On Monday, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a troubling ruling in favor of two corporations that argued that they should not have to provide insurance coverage for their employees' birth control because of the business owners' personal religious beliefs. Effectively, employers now have the power to deny women the new birth-control benefits of the Affordable Care Act — allowing bosses to force their personal beliefs on employees and placing women in a dire position.
The Hobby Lobby decision comes just days after another blow to women's health. Last week, the Supreme Court struck down a Massachusetts law requiring protesters to stand at least 35 feet away from health centers. This decision gives extreme anti-women's-health activists a green light to use intimidation tactics and create a barrier between patients and their doctors.
At Planned Parenthood of Maryland, we are deeply troubled by the roll-back in access to reproductive care that the court's decisions represent. Bosses are now able to interfere with their employees' access to birth control. Picketers can continue to harass women seeking care, including birth control, breast health exams and the many life-saving services that women's health centers provide. It is hard to believe that in 2014 we are still struggling to provide women even the most basic health care options.
The availability of birth control has been an enormous benefit for countless women and their families — enabling them to support themselves financially, complete their educations, plan their families and control their own destinies. Many of our patients rely on employer insurance coverage to pay for birth control. This troubling ruling will now prevent some women, especially those working hourly-wage jobs and struggling to make ends meet, from getting birth control.
A 2010 survey found that more than a third of female voters have struggled to afford prescription birth control at some point in their lives and, as a result, used birth control inconsistently. This isn't surprising considering copays for birth-control pills typically range between $15 and $50 each month — up to $600 per year.
Other methods, such as intrauterine devices, can cost several hundred dollars, even with health insurance. For the first time, IUDs, which are the most effective form of birth control, are now fully covered by insurance companies without additional out-of-pocket expense. This ruling means that some women will again be priced out of affordable birth control, diminishing their ability to reap the economic, family and health benefits of contraception.
But it is important to remember that the historic birth-control benefit in the Affordable Care Act remains in place. The ruling is narrow enough that millions of women will still get no-copay birth control. For others, Planned Parenthood of Maryland will continue to be here for them.
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, thanks to this benefit some 30 million women have already saved $483 million on out-of-pocket health expenses in the past year alone. Studies also show that women who receive birth control with no copay or at a reduced cost are able to avoid more than 2 million unplanned pregnancies each year — which also reduces the need for abortion. It's no surprise that the public supports the birth-control benefit by nearly a 2-to-1 margin, according to an April poll by the Kaiser Family Foundation.
We know firsthand that access to birth control is both a health care and economic concern for women, and we will work to make sure that women have access to basic, preventive care no matter where they live, for whom they work, or how much money they make.
As always, Planned Parenthood of Maryland will continue to be a resource for women, regardless of their means. We'll continue fighting for women's access to affordable, basic health care, no matter what.
Jenny Black is president & CEO of Planned Parenthood of Maryland. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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