Governor Brown: Sign the Contraceptive Coverage Equity Act for California’s Women


This past week, just a few months after the Supreme Court’s unjust Hobby Lobby decision, the California legislature moved to progress reproductive justice by passing the Contraceptive Coverage Equity Act. The bill is on its way to Governor Brown’s desk to be signed, and it is imperative that he do so. The Contraceptive Coverage Equity Act would require that health insurance plans cover all FDA-approved contraceptive methods, including birth control pills, IUD’s, and emergency contraception, without cost-sharing, restrictions, denials, or delays. This will help all women be able to obtain the type of contraception they prefer or need regardless of their socio-economic situation. For young women like me, contraception is a necessary, but costly, medicine. Depending on the type, contraception can cost up to $200. That price skyrockets to as high as $1,000 if insurance does not cover it. For a medical necessity, this is outrageous and unaffordable. 

The benefits from expanded contraceptive coverage are numerous. One benefit is a reduced rate of unintended pregnancies and abortions. According to the California Health Benefit Review Program, expanded coverage would prevent over 51,000 unintended pregnancies and over 20,000 abortions. As a society, we can agree that legislation that makes abortion rarer and prevents children from being born to unprepared parents or parents who cannot support them benefits everybody. 

Expanded coverage also benefits California’s economy. CHBRP estimates that the bill will generate cost savings of over $216 million, $123 million of which will go to private employers, meaning more money for hiring and investing in their workers. And the cost of the insurance coverage needed to create those savings is miniscule – CHBRP estimates that insurance premiums would only increase $0.35 to $0.71 per member per month.

The benefits of expanded coverage are not just in savings or in reducing abortions and unintended pregnancies, but also in the freedom women obtain to control their own health decisions. The decision of which type of contraception a woman uses should not be made by her boss in negotiations with insurance companies. Bosses do not know the details of their employees’ medical history, information that is needed when choosing medicines. After all, would you want a contractor you hired to paint your house telling you what kind of antibiotics to take for strep throat? Probably not, because they do not know your medical history or how to diagnose and cure strep. But if your doctor told you to take that same medicine, you would listen, because they are experts in medicine. That is why the decision about birth control should be made by a woman and her doctor, not by bosses or insurance companies. 

It is not enough, however, for women and their doctors to be making the decision. For many women in college (and for women generally), the price of birth control is too costly or our preferred method is not covered. Yet we need this medicine – and not just to prevent pregnancy. One of my best friends uses birth control to regulate her period. She used to get terrible cramps and her cycle was highly irregular, but with birth control, those problems have disappeared. My birth control pills help control the severe acne I have developed over the last year. Other women use contraception to control Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome. Contraception is a medical necessity. That is why it must be affordable and all types must be covered, which SB 1053 ensures.

Not all of the approximately 61 million American women who use birth control use it for sex; contraception has far more benefits than just pregnancy prevention. Some women only use it for that purpose, which is fine; it is a legitimate healthcare concern. I originally wanted birth control for that reason. I did not want to get pregnant in college because I did not have the maturity or the resources to raise a child (I still don’t). Regardless of what motivates using it – health issues like PCOS, moderating acne, or simply preventing pregnancy – birth control is a legitimate and commonly used part of medical care for over 99% of American women. And like any other commonly used medicine, it should not cost women exorbitant amounts to obtain nor should it require a game of bureaucratic hopscotch.

At age eighteen, I went to my mom and told her I wanted to start using birth control. I was starting college, I reasoned, and thought it was important to ensure I was taking care of myself. She agreed and made me an appointment with her OB/GYN, who, after a long discussion with me about my health and habits, prescribed me birth control pills. Pills, I should add, which cost $50 for a pack that would last four weeks, or $650 a year. Fortunately, the pills I use are a commonly prescribed brand, so the implementation of the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate lowered the price to zero. I got lucky, but many women did not.

While we were set back nationally by the Hobby Lobby decision, California has the chance to take a step forward for women and reproductive justice. I urge Governor Brown to sign the Contraceptive Coverage Equity Act and help all women in California be able to make decisions about their own health without having to worry about access and affordability. That would be real justice.

Hannah Seligman is the Summer Policy Intern at the National Council of Jewish Women Los Angeles and is beginning her fourth year at New York University where she is majoring in Politics and double-minoring in Gender and Sexuality Studies and History.

U.S. birth control ruling fuels battle over corporate rights


The U.S. Supreme Court has opened up a new front in the battle over corporate rights by ruling that family-owned and other closely held corporations can mount religious objections to government action.

Monday's decision came in a case in which companies sought an exemption to a provision of the 2010 Obamacare healthcare law that requires employers to provide insurance coverage that includes birth control.

The court allowed the exemption and in so doing raises the possibility of religious-based exceptions on issues such as blood transfusions, antidepressants, and vaccinations, liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg warned in her dissenting opinion.

She added that there was nothing in the majority opinion, written by conservative Justice Samuel Alito, that foreclosed the possibility of a publicly traded company making a similar claim.

The majority's logic “extends to corporations of any size, public or private,” she said.

Alito said there would be various obstacles to such a company making a claim. He questioned whether a broad array of shareholders would ever agree to run a company under the same religious beliefs. He said it “seems unlikely” that big public companies would ever want to make a religious claim.

