Silicon Valley’s congressional leaders condemn Supreme Court ruling on birth control
Photo courtesy of Planned Parenthood.

    Silicon Valley’s congressional delegation has rebuked the Supreme Court’s Wednesday ruling that upheld the Trump administration’s right to allow employers and universities with moral or religious objections to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s requirement to provide coverage for contraceptives.

    In a statement to San José Spotlight, Rep. Zoe Lofgren of San Jose decried the ruling as an assault on women’s health.

    “This week’s decision means virtually any corporation or institution can claim a religious or moral exemption to deny birth control coverage to employees or students,” she said. “Essentially and unconscionably, at least in the short term, women will be left to the mercies of their bosses in deciding what constitutes their essential health care.”

    Rep. Anna Eshoo of Palo Alto shared similar sentiments in a Wednesday news release. The congresswoman, who chairs the House Committee on Energy and Commerce’s Subcommittee on Health, said the decision could result in upwards of 126,400 women immediately losing access to cost-free contraception.

    “During a global pandemic and economic downturn, the impact of this ruling will be even more devastating as women are forced to choose between paying for their health care and paying for rent, groceries, or childcare,” she said.

    In a post on his Twitter page, Rep. Ro Khanna of Fremont also criticized the court’s decision. Khanna wrote that the ruling further demonstrated the need for Medicare for All, which he said would provide free birth control to all residents regardless of their employment status.

    The Supreme Court ruled 7-2 in Little Sisters of the Poor v. Pennsylvania, with two justices from the court’s liberal wing— Elena Kagan and Stephen G. Breyer— voting with their more conservative counterparts. Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion, which praised the Little Sisters, an order of Roman Catholic nuns who run more than a dozen homes for the elderly.

    “They commit to constantly living out a witness that proclaims the unique, inviolable dignity of every person, particularly those whom others regard as weak or worthless,” he wrote. “But for the past seven years, they—like many other religious objectors who have participated in the litigation and rulemakings leading up to today’s decision—have had to fight for the ability to continue in their noble work without violating their sincerely held religious beliefs.”

    San José Spotlight reached out to several local religious organizations for their reactions to the ruling. None responded to requests for comment.

    But the president of San Jose chapter of the American Association of University Women, a nonprofit that works for women’s equality through advocacy and education, said their organization was dismayed by the court’s decision.

    “We support a woman’s right to reproductive health without the burden of cost,” said Peg Carlson-Bowen. “…Free coverage of reliable contraception allows women to strive for professional and educational equality.”

    In March, Carlson-Bowen said the AAUW joined other concerned groups in submitting an amicus brief to the court that shared objections to allowing an employer or university to limit access to birth control coverage. Amicus briefs are legal documents filed by non-litigants who wish to share their advice or beliefs about a case with the court.

    Planned Parenthood officials also expressed disappointment with the court’s ruling.

    Lupe Rodriguez, director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood Mar Monte, which is headquartered in San Jose, said all women deserve the right to decide for themselves if or when they want to become pregnant. For some patients, Rodriguez said access to affordable birth control could even be a matter of life and death.

    “There are women who could face high-risk pregnancies and pregnancy prevention is critical to maintaining their health,” she said.

    Rodriguez said some of the most effective birth control options, such as the IUD or birth control implant, can cost more than $1,000 without insurance coverage. She expects the ruling will lead to a greater financial strain on Planned Parenthood, as more women will now be looking for affordable options. But the director explained that her organization will not be dissuaded from its mission.

    “We remain incredibly committed to providing birth control to our patients,” she said.

    Contact Katie King at [email protected] or follow @KatieKingCST on Twitter.

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