We Trust Women

Arbitrary bans on virtually non-existent procedures as well as spiteful bans on much needed insurance coverage of abortion care were passed this past legislative session in North Carolina. Medically inaccurate statements are now mandated in school sex ed programs and medically unnecessary procedures were proposed as requirements to obtain an abortion. We saw seemingly random clinic shutdowns, and overtly strict (and costly) new clinic standards may soon result in more clinics being closed.  Policy debates occurred far from public scrutiny and with almost no public notice. The rhetoric of “unborn child” and “murder” was uttered in the same breath as “but we just want to make sure all women have access to safe abortion facilities”.  At the height of our struggle, we were patronizingly offered a plate of cookies.

2013 was a tough year for women’s autonomous reproductive rights in North Carolina. We saw long-hoped for restrictions passed as the anti-choice agenda gained more power in state government.  We saw new restrictions pulled from national anti-choice playbooks being used in states like OH, TX and VA. And we know that as bad as these restrictions are, there is more of the same coming if many in the NCGA have their way.

We feel these difficult times have made our movement stronger, and renewed our commitment to achieving full social, political and economic equality for all women, which includes access to the full spectrum of reproductive healthcare.  We work every day to make sure women really do have a choice: that they have access to the economic opportunities that will help them successfully raise a family if and when they are ready to; that they have the support needed to leave abusive and unsafe relationships, and live a life free from violence; that they have access to comprehensive healthcare that provides contraception so they can plan their families, and care to ensure healthy pregnancies when they are ready; and that they have a voice in the policies that affect every part of their lives.

We support women’s right to accessible abortion, contraception, prenatal/pregnancy care and a full set of birthing options (including certified midwifery). We support that these options be available to all women, no matter their economic situation. We trust women to make this most personal decision in deference to what works for them at that moment in their lives.

This Trust Now Being Questioned at the Federal Level

As the Supreme Court of the United States has now taken up the case asking whether or not a private, for-profit corporation can force the religious beliefs of their owners onto their employees, board member and Director of Policy Rev. Emma Akpan shares her thoughts on contraception, health insurance and faith. Cross posted at NC Policy Watch.


When women make important decisions, we usually consult more than one resource. We consult our families, our faith communities and, quite frequently, our bank accounts.

Accordingly, the public policy conversation surrounding women’s health care coverage should not only include faith and personal morality, but the matter of providing options for women to make sound financial decisions.

When it comes to any decision about family planning, whether a woman who is not pregnant decides to have a baby, or if she is pregnant and must make the difficult decision about whether to see the pregnancy to term, a woman must explore all her options. She may ask her family and friends and rely on her faith to make the best decision. But family planning decisions must happen well before a woman decides to become pregnant, and she needs adequate health care options to do so.

As is well-known now, North Carolina decided not to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act. Such an expansion would have allowed lots more women to get health care coverage, that would have included yearly exams and contraceptive coverage. Without this expansion, we further limit family planning for women and their families.

We know that women who are not covered by health insurance experience stress about getting sick. We know also that if they get sick they are frequently buried under medical bills. Without adequate health care coverage, women forgo yearly checkups for fear of fees and high copays. If we don’t give women the option of having healthy bodies, then the decision to have children is limited. Long before a woman decides she wants to become pregnant, health decisions before that determine the viability of her pregnancy.

Of course when a woman doesn’t have the resources, she is faced with difficult decisions every day. Does she put gas in the car or buy three day’s worth of groceries? Does she skip the phone bill to pay the electric bill?

Before we can even question a woman’s faith, we must first make sure she has all options available to her to make a decision that’s right for her and her family.

Ninety-nine percent of women age 15 to 44 who are sexually active have used some form of birth control. Not only do women use them for contraceptives, but also for treatment for ovarian cysts, hormone replacement after chemotherapy, endometriosis and more. In other words denying this coverage will simply be denying access to basic medicine.

Since contraceptive coverage affects so many women, faith leaders should be paying attention. Such discussions will no doubt affect the members of their congregations. Faith leaders can help by speaking in favor of contraceptive coverage mandates. We cannot leave the faith conversation to leaders opposed to contraceptive coverage, because we know that many faith leader support women and their faith journey.

This week the U.S. Supreme Court is hearing arguments in Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius, a case brought by an arts and crafts store that is opposed to the birth control benefit. Hobby Lobby does not believe it should be required to provide insurance coverage that covers birth control to its employees. Although the Affordable Health Care Act provided exemptions for 350,000 churches, religious school and houses of worship, corporations and for-profit business are not exempt under current law.

North Carolina is no stranger to the rights of religious-organizations-versus-the-health-of-women debate. On November 20, 2013, Belmont Abbey College, a small catholic liberal arts college in Belmont, North Carolina sued the federal government for mandating that birth control be covered in students and employees health plan under the Affordable Health Care Act. The college said the Act violated its religious liberty by forcing it to provide contraceptives it deemed “immoral.”

But if we’re going to talk about religious liberty, we should consider the religious liberty of women too.

Many women of faith believe strongly that contraceptives should be covered by health insurance. Seventy-five percent of American voters agree that contraceptives should be covered. Faith leaders who support women should speak in their churches, synagogues or mosques in support so we know that there is not only one side of the debate.

If faith leaders have any opinions about contraceptives or abortion coverage, they would consider the importance of adequate health coverage. Raising a family takes financial, emotional and spiritual fitness, and families should have all options available to determine when the time is right.

We don’t need people judging a woman’s faith because she made decisions that were right for her family. As leaders of faith, we must support healthy decisions in love.