TIME politics

The Only Controversy About Birth Control Is That We’re Still Fighting for It

Supreme Court Issues Rulings, Including Hobby Lobby ACA Contraception Mandate Case
Supportes of employer-paid birth control rally in front of the Supreme Court before the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores was announced June 30, 2014 in Washington, DC. Chip Somodevilla—Getty Images

Decisions about women’s health are being made, yet again, by judges and politicians who will never need to use birth control.

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled that it’s better to be a corporation than a woman in America. In a devastating ruling, the Court gave CEOs of some closely held profit-making corporations the right to deny their employees coverage for birth control because of the CEO’s personal objections – even if those objections are not supported by science or medicine.

The Court’s ruling has unleashed an outcry from people across the country who are incredulous that decisions about women’s health are being made – yet again – by judges and politicians who will never need to use birth control. This decision — by five male Justices — opens the door for corporations to interfere in the private health decisions of their employees, who happen to be women. Both the Hobby Lobby ruling and the recent decision striking down protections for women entering healthcare centers that provide abortion reflect a staggering lack of awareness of what women have to go through to get health care. It’s no coincidence that all three women on the Court signed the dissent, which spoke to the realities of women’s lives and sounded an alarm. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, the Court “has entered a minefield.”

The decision in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties sets a dangerous new legal precedent treating some, perhaps all, for-profit corporations as if they were people, fully capable of expressing deeply held religious beliefs. The result? Some corporate owners have been given a free pass from following the law if they claim that doing so violates their religious beliefs – allowing them to enjoy both the legal protections of being a corporation and the privileges of being a person.

It’s unbelievable that in 2014, we’re still fighting for access to birth control – but we are. Ninety-nine percent of women in this country have used birth control at some point in their lives, including 98% of Catholic women. For millions of women in this country, the only thing controversial about birth control is the fact that we’re still fighting to have this basic health care covered by insurance – especially given the overwhelming evidence that birth control, when used correctly, has a host of health and medical benefits. It can help relieve painful menstrual cramps, avert infertility by addressing the symptoms of endometriosis, and – shockingly – prevent unintended pregnancy.

Birth control is only a social issue if you’ve never had to pay for it. Many women pay an average of $600 a year — and sometimes much more — for contraceptives. A 2010 survey found that more than one-third of women voters have struggled to afford prescription birth control at some point in their lives – but when they have access to it, they can support themselves financially, complete their education, and plan their families and have children when they are ready. It’s good for women, it’s good for families, and it’s good for this country.

Here’s the good news: Despite the Supreme Court, the birth control benefit of the Affordable Care Act remains in place. More than 30 million women already have access to this benefit, and in its first full year, women saved an incredible $483 million more on birth control prescriptions than they did the year before. This is the biggest step forward for women in a generation.

The real consequence of this ruling is that it invites “closely held corporations” to pick and choose what methods of birth control are covered by insurance. Far from a narrow ruling, the Court’s decision affects enormous for-profit companies employing thousands of women and more than half of the workforce in this country. This is unacceptable, and we have heard from members of Congress, the White House, and numerous medical groups including the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the American Medical Association, the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Nurses Association—all of whom are fighting alongside Planned Parenthood to make sure that women have access to affordable birth control. We’re working with women’s health champions in Congress to ensure they protect and expand women’s access to no-copay birth control, and we encourage companies to do the right thing and provide women full birth control coverage. And we’ll take this fight to the ballot box in November, showing women across the country where candidates in their state stand on their access to birth control.

Meanwhile, our #JointheDissent campaign lit up the social media landscape, with nearly 6 million people seeing and sharing our campaign information with their friends on Facebook in the first day alone. Even if the Supreme Court doesn’t understand what’s at stake for women, Americans around the country do.

The bottom line: Our health care decisions are not our bosses’ business – and neither is our use of birth control, for any reason. That we even need to argue this point is incredible – but politicians, corporations and the Court need to hear from women.

