When you woke up yesterday morning you may have seen that North Dakotans went to the polls Tuesday and defeated Measure 3. But unless you keep a close eye on North Dakota politics, you may not know what the measure is about. Tuesday, North Dakota voters sent a firm message to conservatives who are attempting to wrap limits to women’s health in a shroud of “religious liberty.” North Dakotans demonstrated that their health is not up for debate. The voters made that point by voting 64% to 36% against the measure, according to unofficial election results.
The measure would have added an amendment to the state constitution that “Government may not burden a person’s or religious organization’s religious liberty.”
So what would Measure 3 have meant for North Dakota?
The measure would have opened the door to use religious beliefs as a defense for breaking the law. It would have allowed people to refuse to follow virtually any law—allowing an argument that an individual has a right to abuse a child or wife, an employer to fire an unmarried pregnant woman, a doctor to deny emergency health care, or a health insurance provider to refuse to include certain health care procedures in its coverage, including birth control, all under the guise of a “sincerely held religious belief.” Tuesday’s defeat of the measure means laws that protect against child abuse and domestic violence, create an obligation to provide access to health care, and protect against discrimination in the workplace remain in place.
The effect of Measure 3 would have been especially troubling for its impact on women and young people. The already contentious and viciously debated issues of reproductive health care and family planning could have been denied to North Dakota women and girls based on the “religious liberty” of another. In sparsely populated North Dakota, where would an individual turn if the local pharmacies and health centers refused to provide birth control or emergency contraception?
Measure 3 targeted any law that would merely “burden” a person’s religious faith. That would mean that even a minor inconvenience to religious practice could be challenged and “religious belief” used as a defense for breaking the law. As a recent article on ThinkProgress.org pointed out, “A person who is running late to church could claim it is illegal to make them obey traffic lights.”
North Dakota voters were not fooled into thinking that they needed to cast their vote to create discrimination exemptions to laws or harm women and children under the guise of protecting “religious liberty.” The sweeping nature of the measure was recognized as an example of what is occurring around the country, an attempt to use “religious freedom” to forward a political agenda.