Two temporary court orders stopping employers from denying women birth control coverage is both a reason to celebrate and a reminder that the struggle for a woman’s right to control her own reproductive life is far from over.
This week, federal judges in California and Pennsylvania stopped the Trump administration from launching its latest attack on reproductive rights. The administration was set to implement a final rule allowing companies and nonprofits to deny workers birth control coverage based on vague moral grounds. Previously, the 2010 Affordable Care Act had a narrow exception for religious groups but set up a system so third-party insurers would cover birth control.
Trump, however, took a 2014 Supreme Court decision in the Hobby Lobby case to its most cruel and illegal extreme. That decision allowed closely-held companies, like family businesses, to deny coverage of some forms of birth control to women based on the company owners’ religious beliefs. But it only applied to closely-held companies. Trump wanted to allow any company, including publicly-traded companies, deny the coverage and kill the requirement that a third-party insurer cover birth control.
The shortsighted rule is meant to frustrate women from using birth control. But it ignores the fact that without contraception, there would be thousands of unwanted pregnancies, many of which would end in abortions, the very procedure these religious advocates say they want to prevent.
“Women need contraception for their health because contraception is medicine, pure and simple,” said Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro. “Congress hasn’t changed that law and the president can’t simply ignore it with an illegal rule.”
Shapiro and New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir Grewal won the temporary restraining order from Judge Wendy Beetlestone in Philadelphia on Monday, the day the Trump rule was to go into effect. On Sunday, a federal judge in California issued a similar ruling affecting 13 states. Beetlestone’s ruling affects the entire country.
The rulings are temporary and will have to withstand future court battles. But for the moment, about 127,000 women who could have lost their coverage if the rule had gone into effect can take a breath.
This isn’t the only victory women have won in recent months. They took record numbers of seats in Congress and state legislatures this fall. But even with those historic gains, less than a quarter of Congress is female and less than a third of the nation’s state lawmakers are women — even though more than half the population is female.
Consider: the FDA approved the first oral contraceptive nearly 60 years ago, in 1960. It took 12 more years for the Supreme Court to declare birth control legal for everyone, not just married women. How is it possible that 47 years later, women still need to fight for reasonable and affordable access to critical part of their health care?