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Birth Control

Why Courts Matter to Women: Women's History Month

Courts undeniably matter to women—for better or worse. Every day, they decide cases involving the right to have an abortion, to access contraception, to obtain affordable health care coverage, to equal protection under the law, and to fair treatment for women on the job. As March is women’s history month, it is an opportune moment to examine some pending and recent court cases that matter to women.

Two significant cases pending before the Supreme Court, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius, deal with contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act (“ACA”). This month, the Supreme Court heard arguments regarding whether for-profit companies must comply with a portion of the ACA requiring that women receive health insurance coverage for birth control. The employers argue that they have a right under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment to refuse to grant this coverage based on their religious objections to certain forms of birth control. In essence, they claim that corporations have the liberty to impose their religious beliefs on women and their families, denying women access to critical health care coverage and interfering with a woman’s right to make personal health care decisions for herself. Of course, a for-profit corporation is not a “person” capable of exercising religious beliefs, just as a corporation may not exercise other individual and personal rights such as the right against self-incrimination, and the birth control coverage requirement applies to the company, not to the individuals who own it. Further, even if a for-profit corporation could exercise religion, the birth control coverage requirement does not amount to a “substantial burden” on religious exercise—the standard the companies would need to prove—and including birth control in employee health plans furthers compelling government interests in advancing women’s health and equality and is the least restrictive means of so doing. The NWLC filed an amicus brief in support of the contraceptive coverage requirement in both cases. Read more »

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. Read more »

My Health Is Not Your Hobby

This was just one of the many witty slogans held high on posters at the snow-covered rally at the Supreme Court yesterday. Nearly a thousand supporters came out to tell America that women should be able to make their own decisions about birth control – not their bosses.

As I looked at all those women (and men) standing in the freezing cold, soaking wet but still rallying for hours I couldn’t help but think of the women who weren’t there, who believed it wasn’t safe to speak out themselves -- and I was about to speak for one of them. That, and the fact that it was actually snowing in late March in Washington, DC, may end up being the two things that I’ll most remember about the day.

Inside the Court, Justices were hearing arguments on two cases, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, brought by for-profit companies that claim that because of their owners’ religious beliefs they should be allowed to break the law and deny their female employees birth control coverage.

Basically, even though 99% of sexually active women have used birth control, and we finally got a law that guarantees women affordable birth control, a bunch of corporations actually went to the Supreme Court because they want to control women’s health care decisions under the guise of free exercise of religion. Read more »

Seventh Circuit Says Notre Dame Cannot Deny Its Employees and Students Access to Birth Control Benefits

Given the range of horrible and ridiculous things that happened last week, we were due for something sensible. On Friday, the 7th Circuit Court of Appeals denied the University of Notre Dame’s request for a preliminary injunction against the birth control benefit. The decision [PDF], written by Judge Posner and joined by Judge Hamilton, affirmed the district court’s earlier denial of relief.

Notre Dame wanted to get out of signing a form that tells its insurer that it has religious objects to birth control, claiming it was a substantial burden on its religious exercise. Note that if Notre Dame got the relief it was asking for, that could mean all of the women and the female dependents with Notre Dame health insurance would no longer have any access to birth control, even where third parties provide that access. To summarize: Notre Dame isn’t satisfied that it got out of the requirement to cover birth control in its health plan, but wants to make sure others don’t provide that access either.  

So, it looks more like Notre Dame wants to interfere with the personal health care decisions of its students and employees rather than stay out of them. But, as the 7th Circuit explains, while a religious institution like Notre Dame may refuse to “engage in acts that violate the tenets of its faith, it has no right to prevent other institutions, whether the government or a health insurance company, from engaging in acts that merely offend the institution.”  Read more »

Why Buy the (Sexist) Pig When You Can Get the Oink for Free?

Do you think of your sex as Prada or Marshalls? Discount or high end? If you’re not sure, you are probably going to want to read this. Recently, the New York Post published an article about a new short animated film, entitled the “Economics of Sex,” that uses the language of “economics” to explain why marriage rates in the U.S. have hit a historic low.

