that we have known until today,” she said, adding that “no one should be forced into a corner on things such as this.”
Lila Rose, president of Live Action, argued that “fertility, first of all, is not a sickness or a disease, pregnancy is not something that needs to be medicated, and abortion certainly is not health care,” adding that some of the drugs required by the mandate “can cause [the] death … of our weakest and smallest Americans.
“It’s bad enough that our country allows drugs that kill human beings … but we will not be forced to pay for them.”
Tina Whittington, executive vice president of Students for Life of America, commented that, as a woman, she found “it demeaning that those on the other side equate birth control with equality instead of addressing the tough issues our nation faces.”
She continued, saying that as “a secular employer of conscience, I stand here today with Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood,” because of the case’s importance for conscience rights and their protection, particularly for people in business. The case, she said, is about life and about women; but moreover, “it is about conscience rights of all Americans and American employers.”