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Gretchen Borchelt, Senior Counsel & Director of State Reproductive Health Policy

Gretchen Borchelt is Senior Counsel and Director of State Reproductive Health Policy at the National Women’s Law Center. She oversees the Center’s state-based legal and policy efforts to protect and expand women’s access to reproductive health care. Gretchen also works on a range of issues as part of the Center’s Health and Reproductive Rights Team, including health care law implementation, access to contraception, refusals to provide health care, and judicial nominations. Previously, she worked at Physicians for Human Rights and was a Women’s Law and Public Policy Fellow at the National Partnership for Women and Families. Gretchen is a graduate of Columbia Law School and the University of Virginia.

My Take

The Supreme Court Hears Arguments in the Contraceptive Coverage Cases: Are the Employees’ Voices and Health Needs Being Heard?

Cross-posted from Alliance for Justice.

The companies seeking to deny women access to a benefit guaranteed under the health care law—coverage of all FDA-approved methods of birth control and related education and counseling without cost-sharing—made some questionable claims yesterday before the Supreme Court. Two in particular are worth exploring, especially since they’ve gotten short shrift in the post-argument analysis.

The first troubling argument was that the government does not have as compelling an interest in requiring insurance coverage for birth control as compared to other health care services. Paul Clement (the lawyer representing the companies) framed his opening by talking about how “religiously sensitive” it is to require birth control coverage. Justices Sotomayor and Kagan questioned this notion, asking how far an exemption for companies with religious objections would go. What about an owner who has religious objections to vaccinations or blood transfusions? Are those “religiously sensitive”? Should a boss be able to deny employees coverage of those health care services because of a religious belief? Clement responded that this case is “easier than” those cases because birth control is “so religiously sensitive, so fraught with religious controversy” and the government may have a “stronger compelling interest [in those cases] than it does” in this case.

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ABQ, I❤U

Posted by Gretchen Borchelt, Senior Counsel & Director of State Reproductive Health Policy | Posted on: November 20, 2013 at 01:42 pm

Yesterday, voters in Albuquerque, New Mexico took to the polls and voted down an attempt to ban abortion in their city.

The ballot measure was being pushed by opponents of abortion who targeted Albuquerque in a novel attempt to put an abortion ban on a city ballot. They hoped to close the city’s clinics, and also wanted to create a new model of attacks on abortion – going city by city, across the country.

But ABQ voters shut that whole thing down. Voters rejected the attempt to ban abortion at 20 weeks of pregnancy, recognizing that women need access to later abortion for a variety of reasons, and that the families in those situations need safe and legal medical care, not government interference.

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State Politicians Continue to Play Politics with Women’s Health, Threatening a Woman’s Right to Abortion

Posted by Gretchen Borchelt, Senior Counsel & Director of State Reproductive Health Policy | Posted on: October 17, 2013 at 09:54 am

This blog post originally appeared on ACSBlog.

Politicians in Ohio have gone to great lengths to end abortion in their state. They’re not taking the blatantly unconstitutional route of North Dakota and Arkansas and just banning abortion outright in an attempt to overturn Roe v. Wade. Rather, politicians in Ohio are doing what they can to make it as difficult and expensive as possible to get an abortion. They are also passing measures with the intent of coercing, shaming, and judging a woman seeking an abortion. Make no mistake: these attempts are just as harmful as an all-out ban on abortion, and are increasingly encroaching upon a woman’s constitutional right to abortion. 

A pregnant woman in Ohio who decides on abortion faces multiple, politician-imposed, medically unnecessary steps. She must receive information intended to dissuade her from her decision and shame her for the deeply personal decision she has made. This now includes forcing her to visit the clinic so doctors can test for a fetal heartbeat and offer her the chance to hear it, and forcing her to listen to a description of the odds of carrying the pregnancy to term. She must then wait 24 hours before obtaining the medical care she originally sought. As an Ohio woman seeking an abortion said, “It’s a hard decision for anybody to make. To make it more difficult by passing these laws and making women feel guilty is terrible.” (And these new requirements are only part of the numerous abortion restrictions that became law in Ohio this year).

Unfortunately, these efforts in Ohio are part of a national trend. Abortion opponents have continued to push the boundaries in an attempt to further challenge the core constitutional protections for a woman’s decision to have an abortion. In the last three years, states have passed a record number of abortion restrictions. These include requirements that a woman undergo a medically unnecessary, physically invasive ultrasound before obtaining an abortion, prohibiting a woman from purchasing a comprehensive health insurance plan that includes coverage of abortion, and imposing unnecessary, costly, and burdensome requirements on the clinics and doctors who provide abortions in an effort to shut them down.

Why this uptick in anti-abortion legislation?

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One Year After Todd Akin Made His Infamous "Shut That Whole Thing Down Remark" Nothing's Changed

What changes after a politician gets caught using a lie as the basis for cruel and extreme policies, there is national outrage, and elections are lost (including his) because of it? 

Apparently, nothing. That's what our new report, ‘Shut That Whole Thing Down:’ A Survey of Abortion Restrictions Even in Cases of Rape, discovered. 

One year ago today, Todd Akin made the statement that would outrage the public and ultimately torpedo his Senate campaign. In explaining his opposition to abortion even in cases of rape, he said, "It seems to me, first of all, from what I understand from doctors, that's really rare. If it's a legitimate rape, the female body has ways to try to shut that whole thing down." 

And what has happened since? In our survey of state and federal legislative action, we documented that politicians and political commentators continue to make the same remarks and they continue to introduce and enact legislation to stop women from getting abortion, including women who are pregnant due to rape.

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Hobby Lobby's Boss Might Get to Decide If Employees Get Birth Control

Yesterday, a divided 10th Circuit Court of Appeals put at risk access to contraception for more than 13,000 individuals. A majority of the court reversed a decision of a lower court which told the for-profit crafts store chain Hobby Lobby it has to comply with the federal contraceptive coverage benefit, just like other insurance plans across the country. But Hobby Lobby's owner doesn’t want to treat his employees like everyone else. He thinks he should be able to decide whether female employees and dependents can access insurance coverage for certain forms of contraception. 

While the court did not grant Hobby Lobby the right to get out of the benefit — it sent the case back to the lower court to decide whether or not to grant a preliminary injunction — a majority of the 10th Circuit made it clear that it believes there is merit to the claim that bosses should be able to impose their religious beliefs on their employees. 

Two of the dissenting judges think otherwise, making it clear that the contraceptive coverage benefit only applies to what insurance plans cover. No one will be forced to buy or use contraception.

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