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In the abortion clinic access decision last week, and again on June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court reminded us that all women, including pregnant women and their families, must continue to fight for our human rights to health, living wage work, and to be recognized as full and equal members of society. Yesterday’s two 5-4 decisions show that women’s full personhood has not yet been realized as a matter of U.S. law, and we still must work to secure the rights of all women to the resources they need to support their families and determine the course of their own lives.
The Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision involves the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate, an important step in ensuring that women employees are not discriminated against when they seek the health care they need. In this case, for-profit companies used the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to challenge the birth control requirement, arguing that their free exercise rights were violated by the rule. The purpose of RFRA, however, is to protect people from substantial and unjustifiable burdens on their religious practice. The Supreme Court’s decision that RFRA allows these corporations to refuse to cover contraception permits private employers to substantially and unjustifiably burden women. In Harris v. Quinn, the Supreme Court issued an opinion that undermined unions working on behalf of Illinois home health care workers – workers who are mostly women, and generally paid extremely low wages for the essential caring work they provide.
In both opinions, the majority of the Court ignored the ways in which women are relegated to second-class status. In Hobby Lobby, five justices agreed that religious for-profit companies (notably, NOT “people,” despite the “legal fiction” the Court resorted to yesterday) are burdened when their employees’ insurance plan covers important contraceptives like Plan B, ella, and the IUD. There is no question, however, that women and their families (real, not fictional people) experience real burdens on their bodies, health, and lives when they cannot access the reproductive health care they need.
The birth control that Hobby Lobby doesn’t like helps prevent pregnancies as a result of sexual assault, birth control failure, or unprotected sex. As Justice Ginsburg recognized in her dissent, unintended pregnancy and its consequences harm women, their loved ones, and the children they already have. This is the real burden that the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate was intended to alleviate.
Allowing employers to decide which contraceptives, if any, its women employees should get demeans women and puts their health at risk. (NAPW has previously noted that despite its objection to its participation in an insurance plan that includes coverage for contraception, Hobby Lobby carries knitting needles, that women in the past and once again may use to end pregnancies that they could not prevent in the first place.)
If there is a silver lining to Justice Alito’s opinion, it is this suggested solution to the problem: full government funding for contraception. Putting aside the current political situation in Congress that makes such funding improbable, the decision does suggest the real solution demanded not by RFRA but by human rights: a system of universal health care that includes everyone and covers all women and all of their health care needs.
So let us summarize:
In the guise of
the Supreme Court denies
women’s ability to unionize
while affirming the
right to terrorize
women who seek to exercise
their reproductive rights and lives.
We say Organize!
We call on Congress to correct the Court’s overreach into the lives of women workers, whose bodies, health, and lives are at stake. We call on those states with contraceptive equity laws to continue to prioritize women’s health over politics. We call on all in the U.S. to work together for universal health care and women’s equality. We call on you, NAPW supporters, to help us continue to organize, litigate, and make positive change on behalf of pregnant women and their families.
Photo Credit: Molly Darling under (CC BY-ND 2.0) via Flickr