The high court ruled 5-4 in lawsuits brought by two family owned companies, Hobby Lobby Stores Ltd and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. It concluded for the first time that such closely held corporations could make religious-based objections under a 1993 law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Some lawyers critical of the decision said it paved the way for business owners to discriminate against certain employees, including gays and lesbians. Others said corporations could seek exemptions from environmental regulations.

The court's majority and lawyers representing the companies involved in Monday's case insisted the ruling is narrow.

Who ends up being correct about the scope of the ruling will become clearer when lower courts test the limits of the decision in future cases.

CORPORATIONS AS PEOPLE

Four years ago, again on a 5-4 vote, the court endorsed corporate rights in another context: campaign finance. The ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission cleared the way for increased corporate and union spending during federal elections.

It drew sharp criticism from the left, including from President Barack Obama who, with Supreme Court justices in attendance at his 2010 State of the Union address, accused them of opening the floodgates for special interests to spend without limit on U.S. elections.At the time Alito, most notably among the justices present at the speech, shook his head and mouthed the words, “Not true.”

Emphasizing a partisan split on how the law should treat corporations, Mitt Romney, Obama's Republican opponent in the 2012 presidential election, memorably told a protester on the campaign trail that “corporations are people, my friend.”

The idea that corporations have some of the same rights as people is not new in U.S. jurisprudence, but Monday's ruling and the Citizens United case have both expanded on it in new areas of the law. Seizing upon the rhetorical links between the cases, Ginsburg on Monday cited then-Justice John Paul Stevens' lengthy dissenting opinion in Citizens United, in which he said corporations “have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires.”

When judged alongside Citizens United, Monday's ruling provided further ammunition to liberal activists who claim the Supreme Court majority is too pro-business at the expense of workers.

“The court's conservative majority will bend over backwards to find that corporations can make every claim that individuals can bring,” said Doug Kendall, executive director of the Constitutional Accountability Center, a liberal group critical of what it describes as the court's pro-business bias.

Others disagreed that Monday's ruling was such a major development. The court's conclusion that the word “person” in the religious freedom law applies to closely held corporations was a reasonable one, said Ilya Shapiro, a legal scholar at the libertarian Cato Institute. “This was a technical, statutory ruling,” he said.

When analyzing religious objection, courts are required under the religious freedom law to determine whether the government regulation unduly burdens the company's owners, and, if so, whether it furthers a compelling government interest and whether the regulation is the least restrictive way of achieving that goal.

Alito said the ruling dealt specifically with the birth control provision, noting that in other cases, like immunization, the government was likely to be able to show that it had a compelling interest and that there was no less restrictive means for it to achieve its goal.

In Monday's ruling, the court indicated that regulations that already allow for exemptions, as the birth control mandate does for religious institutions, might be especially vulnerable.

Alito addressed Ginsburg's concerns about potential future cases in his majority opinion. He said it did not give corporations carte blanche to object to an array of government action, including bans on employment discrimination.

Ginsburg was not persuaded. The court's “expansive notion of corporate personhood … invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faith,” she wrote.

Jewish groups praise Obama contraceptives compromise


Jewish groups on both sides of a contraceptives controversy praised President Barack Obama’s compromise allowing religious institutions to direct staff to alternative health care plans funding such services.

“Under the rule, women will still have access to free preventive care that includes contraceptive services — no matter where they work,” Obama said on Feb. 10 in a special White House news conference held in the wake of a controversy over his administration’s earlier rule ordering all employers except houses of worship to provide the coverage.

“So that core principle remains,” he continued. “But if a woman’s employer is a charity or a hospital that has a religious objection to providing contraceptive services as part of their health plan, the insurance company — not the hospital, not the charity — will be required to reach out and offer the woman contraceptive care free of charge, without co-pays and without hassles.”

Hadassah, the Reform movement, the Orthodox Union (OU), the National Council of Jewish Women (NCJW) and Jewish Women International each welcomed the compromise. The OU had opposed the original rule, and the Reform movement had said it was problematic, while the three women’s groups had supported it.

“We commend the Obama administration for ensuring both access to contraception for all women and the robust protection of religious autonomy,” said Rabbi David Saperstein, who directs Reform Judaism’s Religious Action Center.

Hadassah in a statement welcomed Obama’s “reaffirmation” of his earlier commitment to access to contraceptives for all women and added: “We will, however, watch closely to ensure that the new proposal does not create undue barriers to women’s access to contraceptives.”

NCJW said it was “optimistic” that the new plan “protects the health needs and individual religious liberty of all women.”

The OU said it read the new rule as meaning that “no nonprofit, religious institutional employer that objects to providing contraceptives and sterilization services will have to pay for or provide coverage for it” and that “no objecting religious employer will be required to make referrals for services to which they object.”

Conservative commentators on cable talks shows on Feb. 10 said that the compromise was still problematic. Some institutions manage their own health care plans, they said, making it difficult for them to bring third parties in to cover contraceptives. Moreover, they said, it is unclear how the rule will keep religious institutions from funding what they see as an immoral practice, even if they do not directly provide the coverage.