The piece centers around the idea that there is a supply and demand problem going on with sex — that currently the supply provided by women is too high, and as a result the “price” has dropped since men won’t pay more for something that’s “so easy to find.”

And what’s to blame for this market shift? It’s really original, so hold on. BIRTH CONTROL!! Let’s all run to our pharmacists and return it, because ladies, birth control is a dream-killer. Read more »

Confused About Stroke Guidelines and Birth Control? Obamacare Can Help. (No, Really, It Can.)

Yesterday, the American Heart Association released new prevention guidelines for women regarding stroke. These guidelines are particularly important for women with high blood pressure, which puts them at increased risk for stroke, the third leading cause of death among women. A quick read of the guidelines and reporting about them raises a question. Both pregnancy and birth control pills put women at greater risk for stroke. So what’s a girl who already has high blood pressure but doesn’t want to get pregnant to do? Read more »

5 Things To Know About the Cases Brought by Non-Profits with Religious Objections to Insurance Coverage for Birth Control

You’ve heard about the for-profit companies challenging the birth control coverage benefit. This Spring, the Supreme Court will review two for-profit cases, brought by Hobby Lobby, a nationwide arts and crafts store with over 13,000 employees, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a wood cabinet manufacturer with nearly 1,000 employees. Non-profits with religious objections to birth control coverage have also challenged the benefit, with over 25 cases currently pending. The new year brought a deluge of activity in cases brought by non-profits with religious objections to birth control coverage.

Here are 5 things to know about the challenges to the birth control coverage benefit brought by non-profits with religious objections:  Read more »

Even Winning Won’t Stop Them: For-Profit Business Owners Win Contraceptive Coverage Case, but Seek Supreme Court Review Anyway

Last Friday, the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision in Gilardi v. HHS, one of the 40 plus lawsuits brought by for-profit companies challenging the health care law’s contraceptive coverage requirement. It requires health insurance plans to include coverage of the full range of FDA-approved forms of birth control. The Gilardis, who own Freshway Foods—a fresh produce processor and packer company (think pre-packaged salad mixes and perfectly pre-chopped carrots) —object to providing birth control in their employee health plan. The D.C. Circuit found in their favor, meaning that Freshway Food’s owners can exclude birth control from their employee health plan. The decision therefore denies women covered by Freshway Food’s health plan the ability to make independent decisions about their health and leaves them to pay higher costs for critical preventive care.  

But, they’re asking the Supreme Court to review the decision anyway. Why? Read more »

6th Circuit Says Your Boss Can’t Say No to Your Birth Control

In a unanimous decision in Autocam v. Sebelius, the 6th Circuit held that a for-profit, secular company is not a ‘“person’ capable of ‘religious exercise’” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) (RFRA is a federal law that protects an individual’s exercise of religious freedom from substantially burdensome laws where the government did not have a compelling interest in passing the law). Based on this holding, the Autocam companies – Michigan-based manufacturers of auto and medical supplies – can’t bring a RFRA challenge to the Obamacare rule requiring health insurance plans to cover the full range of birth control methods. Oh, and the 6th Circuit held that Autocam’s owners also can’t challenge the rule under RFRA because the birth control requirement is on the company, not the owners.

This means that Autocam’s female employees and dependents will not have access to coverage for the birth control method that’s appropriate for them, without cost sharing. In other words, they finally get to take advantage of this fabulous Obamacare benefit that many of us have been enjoying for a year now. Read more »

Reproductive Justice for All – Including Students at Georgetown

I, like many other Georgetown students, let out a sigh of relief upon reading the most recent e-mail from President DeGioia. This e-mail announced that contraceptive coverage would be available to everyone on the University’s insurance plan with no additional cost to them or the University. This controversial change in Georgetown’s insurance policy is occurring thanks to the new health care law which is officially titled the Affordable Care Act, which requires employers to provide contraceptive coverage.

Regulations finalized by the Obama Administration in late June declared that the insurance companies themselves must pay directly for contraceptive services for those at non-profit organizations that oppose providing contraceptive coverage on religious grounds, such as Georgetown. DeGioia believes that these regulations “give us the opportunity to reconcile our religious identity and our commitment to providing access to affordable health care” and I couldn’t agree more. Read more »