Why Do We Have to Wait for Robed Justices to Decide About Our Health Care?

Taken from the July/August 2014 issue of the Women's Health Activist Newsletter.

We’re anxiously awaiting the Court’s opinion in  Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius: legal cases brought by business owners who don’t want to give their employees health insurance that covers contraception. While it’s kind of fun — in an inside-the-beltway wonky kind of way — to have access to live reporting from the Supreme Court, it’s infuriating that something so central to women’s health — contraception — has even become an issue before the Court.

Contraception and the ability to control our fertility is a necessity in the lives of nearly all women. Almost all sexually active women use contraception at some time in their lives. Even women who don’t need contraception to prevent pregnancy use it to manage other health issues, such as endometriosis and ovarian cysts.

Recognizing that many of the most reliable methods of contraception are very expensive, and that co-payments can take a big bite out of a tight budget, the Network worked hard to make sure that the Affordable Care Act would include coverage of all contraceptive methods with no co-payments or deductibles. Many of you joined our Raising Women’s Voices campaign and helped us lobby, petition, testify, and protest on this issue. We succeeded, and the new regulations, which require insurance coverage to include contraception, went into effect for most women nearly two years ago.

Our work on behalf of women’s access to contraception is paying off. Recent data show that the share of women who have no out-of-pocket costs for oral contraceptives increased after the new rules went into effect —to 56 percent, up from just 14 percent the year before health care reform rules went into effect. We know from talking to women that many of them have been able to choose a more expensive method that’s better for them, now that all methods have to be fully covered. These are vitally important gains for women.

But these gains could be badly undermined if the Supreme Court accepts the argument that business owners have the right to let their personal religious beliefs dictate how employees use their own health insurance. The Network believes that bosses should not be able to interfere with a woman’s access to affordable birth control. Employers shouldn’t get special treatment to avoid complying with the law. (Justices, do you hear us?)

It’s likely that you’ll know the Court’s decision in these cases by the time you read this column. If the Justices agreed with us, thank you for helping us get this far. If the Supreme Court decided in favor of business owners, know that we won’t give up. We’re going to make sure that these bosses’ extreme views are exposed. We will keep fighting until the law fully protects the rights of all women, no matter where they work, to make their own decisions about their health care.

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.

Read more from Cindy Pearson.