Commentary Contraception

Trump’s New Birth Control Rules Are White Christian Supremacy Veiled as Religious Freedom

Kira Shepherd, Rev. Naomi Washington-Leapheart & Rev. Alba Onofrio

Discrimination by any other name—even the name of God—is still discrimination.

This month, the Trump administration’s U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued two new rules that could make contraceptive care and family planning services inaccessible for a great number of people. The new rules gut the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that most employee health insurance plans include birth control coverage without a co-pay by allowing any company or organization to opt out of the mandate based on their religious beliefs or moral convictions.

These rules reflect the power of white Christian supremacy, which has been historically rooted in anti-Blackness. It is anchored in the notion that conservative Christianity and mainstream white culture and values are superior to other religious systems and cultural norms, respectively, and therefore should be substituted for more democratic values that reflect the idea that the United States is a diverse society that is founded on a commitment to equality and liberty.

As Terrell Jermaine Starr recently noted for the Root, “Trump realized early on that white evangelicals generally share a lot of his sexist, anti-Muslim … anti-Black,” and anti-LGBTQ views. “Historically, Christianity has often been used to exact violence against anything and anyone that challenges white supremacy.” Just as efforts to dismantle Jim Crow segregation were met with white supremacist resistance framed as the Christian “theology of segregation” in the 1950s and 1960s, today conservative Christians use their religion to justify discrimination against those in the LGBTQ community and the eradication of reproductive rights.

A coalition of white supremacists and right-wing evangelical Christians have come together to bring about the Trump administration’s new rules. The optics tell the whole story: President Trump delegated to the Freedom Caucus, an all-white group of mostly evangelical Christian men, to develop the administration’s policy on women’s reproductive care coverage. Leaving no doubt that white Christian evangelicals had captured the White House policy shop, in March, for example, this group sat around a table drafting new policy on maternity care coverage without apparently including a single woman or person of color. This was despite the fact that these deliberations would drastically reduce the basic health care benefits women, especially women of color, would be entitled to under federal law. Moreover, when Trump first took office, the group gave President Trump a regulatory wish list that included the demand the president find a way to weaken, if not eliminate, the contraceptive mandate specifically.

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Furthermore, seemingly to pay back the large number of evangelical Christians that helped seal his victory, Trump placed a large number of white Christian supremacists in prominent roles throughout his administration, including in HHS, the organization that initially issued the birth control benefit. In April, Trump appointed Charmaine Yoest, a white conservative Christian, to a top post at HHS. Before coming to HHS, Yoest was the head of Americans United for Life, a pro-life organization founded by Catholics. There, she led an evangelical, missionary-like campaign called Black Women Matter. The campaign, which stemmed from negative stereotypes about Black women being sexually promiscuous and incapable of making sound decisions about their reproductive lives, sought to “save” them from the “evil” abortion industry.

Another Trump appointee to HHS is Teresa Manning, a former lobbyist with the National Right to Life Committee, which was founded by the National Conference of Catholic Bishops. Manning has said that the government should not play a role in family planning because it is “what occurs between a husband, a wife, and God.” This perspective is a perfect example of white Christian supremacy because this view couches sexual health as exclusive to reproduction, assumes that the only people who deserve family planning are heterosexual people in a monogamous Christian marriages, and does not take into account the needs of the single-parent families, many of which are headed by Black parents.

These women, who likely backed and supported the proliferation of the new rules, will almost certainly aid HHS in continuing to make decisions that deny the reality and injustices experienced by communities of color.

The Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit, which was designed to help a large number of people of color access reproductive health care at no extra cost, is the latest victim of the Trump administration’s embrace of white Christian supremacy. Under the benefit, the number of women filling prescriptions for birth control pills quadrupled between 2012 and 2013, increasing from 1.2 million to 5.1 million. Birth control options are particularly important for Black and Latina women who experience unintended pregnancies at triple and double the rate of white women, respectively.

In addition, the benefit requires insurance plans to cover counseling. Comprehensive counseling services are needed in communities of color, which have been subjected to a long history of forced pregnancy, involuntary sterilization, and other violations of reproductive liberty that have led many women of color to distrust medical professionals and the industry as a whole. Such services allow women to choose the method that is best for them without making them feel pressured to use a certain kind of contraception method.

In many ways, the benefit addressed some of the deeply rooted needs of communities of color. These new Trump policies strip it away.

White Christian supremacists oppose the benefit because they falsely equate certain kinds of birth control with abortion and sexual promiscuity, leading them to oppose certain kinds of contraception coverage included in the Affordable Care Act by the Obama administration. In addition, the white Christian right has opposed efforts to increase access to contraception because its members see such programs as being designed to give a free subsidy to undeserving women of colorwhile the benefit is available to all women, it was designed by the Obama administration to help women “at risk” of having an unintended pregnancy, and many of these women are women of color.

In issuing his new rules, President Trump invoked the specter of “religious freedom” to promote and protect conservative Christian views and whiteness. But this strategy is far from new: It was used by white Christian supremacists in the ’70s and ’80s in efforts to protect the last remaining segregation academies—private, white-only schools that were created in response to the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education decision. In recent years, white Christian supremacists have resurrected religious liberty claims in response to the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit, as well as the 2015 Obergefell v. Hodges decision, which recognized a constitutional right to marry for same-sex couples.

And this rhetoric goes beyond the courts: Dozens of “religious freedom” bills have been proposed in Congress and in state legislatures. For instance, in 2015, Rep. Raúl Labrador (R-ID), one of the founders of the ultra-conservative GOP group the Freedom Caucus, sponsored a religious freedom bill called the First Amendment Defense Act (FADA), which would have permitted religious objectors to deny jobs, health care, and other benefits or services to those who have had sex outside marriage or those in same-sex marriages. If passed, FADA would have harmed those in the LGBTQ community. In addition, as documented in the report titled Unmarried and Unprotected: How Religious Liberty Bills Harm Pregnant People, Families, and Communities of Color, the law would have allowed religious objectors to discriminate against a large number of women of color who, for cultural, economic, and social reasons are more likely to become pregnant and raise families while unmarried.

This type of legislation attempts to take America back to the social norms and values of the ’50s, when “good” and “moral” Americans were considered to be those who were white and married to someone of the opposite sex, Black people were confined to the back of the bus and considered sexual deviants, and those in the LGBTQ community had to stay closeted.

The ’50s is the era that Trump and his supporters refer to when they say “make America great again.

These latest regulations are among a long list of policies created to preserve white Christian identity at the expense of vulnerable groups. The new rules argue that the birth control benefit is not needed because the government already has programs that provide “at-risk” women with contraceptive care and family planning services. However, the glaring contradiction here is that many of these programs are run by Planned Parenthood, which might soon be defunded by the administration and Congress. It should go without saying that white Christian supremacists have spearheaded the campaign to defund Planned Parenthood, an organization that has overwhelmingly benefited low-income women of color.

It is time to put an end to white Christian supremacy. Discrimination by any other name—even the name of God—is still discrimination.

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