A few weeks ago, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in favour of a regulation presented by the Trump administration that allows employers to opt-out of providing no-cost birth control to women.
This was previously a requirement known as the “contraceptive mandate,” an initiative under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) by the Obama Administration. This initiative required employers’ insurance plans to cover birth control costs— granting coverage to 61.4 million women.
Since the beginning of his presidency, Donald Trump has sought to eliminate the contraceptive mandate. In 2018, he began expanding exemptions that would allow more businesses to opt-out of providing birth control to their employees.
Under this new ruling, employers are now granted the right to deny birth control coverage on the basis of a moral or religious objection.
This could result in as many as 126,000 women losing contraceptive coverage from their employers.
The United States is known for its widely inaccessible healthcare system. According to data from 2017 and 2018, the U.S. spends more on healthcare as a share of economic spending than any other wealthy country in the world but has the lowest life expectancy and higher rates of suicide.
With the country facing the highest amount of COVID-19 cases and deaths per capita than any other country, the woes of the American healthcare system have been highlighted to the rest of the world.
It is arguable that socialized medicine would be a viable solution in helping to improve America’s healthcare system. But with this ruling, the country is taking another step back in choosing to not provide a vital aspect of healthcare to those who need it.
In a study that surveyed women between the age of 15-49, it was found that 64.6 percent of women in America use contraception of some sort. This number had been steadily increasing since the contraceptive mandate was implemented, which made birth control more accessible and affordable.
After the contraceptive mandate was put in place, for the first time in decades, the unplanned pregnancy rate was declining, and the abortion rate was thelowest since Roe v. Wade. Expanding access to contraception improves women’s health and decreases the risk of unplanned pregnancy; making it harder to access is extremely damaging.
There has always been a controversial narrative surrounding contraception and abortion in America. But the decision to restrict this type of healthcare will hurt people who rely on birth control to maintain their livelihoods.
Allowing employers to refuse to supply birth control on the basis of “moral or religious objection” simply does not make sense. Birth control is a common form of health care for people with uteri, and many people use it for reasons other than contraception. Birth control can help to treat a variety of health conditions, such as migraines, acne, severe period cramps, endometriosis, as well as helping to decrease the risk of certain cancers.
Along with already having to pay for basic healthcare needs that many other countries offer for free, Americans shouldn’t have to bear the labour of paying for basic reproductive healthcare.
In the United States, people have to pay for a physical exam before being prescribed birth control, and that appointment alone could cost between $20 and $200. On top of that, the pill itself could cost up to $50. According to Planned Parenthood, people who are acquiring birth control may pay between $20 and $800 annually, depending on medical coverage and pill costs.
A 2017 study found that in America, 81 percent of women are living paycheck to paycheck. For many people in the country, paying for birth control out-of-pocket is just not a realistic option.
In the United States, unintended pregnancy rates are highest among those least able to afford contraception and have significantly increased over the past decade. Additionally, the unintended pregnancy rate for low-income women is more than five times the rate for women in the highest income bracket. Unwanted pregnancies among low-income individuals make it harder to escape the cyclical nature of poverty. Lack of access to contraception consequently grows the number of disenfranchised people, resulting in people having to work forever in order to survive and support their growing families.
This Supreme Court decision comes in the midst of a spotlight on America’s racist past and present.
Fatima Goss Gaves, the CEO and president of National Women’s Law Center, writes for Cosmopolitan, “Black and brown people, LGBTQ+ individuals, low-income people, and those who live at the intersections of these identities will be impacted most by SCOTUS’s decision to allow companies and schools to decline contraceptive coverage. These people already face insurmountable barriers to the care they need as they face higher rates of unemployment and extraordinary wage gaps.”
Since birth control became legal in America in 1965, women have been able to participate more actively in society. By giving women the ability to control their own reproductive health, they have been able to seek further education, participation in the workforce, and improve their own living conditions. In a major way, bodily autonomy through reproductive health has enabled women to work towards social equality.
It’s important to recognize that the Supreme Court justices who are making decisions about women’s bodies in America are mostly men. Six out of the nine Supreme Court Justices are men, and two of those men have been publicly accused of sexual assault.
Aside from not having the anatomy that would allow them to have meaningful input on women’s reproductive health, the SCOTUS justices don’t understand what access to contraception means to so many women.
Brett Kavanaugh, the newest Supreme Court justice, once referred to birth control as “abortion-inducing drugs.” This spread of misinformation coming from someone who has the power to make laws about women’s bodies is dangerous and actively harmful.
The two Supreme Court Justices who dissented the decision were women, Ruth Bader Ginsberg and Sonia Sotomayor. After the decision was made, Justice Ginsberg wrote, “This court leaves women workers to fend for themselves, to seek contraceptive coverage from sources other than their employers’ insurer, and, absent another available source of funding, to pay for contraceptive services out of their own pockets.”
By taking away this coverage, many people who are already struggling to get by will be forced to either compromise their own reproductive health or compromise their livelihood. This decision is a violation of human rights and the U.S. Supreme Court should not have authority over women’s bodies and health.
Bodily autonomy is necessary because it extends beyond individual liberty—it’s economic and social justice.
NOTE: When referring to *women, we are also referring to any person who has a uterus but may not identify as a *woman. Due to cisnormativity, “women” is used in academic studies and legislation, and the term is repeated in this article to accurately reflect the studies and legislation referenced. We acknowledge that not all people who have uteri and use birth control identify as women.