It all started with the Hobby Lobby decision at the end of June. When the Court issued its opinion, SCOTUS watchers and those committed to women’s equality warned that the country had been set on a slippery slope. In a disastrous decision made by the male five-justice majority, CEOs of corporations would now be able to deny employees any number of services – including birth control coverage – based on personal religious beliefs.
Concerns centered on the elimination of access to contraception coverage, which disproportionately affects Latinas and women of color. We know that Latinas use and support contraception in large numbers — and that the stakes are higher for our community. One in four Latinas lives in poverty, putting out-of-pocket health care costs out of reach for millions. Latinas also struggle to access affordable prenatal care and abortion services, so an unintended pregnancy in many cases means even a greater toll on our health and economic security.
It should be no surprise then that 96 percent of sexually experienced Latinas have used contraception, including 90 percent of married Catholic Latinas, a number that many are surprised to hear. Unfortunately, while the overwhelming majority have used contraception and would like to continue using it, high costs often prevent consistent use. For many Latinas, contraceptive coverage is the only thing standing between a woman and an unintended pregnancy. Already, 4.9 million Latinas have benefitted from the expanded coverage of preventative services, including contraception without copay. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 50 percent of women ages 18-34 have said there has been a time when the cost of a prescription contraceptive prevented consistent use. That number jumps to 57 percent for Latinas. The Hobby Lobby decision seemed to be an affirmation that the rights of an amorphous corporation supersede the rights, and medical needs, of ordinary women.
Just three days after the devastating decision was announced, the men of the High Court took their decision a step further. By offering Wheaton College an injunction in its lawsuit, the Court decided that the college was not required to provide contraception coverage to its female employees, contradicting the purported limitations of the Hobby Lobby decision, a contradiction that Justice Sotomayor highlighted and vociferously resisted. Not only was the Court going back on its word of three days prior, but it was further tipping the scales against women.
Next came the laudatory effort from Colorado Sen. Mark Udall and Washington Sen. Patty Murray who introduced the “Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act” in the Senate. This legislation, also known as the “Not My Boss’ Business Act” would have been a major step forward in guaranteeing women, including millions of Latinas, the healthcare benefits they deserve, and need, to thrive. It would have restored the contraceptive coverage benefit guaranteed by the ACA and protected the health of our country’s workers. However, that effort was thwarted last week when a conservative minority blocked the bill’s passage.
Now I fear that a birth control fatigue is setting in.
Already opponents are trying to conflate and confuse the issue, and policy solutions are giving way to political soapboxes. As we come up on the midterm elections, politicians on both sides of the issue will use it as a political tool to appeal to voters in their districts. Just hours after the Supreme Court decision was announced, fundraising appeals and voter education materials were sent out. The phrases “war on women” and “religious liberty” will be on constant replay from now until November. Campaign commercials with opponents’ views on women’s health care coverage will air relentlessly.
To be clear, the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health applauds the work of all policymakers who champion the needs and concerns of our communities, and we know how important it is that policymakers understand and value these concerns. But we also can’t let this issue become just a ploy in campaign commercials and literature. We need to demonstrate that we mean business, and solve the problem created by Hobby Lobby in a meaningful way.
Holding opponents of birth control and other women’s healthcare accountable is critical— women and people of color will be voting their consciences in November and these communities are going to take each and every politician to task and ask each of them to do more.
But we can’t forget that this ultimately isn’t about politics, it’s about the women and families who need this healthcare. So we’re not going to wait for politicians to bring us the change we need. We’re going to make it happen. We need to undo the harm of this decision, and any others that threaten our healthcare. We have the power to fight for what we need, to fight for self-determination and our human right to health care. We need access to affordable contraception and other women’s health care now.
We need legislators who will protect our rights, before and after Election Day. By educating ourselves on the issues, getting to know our candidates and pledging to not give up this fight until we gain access to safe and affordable healthcare, we can make this happen.
In the kitchens of El Paso, on the running trails of Denver, in the community centers of Miami, the church basements of Jackson Heights, we will be heard. Women will come together to hold our representatives accountable and demand meaningful change. We will not be used as a tool to get elected. We are smart. We are organized. We are paying attention. And we deserve more.
Jessica González-Rojas is the Executive Director of the National Latina Institute for Reproductive Health, the only national reproductive justice organization dedicated to building Latina power to advance health, dignity and justice for the 26 million Latinas, their families and communities in the United States. Through leadership development and community organizing, NLIRH seeks to expand the cadre of Latina leaders and activists equipped and empowered to wage advocacy campaigns and effect public policy change at the grassroots, state and national levels.