The U.S. Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby is an affront to all women and yet another barrier to Asian American and Pacific Islander women who already face significant health disparities and barriers to insurance access. Women seeking birth control through health insurance will now be dependent upon their bosses to make a moral judgment about their choices.
The Court ruled that “closely held” corporations can have religious beliefs and assert them under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This is a dangerous setback for women’s health and economic security. Worse, the decision could reverberate beyond this particular case: It could be used to argue that corporations that are not closely held have the same right, and it could open the door to religious refusals for other medical procedures and treatments such as vaccines, surgeries, blood transfusions, or mental health care.
After decades of discriminatory coverage by insurance companies, the Affordable Care Act made great gains by requiring insurance companies to cover birth control with no out-of-pocket cost to women—based on the medical and scientific communities agreeing that access to birth control is common preventive care for women. Last year, the share of women with no out-of-pocket costs for the types of contraception covered by the law increased to 56 percent in 2013, from 14 percent one year earlier. Monday’s decision could reverse this hard-won progress.
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Due to uninsurance and the high cost of contraception, Asian American and Pacific Islander women already have low rates of contraception use. We don’t need another barrier to health care. Insurance coverage is critical for low-income women, including Asian American women, who are facing growing economic challenges. The share of Asian American women at or below minimum wage more than doubled from 2007 to 2012. In 2011, there were more than a million Asian-American women living in poverty, compared to about 700,000 in 1999. Insurance coverage for birth control is critical for women facing economic hardship and planning their families.
Employers shouldn’t get special treatment to get out of complying with the law just because they don’t want to give their employees access to insurance plans that cover birth control. The choice about whether to use birth control, or any health-care service, should be between a woman and her doctor—no employer should be able to take away that right.
Employees earn health insurance with their labor. Your boss can’t tell you how to spend your paycheck and shouldn’t be able to tell you how to spend your health insurance either.
Justice Ginsburg foreshadowed what is to come, stating in her dissent, “The Court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.” Unfortunately, the majority of the Court did not agree, and their decision stands to undermine valuable gains for women’s health and economic well-being that started to see throughout the country.