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Religion Doesn’t Justify Discrimination: ACLU Files Brief in Third Contraception Rule Challenge

Brigitte Amiri,
Deputy Director,
ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project
Sarah Mehta,
Senior Policy Counsel,
Sarah Lipton-Lubet,
ACLU Washington Legislative Office
Michael J. Steinberg,
Legal Director,
ACLU of Michigan
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August 30, 2012

Another private company – this one sells lawn and snow removal equipment in Michigan – is challenging the federal rule that requires employers to provide insurance coverage for contraception without a co-pay. As we’ve written before, these cases are meritless and harken back to a time that we should not repeat. For example, in 1966, the Piggie Park restaurant in South Carolina refused to serve African-Americans because integration was against the owners’ religious beliefs. The same argument was used to try to get around equal pay and labor protections. The courts did not allow religion to justify discrimination then, and they should not do so now.

The availability of contraception has given women the ability to make their own decisions about whether and when to have children, which in turn has allowed them to make decisions about their schooling, a particular job or career, and their families. Furthermore, the contraception rule helps to eliminate gender disparities in health costs: currently, women of child-bearing age pay significantly more for out-of-pocket costs than men, in large part because of reproductive health needs, including contraception. Denying equal access to contraception coverage discriminates against women, plain and simple.

It has never been acceptable to use religion as an excuse to discriminate. Religious beliefs can’t trump the contraception rule, which is designed to eradicate discrimination, any more than religious beliefs could trump laws designed to combat racial discrimination. Everyone has the absolute right to believe whatever they want and to act on those beliefs – unless those actions threaten the rights, welfare, and well-being of others. Women working at Weingartz Supply Company, the plaintiff in today’s case, have the right to make their own decisions about whether and when to use contraception, based on their own beliefs – not those of their bosses. The brief we filed today urges the court to follow history and reject the company’s claims.

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