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One More in a Long Line of Attacks on Women's Access to Health Care

Andrew Beck,
Senior Staff Attorney, Reproductive Freedom Project,
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February 25, 2011

Today, the ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief in the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals in Liberty University v. Geithner, one of the first lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act (the new health care reform law) to reach an appeals court. We oppose Liberty University’s arguments because they represent yet one more attempt to take away vital reproductive health services for women.

Among its arguments as to why the Affordable Care Act should be struck down, Liberty claims the act would violate its religious rights because the insurance coverage it must provide its employees, which need not include abortion care, might enable other persons with such insurance to obtain medical services that Liberty opposes on religious grounds.

How, you might ask, does it violate Liberty‘s religious rights when other insured people use insurance to pay for medical care that Liberty opposes? It doesn’t, which is why the ACLU filed a friend-of-the-court brief urging the appeals court to affirm the trial court’s order dismissing Liberty’s case. While federal law protects everyone’s right to free religious exercise, and we strongly support that right , it does not permit Liberty — or anyone else — to pick and choose which medical procedures should be covered for everyone else. And, as we pointed out in our brief, while Liberty focuses on insurance coverage for abortion, it is a dangerous argument that would apply to any kind of medical care — including contraception, sterilization, Viagra prescriptions, or blood transfusions and organ transplants — that runs contrary to someone’s religious beliefs.

It’s no secret that in recent months, women’s ability to access basic health care services has come under vicious attack. In Congress, the House took the unprecedented step of voting to strip all federal funding for Planned Parenthood, and an extreme bill introduced by Rep. Chris Smith of New Jersey would effectively stop private insurance companies from providing coverage for abortion altogether. In numerous state legislatures, bills have been proposed that would ban coverage for abortion in all insurance policies sold on state-run insurance exchanges when health care reform goes live. And groups like the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, the Family Research Council, and the Alliance Defense Fund are trying to convince the Department of Health and Human Services to exclude birth control from the preventive care for women covered by the Affordable Care Act .

Liberty University’s lawsuit challenging the Affordable Care Act is yet another example of this disturbing trend. No one is suggesting that anyone should be required to undergo medical treatment that conflicts with their faith. But Liberty’s objection to abortion doesn’t entitle it to dictate the medical procedures that other individuals can obtain. We hope the court will agree and protect women’s access to vital reproductive health care services.

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