Thoughts from a Liberation Health practitioner on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby
It was with considerable concern and disgust that I watched two separate rulings that seemed to take a square aim at fifty-one percent of the population and pull the juridical trigger. The first, a ruling that showed an absolute disregard for the safety of women in a most vulnerable position, striking down the 35-foot “buffer zone” law here in Massachusetts. The second, and perhaps more controversial ruling stated on July 1, 2014 in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, that small “closely held” corporations have the right to refuse to cover four specific contraceptive means, namely two types of itrauterine devices (IUDs), Plan B, and Ella (ulipristal acetate), on their corporate healthcare plans.
Those without imagination (see: USA Today) argued that the controversy was overstated, that this left the roughly 16 other forms of “the pill” in tact and still mandated covered by the Affordable Care Act. Those who have watched the circus of the Supreme Court at work over the last decade argued that this was myopic and, despite a claim within the majority decision in Burwell that this was a circumscribed decision, the ripple effect has already begun to excuse other organizations from broader responsibilities. Most recently, Wheaton College won temporary relief against their requirement to cover any birth control at all. And, as has been reported by Mother Jones, the Supreme Court may have already decided on the question of whether employers are required to cover birth control at all: the answer, it seems, is “no”.
This speaks volumes to the immediate and long term possibilities for picking and choosing the responsibilities of employers to the health of their employees. As has been demonstrated already, there are sufficient concerns that this ruling will trigger an avalanche of bigotry by corporations that claim the ability to discriminate in all manner of line-item costs, from PrEP to hormone replacement therapy (HRT).
In a country where healthcare costs are artificially inflated in a strange symbiotic relationship unique the United States, residents are beholden to employers for their basic right to health care. The argument that employees of exempt companies can simply “pay out of pocket” would be hilarious, if it didn’t sound so much like Marie Antoinette had been given a Twitter account. As has been pointed out by reproductive rights advocates, some IUDs cost in excess of $900 USD a piece, and any relief from such a cost burden is unlikely to come at any time in the future. IUDs are an attractive alternative for those that for whatever reason cannot take advantage of oral contraception.
For those that argue that condoms are sufficiently inexpensive to take the place of these alternatives do not understand the politics of the bedroom in a patriarchal society.
The whole point of birth control, as argued by Emma Goldman, was to put the power of this most important decision into the hands of the women who would be effected by the decision to use contraception or not. Goldman effectively argued that prior to the pill, such power had not really been in the hands of women, but was again left to the illusion that couples could decide democratically. Goldman is most famous for asking why it isn’t women and only women who have the final word in such an agreement, pointing out that biology has seen fit to equip women with the means of reproduction, not men.
Our task as Liberation Health practitioners is therefore two-fold: we must push forward to develop alternative direct action means to provide any and all forms of contraception at no-cost to anyone affected by this ruling. We must forge alliances (where they have not already been drawn) with reproductive rights groups and offer our services, time and/or resources to negate the costs of the already burgeoning burden this places on groups like Planned Parenthood. The second task is more cerebral: it is our ethical and moral mandate to anticipate how the idea that the methodology of service delivery is subject to the scrutiny of employers will affect the provision of mental health care in the future.
For the idea that this ruling could not be applied to all manner of services that employers might find “objectionable” flies against both reason and history.