Late last year in New York City, a private Hasidic-run company was operating a public bus line between two Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods. One of that religion's tenets is that unrelated men and women should not mingle. So they put signs on the buses telling women to enter via the back door and to stay in the back of the bus.
The city, rightly, stepped in and told the company that if they were operating a public service they had to follow the law: that their religion was not an excuse for discrimination.
Recently, however, 48 U.S. senators, including all but one of the Republicans in attendance, voted in favor of an amendment to allow exactly that.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Missouri, brought forth an amendment to allow any employer to refuse coverage for contraceptives (or any other essential health care service) to which it has ''moral'' objections. We don't allow such refusals in any other area. A landlord may have ''moral'' objections to mixed race couples - but he's not allowed to refuse to rent them an apartment. A business owner may have a strong belief that women should not be in the workforce, but he's not allowed to discriminate against women in the workplace.
Access to basic health care deserves exactly the same protection.
Today in America, we are in the midst of a seemingly inexplicable fight over contraceptives. It's a fight that most of us thought ended 50 years ago.
Almost nobody in America opposes contraceptives. Certainly not the 98 percent of women who will use a birth control method in their lifetimes, or their partners. Not the couples who have benefited from the ability to make their own decisions about when to have children and how many to have. Not the women who, because of this power, have had the chance to pursue higher education, careers or other opportunities denied their female ancestors.
Indeed, it seems the only people who oppose contraceptives are concentrated in just three places: Congress, state legislatures and conservative media. Even though contraceptives are so widely used and so wildly popular, they are costly. The more effective, prescription methods (the very kind that would be covered under this rule) are the most expensive. Without coverage, one year of birth control pills can cost a woman or family more than $1,000. An IUD - one of the most effective methods available - will run them a thousand bucks right up front. Other methods bring similar costs.
Those costs add up. It's why nearly a quarter of American women earning less than $75,000 say they've put off a doctor's visit for birth control in the past year. It's why almost a third of women say they've used birth control inconsistently to save money. For many couples, those costs could make the difference between being able to fix a broken-down car or a plumbing leak in their houses. For some it may mean the ability to pay for daycare for their kids.
For too long, contraceptives have been treated differently by health insurance plans. Until very recently, they were routinely excluded from prescription coverage. And even today they are often subjected to significantly higher co-pays than other prescriptions. That's a main reason why women spend 68 percent more than men in out-of-pocket health care costs.
And remember: these costs are in addition to what they're already paying for health insurance. Insurance that isn't covering what for most women in their reproductive years is their single most important health care concern: preventing an unintended pregnancy.
Without a doubt, birth control is a ''women's issue.'' But, it's not only a women's issue. It's a men's issue, too. And, a children's issue.
We've all benefited from increased access to birth control since the Supreme Court ruled that we have a fundamental right to control our own reproductive lives.
Women have gained the most, for sure. But, I'm better for it. My son is better for it. And America as a whole is better for it.
Dixon is vice president for media and government relations for Population Connection.