By Emily Tofte Nestaval, CCASA Guest Blogger
Most of us probably heard the Supreme Court decision on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. In case you missed it, the Court determined that for-profit companies can assert religious objections to the birth control benefit provided through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Hobby Lobby and Conestoga objected to certain forms of contraceptive methods including Plan B, Ella and IUD’s which they claim are “abortifacients” (a medical term being used wholly incorrectly in the claim). The ruling goes beyond these few forms of contraceptive methods and applies broadly to the contraceptive coverage requirement in the ACA.
Of course, many of us turned to social media to express our discontent, fears, and anger regarding the decision and the unforeseen consequences it may hold. After all, it is a slippery slope when we start holding the rights of corporations over those of individual people. For those of you who know me, it probably doesn’t surprise you that I joined in and voiced my opinion. I received a few responses regarding the fact that Hobby Lobby was only objecting to a few forms of contraceptives and not all of them. A logical conclusion for saying this might be that “it’s not that bad” because it’s only a few forms of contraceptives and a woman could choose the ones to which they didn’t object. I, wholeheartedly and adamantly, disagree. In fact, I believe the decision is blatant and systemic violence against women.
I simply cannot begin to understand why we are allowing private corporations the right to make decisions that eerily mirror tactics used by perpetrators to perpetuate violence against women. Don’t see the parallel? Allow me to explain…
Offenders use various tactics to manipulate and control their victims. This may include reproductive coercion. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, “Reproductive and sexual coercion involves behavior intended to maintain power and control in a relationship related to reproductive health by someone who is, was, or wishes to be involved in an intimate or dating relationship with an adult or adolescent. This behavior includes explicit attempts to impregnate a partner against her will, control outcomes of a pregnancy, coerce a partner to have unprotected sex, and interfere with contraceptive methods.”
Some might ask – why would a perpetrator want their partner to have more children? There are many reasons which I won’t go into in depth as that’s a whole topic onto itself, however I will say some abusers will use children as another way to keep a woman under his control by threatening to hurt them, take them away, cease paying child support, threaten or even make false reports of child abuse against the mother, etc. as a way to keep women in the relationship. I have seen how reproductive coercion can be a very effective tool for perpetrators to continue to abuse and manipulate through those I have been able to help and support throughout the years.
It has never ceased to amaze me how women in these situations are smart and creative in protecting themselves after being raped. Some resort to Plan B to avoid an unwanted pregnancy. Prior to Plan B being available over the counter and the ACA, this option was highly inaccessible to many women. The ACA made Plan B much more accessible by making it affordable – in short, a big win for women. The decision made by the Supreme Court this week says that employers can choose to opt out of providing this type of contraceptive to their employees – a huge loss that increases risk for women. Now, some people are arguing that Plan B can still be purchased over the counter so it really isn’t inaccessible and all of us who have our undies in a rumple need to relax. Think again. According to The American Society for Emergency Contraception, the average cost for Plan B (the most commonly used form of emergency contraception) is around $48. Generic versions can range anywhere from $26-$62. For a woman whose abuser is counting and controlling every penny (aka, economic abuse), scraping together this kind of cash in an emergency situation is downright impossible and an attempt to do so may place a woman at higher risk for further abuse.
For other women, they may find that using an IUD over a pill form of contraceptive is much more effective. Some say IUD’s are more effective at preventing unwanted pregnancy given its “set it and forget it” nature. For women in abusive situations where reproductive and sexual coercion are a concern, IUD’s are much easier to keep hidden from an abuser than a packet of pills sitting around. Not to mention that one typically has to go pick up from the pharmacy on a regular basis. I have worked with survivors who have told me their abusers have hidden, crushed, and flushed their pills. Again, some argue that women can still go get an IUD, it’s just that their employer can choose to deny them health insurance to cover the expense. While they may be one of the safer options for women in abusive situations (due to the ability to easily hide and keep private), IUD’s are not all that affordable. Planned Parenthood says the upfront costs for an IUD ranges between $500-$1,000.
So yes, while birth control options may still be available to Hobby Lobby and other employees of companies that are “closely held”, it’s frightening to think of how much decision making power the employer has about what kind of contraception a woman should be allowed to take. Sound familiar? It should because it eerily similar to how some abusers will choose what kind and if a woman is allowed to take a contraceptive. And while this may lighten the blow (pardon the violent language) for some, you may have noticed that I only mentioned Hobby Lobby employees. While Justice Alito attempted to keep the ruling “narrow”, well, it’s simply not. The Supreme Court decision includes all 20 birth control methods covered by the Affordable Care Act and explicitly states “closely held” corporations can also claim religious objections to deny coverage to women. In the hopes that this would be a very small number of corporations out there, I did some research. I was beyond dismayed to discover that 90% of all businesses out there may be considered “closely held”. Whoa… that is much more far-reaching than I would have ever guessed and far from “narrow”.
These are only a few of the implications the recent decision may have. I am disheartened to learn of this huge step backward for women. As I #jointhedissent, I’ve been looking for the small things that give some twinge of hope in all of this and, as systemic oppression of women rages on, I find it in the many who have joined in the outcry against this decision. I also found it in this image, taken in a Hobby Lobby store, which brought a smile to my face.
Emily Tofte Nestaval has been working in the anti-violence field for over 13 years. Currently, Emily is the Financial Manager for the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault (MNCASA) where she is melding her passion for creating a violence-free world with her love for nonprofit management. Before moving to Minnesota, Emily was the Assistant Director at Moving to End Sexual Assault followed by the Executive Director at Rocky Mountain Victim Law Center. She also had the pleasure to serve on CCASA’s Board of Directors and the Public Policy Committee.