“The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.”
-Justice Sandra Day O’Connor, Planned Parenthood v. Casey
In the Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. decision on Monday, conservative Supreme Court justices ruled that only some women are entitled to control over their health. This decision represents the latest chapter in an ongoing conservative effort to weaken the reproductive rights of some of the most vulnerable women in the country.
Since no female justice joined the opinion, five men determined that Hobby Lobby and other “closely-held” corporations cannot be compelled to provide insurance coverage for contraception for their employees if they disagree on religious grounds. The owners of Hobby Lobby objected to covering two forms of emergency contraception and two types of intrauterine devices (IUDs) because they feel that using them results in abortion. Although this decision was predicated on objections to four types of birth control, the Supreme Court decision likely affects all twenty contraception methods covered by Affordable Care Act (ACA) regulations. This decision could potentially affect millions of women since “closely-held” corporations employ over 52% of American workers.
The majority bowed to ideology at the expense of science and common sense. There is no medical evidence that emergency contraception, IUDs, or any other form of contraception covered by ACA regulations, cause abortion. In contrast, contraception is designed to prevent unwanted pregnancies that do sometimes lead to an abortion. In an ironic twist, Hobby Lobby objected to providing insurance coverage for IUDs, which are twenty times more effective at preventing unwanted pregnancy than contraception methods lucky enough to receive the Hobby Lobby stamp of approval.
The Hobby Lobby decision furthers the separation of women into distinct economic classes—those who can afford the contraception they want and those who cannot. It undermines the right of millions of women to access vital preventative care regardless of their ability to pay. As Justice Ginsburg noted in her dissent, the cost of obtaining an IUD without insurance is practically equal to the monthly salary of a low-wage worker. Emergency contraception is also expensive—a single dose can cost more than $60. Hobby Lobby places low-income women who cannot pay out of pocket at the mercy of their employers.
The ruling is also intensely harmful to the one in three women who are currently experiencing or will experience domestic violence. An astonishing 99% of survivors report that abusers restrict access to economic resources in some way. Even though some survivors may appear wealthy, they are in fact low-income due to this economic abuse. When employers refuse to cover contraception, the vast majority of survivors cannot afford it. Making matters worse, conservatives also support huge cuts in funding for the Title X clinics that survivors and other low-income women might be able to turn to for access to low-cost contraception in the event that their employer opts out of coverage. Between the actions of a conservative court and Congress, survivors and low-income women simply can’t win.
By decreasing women’s access to contraception, Hobby Lobby empowers abusers. Forcing survivors to have unwanted pregnancies is a common tactic used by abusers to make survivors more dependent on the relationship. The mechanism? Interfering with or failing to use contraception. Twenty-five percent of adolescent survivors report that abusive partners tried to force them to become pregnant by interfering with contraception. Abusers may destroy or hide oral contraceptives; purposely rip holes in condoms or remove them during sex; fail to withdraw as a method of birth control; or forcibly remove other forms of contraception such as patches, vaginal rings, or IUDs.
The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends several strategies to combat this kind of reproductive coercion. They encourage health care providers to package oral contraceptives in ways that an abuser may not detect, such as in an unmarked envelope. They also promote the practice of inserting IUDs that have the strings removed so that abusers cannot detect their presence. An IUD needs to be inserted every twelve years, as opposed to a shot that needs to be administered every three months, or an oral contraceptive that must be taken daily. As a result, IUDs are arguably the best way to provide unobtrusive, effective contraception to survivors. Thanks to five male Supreme Court Justices, however, IUDs likely just became much harder to access, and the lives of many low-income women and survivors became much harder too.
Thank you, Mr. Supreme Court.