Posted on June 30, 2014 Issues: Health Care & Reproductive Rights

Today, the Supreme Court handed down two decisions that will have a significant impact on women—Burwell, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al., v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., et al., and Harris v. Quinn. In the Hobby Lobby case, the Supreme Court ruled 5 to 4 that family-owned corporations would no longer be required to pay for insurance coverage of contraception under the Affordable Care Act if they had religious objections to this provision.

“Today, the Supreme Court dealt a blow to women’s health,” said National Women’s Law Center (NWLC) Co-President Marcia D. Greenberger.  “For the first time, the Court has given some bosses the right to allow their religious beliefs to trump the health needs of their employees.  Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood and other closely-held corporations will now have a license to harm their female employees in the name of religion.  While the Court left the basic contraceptive coverage provision in place and did not question that there is a compelling need for such health care, women working at these and similar companies could be denied the basic birth control coverage they need and deserve and saddled with higher costs for essential contraceptive care.

“Bosses should stick to what they know best—the board room and the bottom line— and stay out of the bedroom and doctors’ offices. This is a bitter pill to swallow but the Center—alongside women everywhere—will continue to fight for what is right, for affordable birth control and for autonomy over their health care decisions.”

In the Harris case, the Supreme Court’s 5-to-4 ruling limited the rights of home care workers, who provide services to older people and those with disabilities through Illinois’ Medicaid program, to unionize and bargain collectively with the state. 

The ruling, reversing a 2011 decision by the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, also has implications for the rights of home care workers and home-based child care providers in other states to organize and bargain collectively. The Court stopped short of reversing decades of precedent recognizing the rights of traditional public sector workers to unionize, but suggested that it could reconsider those precedents in a future case.

“Unions have strengthened the rights and working conditions of home care workers and child care providers—two poorly paid and overwhelmingly female groups of workers, said Joan Entmacher, NWLC Vice-President for Family Economic Security.  “Through unionization, these workers have secured better pay, training and working conditions for themselves, and the seniors, people with disabilities, and children who rely on these workers benefit from a more stable and qualified workforce.  Today’s ruling wrongly limits these workers’ ability to organize and suggests an even more ominous future:  the majority questioned, but did not overturn, a decades-old precedent protecting the organizing rights of  nurses, firefighters, teachers, police officers,  emergency responders, and other workers who provide vital public services—the majority of whom are women.

“Unions have boosted the pay of workers, narrowed the wage gap for working women, improved benefits, including paid leave, and led the way in improving working conditions. We will not let the voices of working women be silenced and will continue to fight for their rights.”