On the heels of a decision to overturn the law that guarantees “buffer zones” outside of women’s health centers, the Supreme Court has once again devalued women and their reproductive health choices. Monday’s 5-4 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby states that commercial enterprises can cite religious belief as a reason to withhold contraception coverage from their employees. The exact implications of this ruling are still unclear – according to Vox, lower courts will determine if #HobbyLobby means for-profit corporations can opt-out of covering any type of birth control, or just IUDs and the morning after pill.
Though the strict legal interpretation is still being determined, the message SCOTUS sent about how little it values women’s health was perfectly clear and Feminist Twitter responded. Hundreds of thousands of tweets including #HobbyLobby, #SCOTUS, #JointheDissent, #DrHobbyLobby, and the familiar #NotMyBossBusiness, expressed outrage at the logic applied in the decision and shared examples of how having a boss who refuses to provide insurance coverage for these services will or did cause serious financial hardship.
Opponents are calling on the public to boycott Hobby Lobby, as well as other businesses and nonprofit organizations that wish to deny birth control coverage based on religious beliefs. We can also let Congress know that we expect it to correct this decision, which is within its power since the decision was based on interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
— Elizabeth Plank (@feministabulous) July 1, 2014
A little history: originally the Affordable Care Act stated that contraception is a preventive service that must be provided at no extra cost in every insurance plan, with a religious exemption for a small number of religion-based non-profit organizations. A little over a year ago, the Department of Health and Human services revised their definition of a Religious Employer Exemption to include a broader group of non-profit organizations, which women’s health advocates considered weak and unsupportive of basic healthcare needs of women.
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Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court extended those exemptions even further by ruling that these “closely held” for-profit corporations have the right to file for religious exemptions to the ACA’s contraception mandate. This decision allows employers to impose their religious beliefs on all of their employees, although time and time again women are the ones who are targeted for restrictions. Men’s health care services, such as vasectomies and Viagra, remain untouched and unquestioned. This is a blow to women’s equality and incredibly disheartening for anyone who believes that religion should not be used as an excuse to discriminate.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote the dissenting opinion in which she explains the many ways in which five of the six male justices got it wrong. She writes that, “accommodations to religious beliefs or observances, the Court has clarified, must not significantly impinge on the interests of third parties.” Her colleagues, on the other hand, believe that for-profit corporations should be accommodated regardless of the impact it will have on individuals.
— Elizabeth Plank (@feministabulous) July 1, 2014
The individuals in this case are the thousands of women who work for these companies and their dependents. Women already disproportionately carry the financial burden of reproductive health care and face more barriers to receiving health care than men. After this ruling, it won’t be a surprise when more companies begin to claim religious exception and even more women and families pay the price. More women will lose the right to exercise control over their own reproductive decisions. And as we know from the massive impact the birth control pill has had since the 1960s, affordable access to contraception is directly related to women’s ability to be active participants in society.
For some time, we have had access to solid science on contraceptive care and an appreciation of the balance between exercising freedoms and infringing upon rights. Despite this, uninformed ideologues (who still believe, for example, that the Plan B pill is an abortifacient) have prevailed. Though these people may be in the minority, the problem lies in the fact that too many of them occupy influential positions in society. Yes, that includes the position of Supreme Court Justice. Sadly, the result has been a regression in equal rights for women and minorities.
In March, I attended the #NotMyBossBusiness rally in front of the Supreme Court when SCOTUS was hearing arguments in the Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius and Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby cases. I rallied in the snow with activists from Planned Parenthood, NOW, and more, to make it clear that we will not be passive as companies attempt to take away autonomy over our bodies. A smaller but vocal group of protesters rallied in opposition, touting posters of bloody fetuses and “God’s law is the only law” signs. These are the people celebrating the Supreme Court decision right now thanks to Justices Alito, Thomas, Kennedy, Scalia, and Roberts. Especially in 2014 that is something we should all be ashamed of.