Religious organizations in California have long held employees, particularly female ones, under strict behavior contracts, but that practice may soon be outlawed thanks to the state's legislature. A new bill would finally prohibit California corporations from firing employees for using contraception or having abortions, which is shockingly still allowed nearly half a century after women supposedly gained sexual liberation in the 1960s.
Assembly Bill 569 has two primary provisions, the first being that employers can no longer enforce “any adverse employment action” (i.e., firing, reassignment, or other disciplinary action) against any employee that uses any “drug, device, or medical service related to reproductive health,” which is a relatively common practice amongst religiously affiliated employers in the state. Second, employers won't be allowed to force their new hires to sign codes of conduct regarding sexual activity outside of marriage, abortion, or contraception anymore.
“Women in this country have been fired for getting pregnant while unmarried, for using in-vitro fertilization and for other personal reasons related to their own reproductive health,” State Assembly Rep. Lorena Gonzalez Fletcher, the bill's sponsor, said in a statement regarding the proposed legislation. “No woman should ever lose a job for exercising her right to decide when, how, or whether to have a family.”
The bill passed the Assembly with a 45-13 vote last week, and was sent to Gov. Jerry Brown's desk on Thursday.
Although 16 faith-based organizations in California have signed a letter supporting the bill, anti-choice opponents have been vocal in their protest against the proposed law.
“Every organization that promotes a pro-life message must be able to require its employees to practice what they preach,” said California Family Council President Jonathan Keller. “It is unconscionable for any politician to attempt to abridge this sacrosanct religious liberty by inserting themselves into the employee-employer relationship.”
The obvious problem with Keller's line of reasoning is that employees may not be involved or have any say in what their employers practice is or how it is preached. For example, Teri James, a financial aid specialist at San Diego Christian College, sued the school after it terminated her for becoming pregnant outside of marriage. But as an employee who was neither part of the college's planning department or its public persona, she never should have been asked to live her private life based on her employers' contentment. While it's obviously preferable to live by the same moral code as your employers so there's no ethical or religious tension at work, it shouldn't be mandated by the company. Chick-Fil-A's slogan is "eat more chicken," but they don't require their employees to eat less beef.
Furthermore, the excuse of religion to control women's reproductive behavior isn't valid, because these women aren't freely choosing the moral behavior being imposed on them by their employers. When it comes to the United States, it's typically Christian organizations (as part of the nation's white, Judeo-Christian hegemonic power structure) that try to force this type of morality on its female employees.
However, most Christian denominations believe in the preeminence of free will — actions don't count unless you mean them. According to The Book of Romans, "if you declare with your mouth, 'Jesus is Lord,' and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your heart that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you profess your faith and are saved." Since the dogma doesn't even match up, it seems safe to say that this law won't infringe on religious freedom, just finally outlaw a persistent form of institutionalized misogyny.
Religion has long been an excuse for controlling women's behavior, but the United States is pushing forward in the long journey of disentangling from its own Christian past. Women in California may finally have more legally protected privacy thanks to this potential law, which means everyone can focus on work more and sex less.