The Supreme Court dealt a major blow to reproductive rights when it sided with the Trump administration in letting employers deny people access to free birth control based on religious or moral grounds, hollowing out a mandate under the Affordable Care Act that requires most private health insurance plans to provide cost-free birth control. “It’s a really deeply disappointing ruling,” says Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center. “These individuals are effectively on their own to find and pay for their contraception.”
AMY GOODMAN: We’re beginning today with the Supreme Court, which dealt a blow to reproductive rights Wednesday, when it upheld Trump administration rules that let employers deny people access to free birth control based on their religious or moral beliefs — the employers’ religious or moral beliefs.
In a 7-to-2 ruling written by Justice Clarence Thomas, the court hollowed out a birth control mandate under the Affordable Care Act that requires most private health insurance plans to cover birth control without a copay. Planned Parenthood estimates the mandate expanded contraceptive coverage with no out-of-pocket costs to more than 62 million women, including 17 million Latinas and 15 million Black women. As many as 126,000 people now face the immediate loss of access to contraceptive services with no out-of-pocket costs, if the businesses, nonprofits and universities that employ them opt out of providing this coverage.
For more, we’re joined in Beaufort, South Carolina, by Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center.
Welcome back to Democracy Now! It’s great to have you with us. Can you respond to the Supreme Court ruling, Fatima Goss Graves?
FATIMA GOSS GRAVES: Listen, it’s a really deeply disappointing ruling. The Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit has been transformative, especially for women, who can access the contraception that they need, that their provider is recommending, and not have to worry about paying what can be really, really high costs. And what the Supreme Court decision means is that virtually any employer or university can now assert a religious or a moral reason and make it so that these individuals are effectively on their own to find and pay for their contraception.
NERMEEN SHAIKH: Fatima, could you talk about the cases that were consolidated in this ruling, Trump v. Pennsylvania and Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania?
FATIMA GOSS GRAVES: Right. So, the Trump v. Pennsylvania case, you know, several states and also individual organizations around the country challenged this rule, including the National Women’s Law Center. And the reason that this rule was being challenged was for two reasons. One, we believed that the rule itself went against the thrust and purpose of the Affordable Care Act. What the Affordable Care Act tried to do with this birth control benefit was ensure that women, in particular, did not experience discrimination. It was designed to further gender equality. And the Trump administration, by allowing for virtually any employer or any university, really, to name a religious or this vague, not defined moral objection to providing birth control coverage, that rule went against the thrust of the Affordable Care Act. So, what the Supreme Court said, basically, was that the administration was authorized to write such a rule.
There is a question that remains, and that the state of Pennsylvania and New Jersey have said they will continue to litigate, and that we at the National Women’s Law Center will continue to litigate, and that is whether the rule itself was arbitrary and capricious, whether or not they took the appropriate steps, and whether or not, for example, this vague moral justification for not providing the birth control benefit will be enough when weighed against the really important justification of furthering gender equality. That was the thing that was most missing, I would say, from the majority opinion in the Supreme Court. They barely talked about the individual workers and students who now are going to have to be paying so much more, in the heart of an economic decline, and working harder to get the healthcare they need during a pandemic.
AMY GOODMAN: I want to read from the two dissenting justices in the case. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor warned, quote, “[T]his Court leaves women workers to fend for themselves, to seek contraceptive coverage from sources other than their employer’s insurer, and, absent another available source of funding, to pay for contraceptive services out of their own pockets.” They added, quote, “Faced with high out-of-pocket costs, many women will forgo contraception … or resort to less effective contraceptive methods.” If you could comment, Fatima Goss Graves? So, the Affordable Care Act does pay for Viagra — right? — but will not cover, if an employer objects, birth control?
FATIMA GOSS GRAVES: It’s outrageous. I mean, what we have right now is a situation where some of the healthcare that women, in particular, need won’t be covered in the same way. So, contraception, which the vast majority of women in this country have used at some point in their life, is extraordinarily expensive. And because the Affordable Care Act was trying to set up a system where core preventative services were allowed without extra costs, without having to pay copays, they knew, though, if they didn’t detail specific services that women mostly needed, that women might get shut out. And so, there are very specific services that women need, including contraception, and now we’re in a situation where not the employee’s religious objection, not the employee’s moral objection, but because her boss or because her university [inaudible], are going to [inaudible] more.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you so much for being with us. Of course, we’re going to continue to follow this. Today is the last day of the Supreme Court. Expected today are the Supreme Court’s decisions on President Trump’s taxes. Fatima Goss Graves, president and CEO of the National Women’s Law Center, speaking to us from South Carolina.
This is Democracy Now! When we come back, the transmission of viruses from animals to humans. And then we will look at what’s happening in Belgium and speak with the descendant of King Leopold II as Black Lives Matter activists want to take down his statue, a reassessment on what he did in the Congo. Stay with us.