During the 2015 Fall Term, which begins Monday, the Supreme Court will have the opportunity to hear several cases that would directly affect reproductive health.
Pending before the Court are cases about whether your boss can impose his religious beliefs about birth control on you, and cases about whether your right to abortion will depend on your zip code. Most experts, including us, are predicting that the Court will consider one of the birth control cases, and one of the abortion cases. But we do not yet know which of these cases will be heard. So here’s a preview of the issues at stake in the cases, and what it could mean for the Court to take one or more of them.
Cases about Your Boss Making Your Birth Control Decision
You might be wondering, haven’t we been through this before with Hobby Lobby two years ago? Yes and no. Hobby Lobby was about the birth control benefit and whether bosses have a say in employee decisions about birth control. In that case, the Court held that certain for-profit businesses can use their religious beliefs to deny their employees coverage under the birth control benefit. The cases pending before the Court now are related, but also very different.
The federal government developed an “accommodation” for non-profit organizations who object to the birth control benefit. The accommodation allows the non-profits to opt out of providing the benefit, but still ensures employees get the birth control coverage without cost-sharing separately from the insurance company. When the Court decided Hobby Lobby, the accommodation was not available to for-profits, and the Court pointed to it to say the government could have done the same for companies like Hobby Lobby that object to birth control coverage. According to the Court, it was a way to both respect religious beliefs and reach the compelling interest in women’s health.
But some non-profits are challenging this accommodation. Five cases challenging the accommodation are pending with the Court. If the Supreme Court allows non-profits to not comply with the accommodation, some employees of objecting religious non-profits may lose their access to birth control coverage. These non-profits employ many individuals that need access to birth control, ranging from teachers in elementary schools, to employees at colleges, to nurses in retirement homes. And don’t forget the many dependents of employees who work at religious non-profits. These individuals will lose access to necessary medical care simply because their employers didn’t want their employees to have insurance coverage of contraception, even if they aren’t providing it or paying for it.
And it wouldn’t necessarily be limited to the non-profits. After the Hobby Lobby decision, the federal government put for-profits like Hobby Lobby into the accommodation as well, so that women workers could get the coverage directly from the insurance company. So it’s not just those on non-profit plans that are at risk of losing access to birth control coverage.
Thankfully, the non-profits have an uphill battle at the Court. Eight circuit courts have considered the non-profits’ objections, and seven have rejected them, and given the Court’s seeming approval of the accommodation and how far-reaching a bad decision could be, it would be a shock if the Court decided the other way.
Cases About Whether the Right to Abortion Should Depend on Where you Live
Over the last five years, states have enacted 287 restrictions on abortion. One major focus of anti-abortion politicians is passing laws that impose arbitrary and burdensome requirements on clinics and providers with the goal of forcing clinics to close their doors. These laws are intended to skirt the Constitution by not banning abortion outright but instead making it effectively impossible to access abortion in the state. Cases about two of these restrictive laws, passed in Mississippi and in Texas, are pending with the Supreme Court.
Mississippi’s law would close the state’s only abortion clinic, forcing Mississippi women to travel out of state to access their constitutionally protected right to an abortion. And the Texas law would shutter all but 10 clinics in the second largest state in the country, forcing some Texans to travel 550 miles to the nearest clinic in the state.
The Supreme Court has repeatedly affirmed that the Constitution protects every woman’s right to abortion. Additionally, the Court has held that states may not impose an undue burden on a woman’s ability to access abortion.
These state politicians are trying to make an end-run around these protections by advancing these sham laws means to shut down clinics and make it impossible for women to get the essential reproductive health care they need. It’s time for the Supreme Court to step in and put a stop to the growing tide of these politically-motivated laws that harm women.
Another Term, Another Fight, And We Are All In
We have been in this position time and time again—where the Supreme Court could make decisions that would drastically affect access to comprehensive reproductive health care. We are ready. We will stand up for those that need reproductive care—for employees that deserve access to birth control coverage, for individuals in Mississippi and Texas that need access to abortion clinics, and for the people throughout the country whose right to make the best health care decision for themselves will be affected by these cases.