In an unprecedented decision this week, the United States Supreme Court gave employers license to disregard an important requirement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—that private insurance plans cover contraceptives without a co-pay.
The Court’s majority decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.—which just so happens to have been made by five older, white men—ruled that the religious beliefs of closely-held businesses trump the rights of female employees to access FDA-approved contraceptive care without cost-sharing. This ruling was not only a slap in the face to women’s rights, but it was a clear mark of American society’s inability to stop discriminating against women.
Prior to the ACA, women of childbearing age spent 68 percent more in out-of-pocket health care costs than men. Among women insured by employer-based plans, oral contraceptives alone accounted for one-third of total out-of-pocket health care spending.
But four years ago, when the ACA went into effect, women began to see the law working in their favor. Women were empowered to decide for themselves when and how to form their families and were provided with the preventative resources and support to make those decisions into realities. Medical professionals and government officials began to see eye-to-eye on the fact that contraceptive care is a vital part of preventive care for women. Millions of women across the country reaped the benefits of this act—638,000 women in Washington State alone have benefited from the expanded access to preventative services without cost-sharing.
Women’s rights to reproductive freedom took an immense, graceful stride with the ACA. But with the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision and the many pending challenges before the Court, we’re starting to see the systematic erosion of these gains. Once again, women’s rights to reproductive freedom and accessible health care are cast aside in favor of religious freedom. And since contraceptive coverage—a medical service that is directed solely toward women—is the one element of the ACA that is under such attack and scrutiny, it’s impossible to see the Court’s ruling as anything but discriminatory.
We believe religious liberty means more than the right to practice religion as you wish—it also means your freedom not to have religion imposed on you by others, and to be free from discrimination under the guise of religious objection. With the precedent set by the Hobby Lobby ruling—that employers have the ability to stand between women and the essential health care they deserve—we foresee many other attacks on women’s rights in the future.
And as always, we’ll be ready for the fight.
Legal Voice is a nonprofit women’s rights legal organization that pursues justice for all women and girls in the Northwest through ground-breaking litigation, legislative advocacy, and educational tools to help individuals understand their rights.