Saudi women are gaining the right to drive. American women are losing the right to employer-provided birth control.
The first development signifies a theocratic kingdom’s bow to the inexorable onslaught of modernity. The second is a cynical bow to the forces of reaction against modernity.
It would be too far a stretch to see in Saudi Arabia even the glimmer of the emergence of civil society. But it’s not much of a stretch to see in the rules issued by the Trump administration last week the fraying of civil society as the United States has known it. Ours is a diverse society in which all are expected, with limited and precisely defined exceptions, to abide by the rules that apply to all. The alternative, as Justice Antonin Scalia observed decades ago, “would be courting anarchy.”
The new rules, which went into immediate effect, create exceptions that are anything but limited. They are, in fact, there for the taking. Any “entities” that claim not only religious but also “moral” objections to birth control are entitled to refuse to comply with the federal contraception mandate that until last Friday was enabling 55 million women to receive birth control without charge as part of their work- or college-related health insurance coverage.