On Tuesday, November 29, President-elect Donald Trump announced his nomination of Rep. Tom Price (R-GA) to be the next Secretary of Health and Human Services. Rep. Price’s nomination sends an ominous signal that Trump’s pledge to roll back reproductive rights during the campaign wasn’t just rhetoric. Rep. Price is an anti-choice extremist who has supported legislation to defund Planned Parenthood, he was a cosponsor of the radical “Right to Life Act” which would have granted legal personhood status to fetuses, and a cosponsor of Pain Capable Unborn Child Protection Act, a 20 week abortion ban based on the scientifically debunked claim that fetuses at that stage of development can experience pain. Rep. Price’s career in Congress has earned him a grade of “zero” from Planned Parenthood Action.
Rep. Price has repeatedly used his power in Congress to advance his own personal religious beliefs and demonstrated a complete disregard for the experience of the women who would be impacted by his legislation. One particularly troubling example is a claim he made about birth control during a 2012 interview with the website Think Progress:
“Bring me one woman who has been left behind. Bring me one. There’s not one. The fact of the matter is, this is a trampling of religious freedom and religious liberty in this country. The president does not have the power to say that your First Amendment rights go away. That’s wrong.”
Rep. Price is referring to the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act which requires that employer’s health insurance plans cover birth control. Religious nonprofits (and for-profit companies following the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision) are exempt from this requirement and instead must request an accommodation from the Secretary of Health and Human Services, who will put employees seeking contraceptive coverage into contact with a third party insurance provider.
The religious right has vehemently opposed the contraception mandate, even objecting to the entirely reasonable request that employers seeking an accommodation be required to notify the government. To be clear: that means they object to filling out a one-page form because the act of asking for an accommodation is itself a violation of their religious liberty. Unfortunately, Rep. Price’s quote suggests that if he is appointed Secretary of Health and Human Services, the religious right will have a powerful accomplice to help push their agenda.
We can’t let Rep. Price’s remarks about birth control and religious freedom go unchallenged. First, many women do struggle to financially access contraceptives. A Hart Research survey found one in three women have had difficulty paying for birth control. Second, Rep. Price has the meaning of religious freedom entirely backwards. Our founders drafted the First Amendment to protect religious belief, not to impose it on others. When an employer refuses to provide health coverage based on their personal beliefs, they are forcing employees to live according to their religion. Granting an exemption from the law to businesses and nonprofits does nothing to protect religious freedom but instead, unconstitutionally promotes religious privilege.
Unfortunately, like many lawmakers, Rep. Price seems to have a difficulty distinguishing between the two.