Sometime between now and July 4th, the Supreme Court is set to rule on two cases that will affect our access to birth control, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius. In both these cases for-profit companies are using the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to challenge the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) guarantee that health insurance plans include coverage of contraceptives.
Since the ACA policy went into effect, 24 million more prescriptions for oral contraceptives were filled with no co-pay in 2013 than in 2012 and has saved women $483 million in out-of-pocket costs for oral contraceptives. The numbers don’t lie. People need birth control, and more people use it when it is affordable and accessible.
But some employers, like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood are claiming that some forms of contraception are abortion, and that they blur the lines between abortion and contraception. How many times do we have to say that medical science (not to mention common sense) proves that abortion and contraception are two different things. Birth control is not, in fact, abortion. Both birth control and abortion should be available and accessible to anyone who needs them, but they are not the same thing. Should we pull out our 7th grade biology books yet again to explain how bodies work and where babies come from?
Abortion access and contraceptive coverage are connected but distinct. It’s crucial to know that abortion access has been, and continues to be, treated separately from all other health care – to the detriment of all low-income people, Native communities, military communities, federal employees and anyone who relies on federal funds for their health care. The Hyde Amendment is a legislative provision that bars the use of federal funds to pay for abortions, with exceptions for incest and rape. The Helms Amendment states that, “No foreign assistance funds may be used to pay for the performance of abortion as a method of family planning or to motivate or coerce any person to practice abortions.” USAID has interpreted this amendment to prohibit U.S. funding of abortions that would preserve the physical or mental health of a woman, yet allow it for victims of rape or incest, or to save a woman’s life. However, the U.S. has never funded any programs that include abortion services, even in these legally permitted cases.
These abortion funding restrictions are deeply problematic. A low-income person struggling to make ends meet needs to be able to make important, personal decisions based on what is best for her circumstances, not based on her income. And now corporations are trying to apply these same types of harmful coverage restrictions to contraceptives.
As we have seen in recent months, these federal restrictions are not where the fight for abortion access ends, with clinics closing all over the country as a result of targeted anti-choice state legislation. Abortion access is a crucial element of reproductive health care, as is access to birth control. These Supreme Court’s decisions, while centered on contraception, are important to the broader fight for reproductive justice.
All this disingenuous kerfuffle over birth control is just another in a long line of strategies to attack both the Affordable Care Act generally and the birth control benefit specifically – over 100 lawsuits are before federal courts in which bosses are seeking to deny employees birth control coverage.
Ninety-nine percent of women will use contraception at some point in our lives, whether for family planning or other medical reasons like treating endometriosis. Birth control should be treated like any other preventive medical care. Here’s why:
Number one, a boss should not be able to affect, limit, restrict or interfere with their employees’ sex life or health care – it’s coercive and unjust.
Number two, if corporations are granted that power, it could set a dangerous precedent and yet again allow corporations more rights than human beings. Singling out health care like contraception sets the stage for our bodies to be divided at the mercy of politics – once again leaving those people who can afford out-of-pocket costs with their rights in tact, and actively excluding those who are poor – women of color, young women, LGBTIQ folks and anyone who finds themselves without the money it takes to get the health care that they deserve.
And finally, number three – these cases are a contortion of the argument for religious liberty. If your boss doesn’t believe in the use of birth control, that’s his call. But a boss can’t ignore the law and impose his personal religious values on his employees. If the Supreme Court decides to give Hobby Lobby executives the right to decide what kind of health care their employees get, it may open the door to so many others who are trying to use religion to disregard anti-discrimination measures.
These cases are about contraception. If the Supreme Court rules that bosses may impose their religious beliefs on their employees we’re looking at scary scene. Such a ruling could pave the way for religious objections to treatment for HIV/AIDS, blood transfusions, vaccines, etc. It’s important that we all know what’s at stake – potentially leaving the most vulnerable people in our society at the mercy of a corporation’s religious views.