Losing the Battle

What’s going wrong with the war for reproductive freedom?

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Illustration by Anson Stevens-Bollen

The Supreme Court ruling on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores is a major sign pointing to the way the health and reproductive rights of a woman are not valued in the same way a man’s are.

Whether it’s restricting access to abortion or restricting access to birth control, women’s autonomy as individual human beings capable of making decisions is apparently not valued by the majority of those sitting on our nation’s highest court. It seems, in the eyes of many politicians and court officials, that a woman’s most important purpose in life is to produce children, but not on her own schedule.

This ruling and a pile of new legislation in the last few years show that lots of people believe women shouldn’t be trusted with their own reproductive choices.

Unfortunately that’s not surprising from a court composed mostly of older, white men, but that’s a column for another time.

Many aspects of this case alarm me, ranging from access to health care for people who happen to have vaginas to corporations being afforded similar rights as people. This column deals with the former.

I originally wanted to write about the potential local impact the ruling might have. I wanted to see if some of Santa Fe’s religiously associated organizations might try and join Hobby Lobby and deny contraception coverage to employees.

So I contacted Christus St. Vincent Regional Medical Center, one of Santa Fe’s largest employers and also a faith-based organization that’s now part of a chain of Catholic hospitals. According to Arturo Delgado, director of communications and marketing, Christus does provide coverage for contraceptives, and the Hobby Lobby case won’t change that.

“Contraceptives are a covered benefit under the health insurance plan provided to our employees,” Delgado wrote in an email. “In addition, Christus St. Vincent respects and does not interfere with the physician/patient relationship.”

This speaks volumes to me about how misguided our politics can be. If people who run organizations in the medical field believe that birth control is a personal health care decision that is made between a patient and a provider, let’s follow that lead.

Let it not go unsaid, however that there are definitely ways in which Christus St. Vincent detracts from people being able to make their own reproductive decisions. For example, they only offer abortions in a circumstance where a doctor rules that a mother’s life is in danger.

My guess is, however, that some New Mexico organizations will try to eliminate birth control coverage for employees based on the Supreme Court’s ruling.

And that’s where groups like the Southwest Women’s Law Center will step in.

Pamelya Herndon, the center’s executive director, says she wants to hear from women whose employers have already acted or plan to eliminate birth control coverage from health insurance plans.

“We’re engaging in our listening and advocacy tour, where we go around the state and get input from women and also participate in the legislative session,” Herndon says. “Now we’re looking at economic fairness for women in the workplace. We are looking at the Hobby Lobby case and looking at New Mexico organizations to see if they’re trying to deny women reproductive coverage.”

Herndon suggests that women who are in that situation call 244-0502, email info@swwomenslaw.org or visit the Southwest Women’s Law Center because they might be able to help provide legal representation through a partnership with the New Mexico Women’s Bar Association.

The court system is one of the only tools we have to fight against oppression, and unfortunately it’s a system that works better for some (read: white, middle/upper class) than for others (people of color who have less money).

Yet with the Supreme Court’s recent action, I’m left feeling like future court cases might not go the way I want them to either.

And worse, is Roe v. Wade in danger too?

It’s a shame that the decision about whether or not a woman has affordable access to a form of health care is being made mostly by people who have never had to consider what their lives would be like without it.

This column was originally published in the Santa Fe Reporter.

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