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Women of Color Respond to Supreme Court Decision on Women's Reproductive Choices

First Posted: Jul 01, 2014 04:42 PM EDT

Leading organizations representing women and communities of color responded on Tuesday to the implications of the Supreme Courts decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores & Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp.

The court's decision handed down Monday said some corporations can deny insurance coverage for a full range of safe, effective contraceptive coverage, claiming a religious exception.

"This decision deals a serious blow to women's liberty and Latinas health and effectively invites corporations into women's contraception decisions," said Jessica González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health — the only national organization dedicated to advancing reproductive justice for Latinas.

Gonzalez-Rojas added, "What the Supreme Court failed to observe is that true religious liberty is based on our ability to make our own decisions, based on our own faith, on our own conscience and individual circumstances. Religious liberty is not a weapon to be used to deny healthcare."

Miriam Yeung, executive director of the National Asian Pacific American Women's Forum, told reporters the decision is an affront to all women and yet another barrier for Asian-American and Pacific Islander women who already face significant health disparities and barriers to insurance.

She said, "After decades of discriminatory coverage by insurance companies, the Affordable Care Act made great gains by requiring insurance companies cover birth control with no out of pocket cost to women. Due to the high cost of contraception we know the Asian-American and Pacific Islander women already have low rates of contraception we don't need another barrier to healthcare. The share of Asian-American women at or below the poverty level more than doubled during 2007 and 2012 and there are now more than 1 million Asian-American women living in poverty, an increase from .7 million in 1999."

Elizabeth Taylor, executive director of the National Health Law Program told reporters during a teleconference the court recognized a corporation as a person that can exercise religious rights under the federal statute the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).

Taylor said, "There are a few takeways from the Court's decision. Congress can fix this because it is a statutory decision so RFRA could be amended to be clear that for-profit organizations don't exercise religion, or Congress could pass a statute that specifically prevents an employer of depriving its employee's health benefits on religious grounds."

Taylor added that the US Department of Health and Human Services should act so that women affected by the decision have access to contraception but that the accommodation doesn't eliminate the inherent discrimination in the decision.

She said that while this related to a federal statute it does not affect the protections women currently hold in states with state laws that require equitable coverage for men and women.

And she said, "Justice Ginsberg is right in that the ramifications of this decision are broad although the court emphasized these are closely-held corporations and this is about certain contraception the analysis would apply to publicly traded corporations and it would apply to any other health benefit. The fact that the court doesn't see the same analysis could be applied to immunizations, anti-depressants, and blood transfusions is one of the most troubling aspects of this because the court seems to be 20 years behind science and evidence and thinks that contraception is not basic healthcare."

In related news, Supreme Court Justices acted in another health law mandate case on Tuesday and left in place lower court rulings in favor of Catholic businesses that object to covering all methods of government-approved contraception.

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