In January, many of the women who work at the Catholic school where I teach learned at the checkout counter of one pharmacy or another that our employee health insurance no longer paid for birth control. We knew our school had switched insurance companies, but our new provider, we were told, offered more or less the same coverage we were used to. No one warned us that our contraceptive coverage would vanish.
Around the world, women struggle to balance the serious pressures of career and parenting. At my job, the administration wants to prioritize for us.
In the 2014 lawsuit Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the Supreme Court decided 5-4 that non-profit employers do not have to provide coverage for pregnancy prevention because such a requirement violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. In their dissent, Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Breyer, and Kagan pointed out that the ruling restricts the “ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation,” because they won’t have the full “ability to control their reproductive lives.” In other words, my employer’s decision to exclude birth control from our health insurance plan was legal; it was also sexist.
Around the world, women struggle to balance the serious pressures of career and parenting. At my job, the administration wants to prioritize for us. Going without birth control often results in children, meaning, for women, less time to devote to the various actives on which promotions are based: research, pedagogy, and service.
Fortunately, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, contraceptive care is still available even when employers opt not to provide it. In these cases, federal law mandates that an alternative mechanism for coverage be made available.
It appears that our administration made their decision “on principle,” which is to say paternalistically, so that employees who wish to exercise reproductive choice would register the church’s disapproval.
Unfortunately, when our new coverage began our HR department failed to keep employees updated about the contraceptive care that we’re entitled to. An email began to circulate among female staff. There was an 800 number we could call. Though our preferred pill or ring or shot might be excluded, in a few weeks some form of contraception would be available.
Religious objection is the only legal reason employers can deny contraceptive coverage to employees. In small print in my school’s 2015 Benefits Guide is the following sentence: “Due to the Catholic Church’s stance on contraceptive coverage, the… medical plans will not cover contraception.” There is no explanation, however, for the change from last year’s contraceptive policy. It appears that our administration made their decision “on principle,” which is to say paternalistically, so that employees who wish to exercise reproductive choice would register the church’s disapproval.
In his 1729 pamphlet “A Modest Proposal,” Jonathan Swift suggests that Irish men and women could alleviate poverty and hunger by selling their babies at market. “I have been assured by a very knowing American,” Swift writes, “that a young healthy child well nursed is at a year old a most delicious, nourishing, and wholesome food, whether stewed, roasted, baked, or boiled; and I make no doubt that it will equally serve in a fricassee or a ragout.” Swift’s suggestion, of course, is satire, meant to mock the heartlessness of the Irish government toward the country’s poor.
In the spirit of Swift, I’d like to make another proposal: that female employees at institutions such as mine follow the guidance of our employers and stop using birth control altogether. Since institutions that dislike birth control frequently disapprove of abortion, a good number of us will likely be on maternity leave in October. While some might worry that synchronized pregnancy will put a burden on workplaces, administrators will no doubt be delighted to provide the twelve weeks of unpaid leave that federal law mandates. After all, as anyone who is familiar with the more generous maternity leave policies in nearly any other country can tell you, it’s the least they can do.