Defending Women’s Health Care at the Supreme Court
Update 6/30/2014: AAUW is very disappointed that the Supreme Court ruled in Hobby Lobby’s favor today. Employees’ use of contraception is none of their boss’ business. Although it’s good news that the decision only applies to contraceptive coverage – meaning it does not give employers the right to deny other medical services based on religious beliefs – we’re angered that women’s access to reproductive health care has once again been singled out and limited. Moving forward, AAUW will continue to fight to protect basic preventive health care access for all women, no matter where they work. Read more »
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In March, the Supreme Court heard arguments challenging employees’ rights to health care plans that cover all necessary health services. As you may recall, the Affordable Care Act requires that qualified health plans cover preventive care without copay or cost-sharing, including contraception.
The court heard challenges brought by two for-profit companies — Conestoga Wood, a family-owned cabinetry business, and Hobby Lobby, a family-owned chain of arts and crafts stores. The companies claimed that providing certain services violates their religious freedoms and that they shouldn’t have to provide employees insurance that covers this kind of health care. (It’s recently come to light that Hobby Lobby’s employee retirement fund has significant investments in a variety of companies that produce abortion and contraceptive-related products.)
This should be easy.
Unfortunately, it’s not.
People go to these businesses for cabinets and crafts supplies, not for religion. Yet Conestoga Wood and Hobby Lobby are trying to claim that the businesses themselves have religious rights and that those rights let companies control the private lives of their employees. That’s a dangerous argument and would let employers have a voice in the health decisions of their employees. Who wants that?
The Affordable Care Act already ensures that religious rights are respected by exempting churches and houses of worship from the contraceptive requirement, and the law also gives religiously affiliated nonprofits the option to use a third-party insurer to provide coverage, thus ensuring that their own funds don’t directly support the purchase of birth control. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood do not qualify for an exemption — and they shouldn’t. They are not religious enterprises, despite their owners’ beliefs. Saying something doesn’t make it so.
If we allow our bosses to start making decisions about what kind of health care we can access through our insurance, will our children still receive vaccines? Will we be able to get blood transfusions? What about tubal ligations? These are just a few of the “radical procedures” that various religions and beliefs have objected to over the years. If the Supreme Court decides in the corporations’ favor, your health care decisions could suddenly be on your boss’s desk, right next to the memos and expense reports.
That’s unacceptable and dangerous, and AAUW is committed to protecting employees’ rights. AAUW signed on to several amicus briefs opposing the challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s coverage requirement and signed on to a brief before the Supreme Court. We’re also working with our allies on Capitol Hill to educate them about this issue. When it comes to women’s health, we won’t take anything for granted.