Last year, the Supreme Court handed down a controversial decision in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case that allowed employers to deny basic healthcare to women based on their personal beliefs. Conservatives all across America, who want to punish women for their “scandalous” sex-lives, celebrated the court’s Hobby Lobby ruling; it didn’t matter to them that many women take birth control to help chronic health problems, like endometriosis- the idea of women taking control of their sex lives and reproductive health was too much to bear. Now, a year after the infamous ruling, President Obama has issued new guidelines for Obamacare’s birth control mandate that protects women in spit of the ruling.
On Friday, the Obama administration released its new guidelines and they ensure that all women, except for those who work for a religious organization, have access to free birth control. Under the administration’s new rule, if a company wants to deny its employees contraceptives, they must write a letter to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) stating their objection. The Department of Health will then find a third-party insurer to provide birth control to the employees, free of cost.
The new guidelines come on the heels of a circuit court ruling that struck down further attempts by the religious right-wing to deny women access to the basic healthcare. An ultraconservative judge with the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals, Jerry Smith, told a group of employers that they had to submit letters to HHS when they objected to the contraceptive coverage. The employers complained that they were enabling women to get the coverage if they were forced to submit the paperwork, saying that helping them, in any way, went against their personal beliefs. The judge was not sympathetic and threw them out of court.
HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell released a statement after the president released his new guidelines and said that the department was committed to ensuring that every woman had access to services:
“Women across the country should have access to preventive services, including contraception. At the same time, we recognize the deeply held views on these issues, and we are committed to securing women’s access to important preventive services at no additional cost under the Affordable Care Act, while respecting religious beliefs.”
The birth control mandate has saved women $1.4 billion since it went into effect in 2012. Even though Obama’s new rules make basically make the Hobby Lobby ruling a moot point, one lawmaker, Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), is irritated that the president had to accommodate religious organizations, at all, and is working on legislation to repeal the Hobby Lobby ruling.
“In the 21st century, women should be able to make their own decisions about their own bodies—and no one should have to ask their boss for permission to get the health care they need. I’m committing to continuing to fight, along with the Administration and all my colleagues, to fix this Supreme Court-issued license to discriminate and protect the rights of women and families across our country.”
President Obama’s new guidelines are a step in the right direction. It is ridiculous that an employer has any say over their employees healthcare decisions. These decisions should be left up to a woman and her doctor; an employer has no place in that equation. Senator Murray’s plans to repeal the asinine Hobby Lobby ruling would be welcome legislation, but the GOP will likely fight it tooth and nail. Why? Because they love to punish women. They claim that they support the ruling, because of religious freedom; but, when their religion stomps on the rights of women to access healthcare, it is no longer freedom at all. It’s a good thing women have President Obama and Democrats in their corners, because the right-wing will stop at nothing to attack us.
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Opinion columnist and former editor-in-chief of Occupy Democrats. He graduated from Bennington College with a Bachelor's degree in history and political science. He now focuses on advancing the cause of social justice and equality in America.