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High court ruling infringes on women's rights

On June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court issued its decision in the Hobby Lobby case. It said that closely held, for-profit companies that maintain religious objections to the federal health care law’s requirement to provide coverage for birth control in their employee health plan do not have to provide such coverage.

Birth control is basic health care for women; Oregon law says so. The development of safe, effective contraception is widely considered one of the greatest public health achievements of the last century.

Contraception reduces unintended pregnancy, improves birth outcomes, reduces maternal death and has been correlated with improved health and economic benefits for families and communities. Ninety-nine percent of women will use contraception at some point in their lives.

Seventy percent of Americans believe women should not be subjected to interference from our bosses about our reproductive health care. Age, race, income and geographic location all impact access to contraception.

Now, because of the Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision, the religious affiliation of your employer has been added to the list of barriers to contraceptive care.

It is outrageous that these five male justices chose to single out birth control for special discrimination. The extreme justices of the Supreme Court manufactured a way to revoke access for millions of women, to basic birth control coverage — a tenet of women’s basic health.

Allowing bosses this much control over the health care decisions of their employees is a slippery slope with no end. The court will need to allow every sect to exempt itself from health coverage laws that it does not want to follow.

Every American could potentially be affected by this shocking, far-reaching decision that allows bosses their reach beyond the boardroom and into their employees’ bedrooms. Today it’s birth control; tomorrow it could be any personal medical decision, from when to start a family to life-saving vaccinations or blood transfusions.

Shortly after the Hobby Lobby ruling, on Monday, U.S. Sen. Jeff Merkley of Portland called out the decision as discrimination. He said, “The Supreme Court decision will make it more difficult for women to make critical personal health choices and shows just how far we still have left to go to ensure total equality for women in the workplace and, unfortunately, even in the doctor’s office.”

Merkley is up for re-election this fall, and his opponent, Oregon U.S. Senate hopeful Monica Wehby, has a different opinion — she supports the court’s decision. Wehby has been very clear that the same justices who came to this misguided ruling are the ones she would confirm to the Supreme Court if she were a member of the U.S. Senate.

Fortunately, in spite of the Hobby Lobby ruling and because of Merkley’s leadership as Oregon House speaker in 2007, Oregon’s Contraceptive Equity law trumps this ruling. We are the exception to the rule; once again Oregon protects its women.

Oregon is a leader. We are a state that depends on our elected officials to share our values, and our values have shown time and time again that women and women’s health matters.

We narrowly missed a bullet this week that would have greatly impacted Oregon women’s lives, and we missed that bullet in large part because of the leadership of Sen. Merkley. It is a prime example of just how much elections matter. U.S. senators approve appointments to the Supreme Court. We cannot take the chance of electing someone to the Senate who does not align with Oregon’s fundamental value: equality.

We do value religious liberty in this country. Religious liberty means more than the right to practice religion as you wish. It also means our freedom not to have religion imposed on us by others and to be free from discrimination. Employees’ religious liberty is violated by allowing bosses to interfere with access to birth control.

Right now, there are 360,000 more women benefiting from the Affordable Care Act’s access to preventive services, including birth control. Increasing women’s access to birth control reflects Oregon’s family values: every child should be planned, wanted and as healthy as possible.

Access to birth control is a right every woman should have as a vital part of health care. Women should have the freedom to choose what happens to their bodies and not be subjected to their employers’ personal religious views.

The Supreme Court’s decision dealt a tremendous blow to women’s access to fundamental health care.

Michele Stranger Hunter is the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon and Oregon Foundation for Reproductive Health, Portland.



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