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Religious Freedom Executive Order Allows Denial of Life-Saving Services for Black Women

On the same day the House of Representatives voted to dismantle the Affordable Care Act (ACA), President Donald Trump signed and issued an executive order that would hinder access to health care services guaranteed under the current law. This executive order would allow businesses, organizations and educational institutions to object to providing access to life-saving preventative services for religious reasons. The executive order claims to ease the regulatory burdens of the ACA’s preventive services mandate for religious objectors. This action comes just three months after a draft religious freedom executive order was leaked and created an uproar among LGBTQ and women’s health advocates. While freedom of religion is one our most valued constitutional protections, we cannot use it as a means to punish women or deny access to an individual’s legal right.

It’s completely disheartening to witness the numerous barriers this administration continues to erect for Black women and their families. This executive order is clearly another effort to undermine the ACA, and it borders on encouraging individuals and organizations to defy the current law by denying people access to the preventive services guaranteed to them under the ACA. For example, women of reproductive age could be denied reproductive health care and preventative services if there is a religious objection to their choice of health care service, such as contraception.

While this order appears to honor the wishes of religious objectors, it disproportionately impacts Black women, particularly those of reproductive age. They are more likely than their White counterparts to experience an unintended pregnancy because they are more likely to have difficulty paying for and accessing contraceptives and abortion services. As a result, Black women are more likely to be thrown into a life of poverty because they were denied the ability to choose to plan their families in a way that best suits their needs. Policies like this executive order and those attacking access to comprehensive reproductive health care like affordable contraceptives and a woman’s constitutional right to an abortion do nothing more than exacerbate the racial disparities in health and economic status currently experienced by Black women.

This executive order now opens the door for similar bills and regulations to be introduced at the state and federal levels further threatening the health and well-being of Black women and their families. Congress and the administration must enact policies that protect all citizens, not create additional barriers to accessing life-saving health care.