Taken from the September/October 2014 issue of the Women's Health Activist Newsletter.
The Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision was announced as I was sitting on an airplane, waiting to take off. I burst out with dismay when I read the text from the office: “5-4 majority supports HL.” I knew what that meant and I was too upset to keep quiet.
How could the Supreme Court Justices allow business owners to treat women like second-class citizens? Why should a corporation that offers health insurance as part of employees’ benefit package get to single out and ignore women’s reproductive health needs? How can the Court allow our reproductive health needs — whether for contraception to prevent pregnancy or for fertility treatments to become pregnant — to be governed by our bosses’ beliefs, and not our own health needs? It’s wrong. It’s unfair. It hurts women.
I did manage to quiet down after my outburst, but my outrage hasn’t gone away. Just four days after saying that its Hobby Lobby decision was “limited” and applied only to “closely held corporations,” the Court revealed how big an impact the ruling might be. That’s when the Court allowed religiously-based Wheaton College to refuse to even notify its insurance company that it will not provide contraceptives in the short-term, as it fights the contraceptive coverage mandate.
Sadly, the Supreme Court isn’t the only place where women’s health care is under attack. State legislatures across the country have been chipping away at women’s access to comprehensive reproductive health care and information for years. Now legislatures are starting to use wrecking balls! According to the Guttmacher Institute, since 2011, we’ve seen record-breaking numbers of laws intended to restrict reproductive rights in the states. The 205 restrictions enacted since 2011 dwarf the number enacted in the entire previous decade! New laws in Texas have forced most of the abortion providers in the state to close. Nine states refuse to allow state family planning funds to be used by clinics that also provide abortion care (as many do).
Its not just access to abortion that’s under attack; extremists are going after reproductive health information of all kinds. Nineteen states require that instructors who teach sexuality education instruct teens that engaging in sexual activity only within marriage is the expected standard of behavior; just 13 states require that sex ed be medically accurate. Five states even require physicians to tell women that abortion causes breast cancer (for the record, it doesn’t).
Legislators who voted for these bills think they’re doing what their constituents want. They’re wrong! The majority of people believe that abortion, contraception, fertility treatments, and accurate health information are all part of health care, not politics. We need to show politicians that we vote for candidates who support women’s health.
The mid-term elections are just a few weeks away. All 435 seats in the U.S. House of Representatives, and 33 of the 100 seats in the U.S. Senate are up for grabs. In addition, there are 38 state and territorial governorships, 46 state legislatures, and numerous state and local races at stake in the elections. What does this all mean? It means I hope you’ll choose to vote this year with women’s health in mind. As Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated, in her blistering Hobby Lobby dissent, “The Court has ventured into a minefield.” Let’s hope these extremist attacks on women’s health blow up in conservative’s faces in November.
Cindy Pearson was the NWHN’s Executive Director from 1996 to 2021. One of the nation's leading advocates for women's health, Cindy often testified before Congress, NIH and the FDA and was frequently featured in the news as a consumer expert on women’s health issues. When she retired, Cindy received a Congressional Resolution in honor of her outstanding contributions to the health of women and girls.