What the Supreme Court’s Decision on Hobby Lobby Means for Your Reproductive Health
By Tishaura O. Jones
I have been an elected official since 2002, and over the years I have heard from women who have had to choose between birth control and basics like rent, tuition and childcare.
The Affordable Care Act requirement that employers cover contraception has helped make these choices easier, but last month a majority of U.S. Supreme Court justices decided that closely held, privately owned companies with religious objections to birth control should not be required to provide this coverage.
The decision to allow Hobby Lobby and other similarly religious companies to make subjective healthcare decisions for their female employees sets a dangerous precedence that will cause medical and financial problems for women and their families. I am among the millions of American women who use contraception, and for a significant number of us, pregnancy prevention isn’t the only reason. Doctors often prescribe hormonal birth control methods to help prevent menstrual-related migraines, treat pelvic pain caused by endometriosis, reduce bleeding due to uterine fibroids or prevent pregnancy in women with life-threatening health conditions.
Beyond medical needs, access to affordable birth control is also an economic issue for women. Before the Affordable Care Act coverage requirement, out-of-pocket costs for prescription birth control could run as much as $600 a year—a cost that is unmanageable for many low-income women and discriminatory towards women in general. As a former employee of a Catholic sponsored healthcare system, I had to pay full price for birth control, yet Viagra was covered for male employees.
Additionally, a Guttmacher Institute study found that a majority of women who use birth control say doing so has allowed them to take better care of themselves or their families, become financially independent, finish their education and keep or get a job. The ability to delay or prevent pregnancy has afforded millions of American women a level of emotional and financial productivity that has benefitted not just them, but their communities as well. Simply put, access to birth control as part of a comprehensive healthcare plan is a financial issue.
As Treasurer of the City of St. Louis, I am committed to ensuring that people have access to resources, like affordable birth control, that allow them to become and remain financially independent.
As a black woman, I am also keenly aware that our community is particularly vulnerable to the damage that the Supreme Court’s recent decision is likely to cause. From a health perspective, black women are three times more likely than other women to develop uterine fibroids, and their debilitating symptoms can have a substantial impact on a woman’s finances when she has to miss work because of them. Certain prescription birth control methods can be used to help treat this condition. Black women are also less likely than Latinas, white or Asian women to use contraception, and lack of affordability is a significant cause of this discrepancy.
Our vulnerability on this issue is also the reason we black women have to educate ourselves about where our political candidates stand on this issue, and we must go to the polls this November prepared to vote for those who are committed to acting in our and our families’ best interests. Shortly after the Supreme Court issued its decision, the Senate went to work to draft legislation that would reinstate birth control coverage for the thousands of women affected by Hobby Lobby. But if control of the Senate goes to legislators that favor the court’s ruling, the opportunity to reinstate coverage is unlikely to occur. Our vote is our only voice to make sure that this does not happen.