Michelle Gillett: The court and women


STOCKBRIDGE -- Women have been on the losing side of a lot of Supreme Court decisions lately. I am starting to think that many of our justices don’t like us. A couple of weeks ago, the Supreme Court issued a finding that the 35-foot buffer zones around abortion clinics in Massachusetts are a violation of protesters’ freedom of speech.

As Gail Collins pointed out in her New York Times column, "this decision came from people who work in a building where the protesters aren’t allowed within 250 feet of the front door."

The Massachusetts buffer zone law, passed in 2007, was aimed at certain clinics where there were public safety risks. It didn’t prevent anyone from protesting or picketing or speaking freely to women outside the zone.

According to The New York Times, "Eleanor McCullen, the lead plaintiff in the case, testified that while standing outside the zone she had personally persuaded about 80 women not to go through with a planned abortion." It added, "the vast majority of women who do choose to end a pregnancy do not do so lightly, contrary to the condescending assumptions of anti-abortion activists and lawmakers."

Last week, in a five-to-four ruling, the Supreme Court struck down the contraceptive mandate for family owned businesses, maintaining that it violated the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act. This means that employees can no longer get certain contraceptive coverage if the business opposes it. Never mind that the Department of Health and Human Services decided to include contraception as part of comprehensive health care for women based on recommendations by the Institute of Medicine, which found that unintentional pregnancy often led to delayed prenatal care, premature delivery, low birth weight, maternal depression, and family violence.

Hobby Lobby, a chain of arts and crafts stores, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a cabinet-maker challenged the requirement that employer health plans cover all birth control methods and services approved by the Food and Drug Administration. The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, says government may not "substantially burden a person’s free exercise of religion" unless the burden is necessary to further a "compelling government interest" and achieves it by "the least restrictive means." Allowing corporations to avoid providing coverage for women’s contraception based on their religious beliefs is the height of condescension.

The president of The American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, and the head of Physicians for Reproductive Health remind us, "The typical American woman will have two children in her lifetime. That means she will spend more than three decades trying to avoid pregnancy. Virtually all American women who are or have been sexually active have used contraceptives at some point during their lives. The value to women’s lives and families is clear.

But for a woman to make the best decision about the birth control that is right for her, coverage of all FDA-approved contraceptives is necessary.

Cost of contraceptive care can be a major factor that determines not only which method a woman uses but whether she is able to use birth control at all. This is especially true for low-income and hourly workers. Birth control is often an additional health expense that many women simply cannot afford if money is tight, putting them at high risk for an unintended pregnancy.

In passing an Affordable Care Act that requires insurance coverage of all FDA-approved contraceptive methods within employer-sponsored health insurance plans. The government agreed with America’s medical professionals: Birth control is essential health care that must be covered like any other preventive service." There are times when buffer zones are essential, too. The Massachusetts buffer zone law was passed after two clinic workers were shot and killed by a gunman at abortion clinics in Brookline in 1994.

I would like to believe that laws that make women less vulnerable

to being shot, or harassed at a clinic door, or to getting pregnant unintentionally
are good for our society as a whole. So why are lawmakers still debating women’s reproductive rights and making and changing laws about them? Why do corporations want to control women’s medical decisions? Wait a minute
maybe it’s not corporations and lawmakers controlling these decisions.

David Green, Hobby Lobby’s chief executive, claimed the Supreme Court’s ruling in their favor was "by God’s grace and provision." He and his family believe their prayers have been answered. They also believe that certain kinds of contraception induce abortions when this has been proven scientifically untrue.

But science, like women’s personal choices, doesn’t seem to figure into court rulings these days. I am just glad God had the grace to allow the Supreme Court to rule in women’s favor when we won the vote. She’ll be upset if we don’t exercise that right in the November elections to make sure our elected officials are more interested in protecting our rights instead of restricting them.

Michelle Gillett is a regular Eagle contributor.


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