Cecile Richards is the president of Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

TIME politics

Supreme Court Doesn’t Understand What It’s Like to Be a Woman in This Country

Planned Parenthood On Commonwealth Avenue
Self-described "Right to Lifer" Ray Neary stands behind the yellow line as he protests outside of a Planned Parenthood on Commonwealth Avenue in Boston, Mass. on June 26, 2014. (Photo by Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images) Boston Globe—Boston Globe via Getty Images

Without a buffer zone, protesters' expression of free speech outside of healthcare centers has included chaining themselves to medical equipment and blocking access to healthcare centers.

On Thursday, the U.S. Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts law establishing a protected zone around healthcare centers providing abortion. We at Planned Parenthood are disappointed with the Court’s ruling, which shows that far too many people — including far too many powerful people — don’t understand what it is like to be a woman in this country who simply wants to make her own healthcare decisions in private without harassment or intimidation.

Indeed, this is a ruling against the safety of women receiving basic health care. It is a ruling against the protection of staff workers trying to get to their job without being screamed at and facing the threat of violence. Though this type of threatening behavior is rare outside reproductive health centers, when it does happen it is frightening — and that is why patient protection zones are so important.

Despite this discouraging decision, Planned Parenthood will continue safeguarding our patients. The good news is that many patient protection laws across the country remain intact. Our patients and staff will continue to be shielded by the federal Freedom of Access to Clinic Entrances Act. In Massachusetts, Planned Parenthood is working with the governor, the attorney general’s office and local law enforcement to ensure that, in spite of this ruling, the privacy and safety of every patient accessing health care and every staff member doing his or her job will remain safe — no matter what.

With all due respect to the Justices, they have erred in invalidating the buffer zone as an impermissible regulation of speech. Protesters always have had ample opportunities to express their opinions directly to patients and staff. And the Court also distorted reality when it focused on supposed “caring” conversations from protesters.

In Massachusetts, before the buffer zone law was enacted, patients and staff were often subjected to intense and aggressive harassment. Planned Parenthood in particular was routinely singled out by protesters who went beyond expressing themselves through conversation. They disrupted the operation of health centers by chaining themselves to medical equipment. They stood shoulder-to-shoulder in the doorway of our healthcare centers, blocking access for our patients and staff. They screamed directly into the ears of patients, jarring them at a sensitive moment — when they were en route to a private medical appointment.

This volatile, unsafe environment in Massachusetts paved the way for tragedy. In 1994, a man barged into the Planned Parenthood health center in Brookline and opened fire, murdering one staff member and injuring three others. He then went to another nearby health center, murdering another staff member and wounding two others.

When the law was enacted, it was instantly clear that it worked. The atmosphere outside Planned Parenthood health centers became transformed to one of peaceful coexistence. Speech was never prevented outside healthcare centers. The only restriction protesters faced was to stand 35 feet away from the entrance of a healthcare center. Thirty-five feet is roughly the length of a school bus. When someone screams “Murderer!” from a distance of 35 feet, you hear the message loud and clear.

In short, the Massachusetts buffer zone law defused tensions and reduced violence because it struck the appropriate balance between preserving free speech rights and protecting public safety. It has proven to be an effective and balanced solution.

Americans are accustomed to buffer zones. They are erected outside Election Day polling places to protect voters. In fact, the U.S. Supreme Court has its own buffer zone to protect the safety and dignity of the Court, but the Court was silent on its own buffer zone in this decision. Apparently, women and staff do not deserve the same protection.

With or without a buffer zone, Planned Parenthood will work to keep our patients safe. One tool has been taken from us, but we have others at our disposal. We will ensure our patients can continue to make carefully considered, private medical decisions, without running a gauntlet of harassing and threatening protesters.

This decision is not the end of the story. At Planned Parenthood we continue forward in our relentless commitment to enable women to make their own healthcare decisions without fear, judgment or intimidation — and that will never change.

Cecile Richards is the president of Planned Parenthood Federation of America.

 

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