It is something that everyone who has turned on a TV or read a newspaper in the past few years is aware of: the power struggle between women’s rights to contraceptives and those who say that it infringes on their religious beliefs. In most cases, the argument was directed at Barack Obama and his health care reform which ignited a debate over whether or not employers had to provide health care that supplied birth control to their employees despite it being against their religious beliefs.
Recently, however, the fight took place on a state, rather than federal, level. In 2005, governor Rod Blagojevich (yes, THAT Blagojevich. But let’s not allow the political failings and corruption of a particular politician overshadow what was a good policy) mandated that all pharmacies in the state of Illinois be required to supply Plan B. The drug could legally be accessed without prescription by all those under 17, and anyone under 17 with a prescription. Despite the legality of the drug, many pharmacies across the nation have expressed resistance against supplying the drug. Illinois was no exception.
In 2011, an Illinois judge filed an injunction. The argument was basically that there had been no evidence that the medication had ever been denied on religious grounds and that the law was by nature impartial because it targeted religious objectors. An appellate court handed down their ruling: they agreed with the judge. They decided that the Illinois Health Care Right of Conscience Act protected those pharmacists who didn’t want to supply the drug.
While many in the state applauded the defense of their religious freedoms, “This decision is a great victory for religious freedom," Mark Rienzi remarked after the Illinois appellate court’s decision was reported. Rienzi is a senior counselor for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty. The Becket Fund's website (becketfund.org) proclaims: “The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty is a non-profit, public-interest legal and educational institute that protects the free expression of all faiths. The Becket Fund exists to vindicate a simple but frequently neglected principle: that because the religious impulse is natural to human beings, religious expression is natural to human culture.” The Becket Fund lists their “Top 10 Victories” and among them are upholding the constitutionality of the phrase “under god” in the Pledge of Allegiance. The foundation's main premise is to go from court to court and reverse rulings and laws that they feel are unjust considering civilian's religious freedoms. They are a sort of religious American Civil Liberties Union.
But for every person who was overjoyed at the news, there were as many who were dismayed as what they saw as a big loss for women’s reproductive rights and freedoms. "We are dismayed that the court expressly refused to consider the interests of women who are seeking lawful prescription medication and essentially held that the religious practice of individuals trumps women's health care," Ed Yohnka, spokesperson of the ACLU, remarked following hearing the news of the Illinois court’s ruling. "We think the court could not be more wrong."
The Becket Fund has also reported that similar rulings have come out of Washington state.