Reproductive Justice on the Line

By Katherine Bisanz, SWRJ Co-Founder

The Supreme Court made blatantly clear its disregard for the rights and dignity of low-income families of color in three major rulings brought forth in recent weeks – Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, McCullen v. Coakley and Harris v. Quinn.  All three rulings pose a unique but direct threat to health equity and reproductive justice for people and families in this country.  Perhaps the most widely discussed of them all, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, allows for-profit, religiously identified organizations to deny employees health insurance coverage for birth control.

As Carole Joffe reminds us in her pointed take on the decision: despite the fact that contraception is widely thought of as a “women’s issue”, the truth is that it plays an enormous role in general family well being.  As social workers, we can see the mammoth scope of potential impact that denying already low-wage workers coverage for birth control will have on families and as per the usual, low-income families of color will be hit the hardest.

In their 2013 report, The Guttmacher Institute cited the negative impacts of unplanned pregnancies on adult relationships, including depression, and heightened conflict and the health benefits to children when births are spaced have been noted time and time again. Additionally, the report shows the ability of contraceptive access to play a role in breaking cycles of poverty and government dependency across generations, patterns often perpetuated by unintended pregnancies.

The contraceptive coverage benefit of the Affordable Care Act was a huge step forward in terms of removing very present barriers to consistent contraceptive use that many women face.  Marcia D. Greenberger of the National Women’s Law Center noted the importance of this aspect of the ACA in a statement last November: “Birth control is a critically important part of women’s health care, but its cost, including co-pays, can be an impediment to a woman’s consistent use of it or to her ability to use the safest method for her. This benefit removes this financial barrier to women getting and affording the birth control they need.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg noted just how prohibitive the cost of contraceptives can be for low-income women in her, now famous, and notably scathing dissent to the decision:  “It bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month’s full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage.”

Earlier this year, during the initial iteration of this case, Nancy Northup, president and CEO of the Center for Reproductive Rights made clear the danger of assigning more rights to institutions than to human beings: “The right to religious freedom belongs to individuals, not for-profit institutions. Our fundamental individual liberties must be protected so that these for-profit companies are no more entitled to deny women insurance coverage for essential health care than they are to dictate how any of us can and cannot spend our paychecks.”

SWRJ stands behind efforts to reverse the discriminatory and dangerous path being paved by conservative members of Congress and the Supreme Court in hopes that we, as members of the reproductive justice and health equity movements, may do our part to salvage the individual liberties and human rights that these very entities were established to protect.