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Don't fall for the myths about the Hobby Lobby decision

Chris Charbonneau

Three weeks ago, the Supreme Court issued a very disappointing verdict in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that placed women’s health care needs as secondary to the personal beliefs of their bosses. Essentially, the Court gave bosses of some closely held profit-making corporations the right to deny their employees legally mandated coverage for birth control because of the boss’ personal objections — even if those objections are not supported by science or medicine.

Birth control is basic preventive health care for women, and 99 percent of sexually active women have used birth control at some point in their lives.The widespread and  universal acceptance of birth control in the United States is widely hailed as one of the most important health advances of the 20th century.

The Hobby Lobby ruling,  issued by five male justices and (opposed by all three female justices), shows a troubling level of disregard for American women, who should be able to make private medical decisions without asking for a permission slip from their bosses.

It’s unbelievable that in 2014, we’re still fighting about whether women should have access to birth control — and some would go even further than the Supreme Court, working to repeal the entire birth control mandate, a critical piece of the Affordable Care Act that is already benefiting 64,000 women in Alaska and nearly 30 million nationwide.

Since the Court ruled, I’ve seen a lot of misinformation about the effect the Hobby Lobby decision will have on American women. To clear up some of the confusion between myth and reality, here are the facts.

MYTH #1: This is a narrow ruling that only affects a couple of types of birth control.

FACT: The Supreme Court let stand several rulings allowing for-profit companies to deny coverage of any type of contraception — not just the types that Hobby Lobby was opposed to. And since the decision, the Court has opened the door for many other employers who object to birth control to refuse to cover it. This puts coverage for all  types of birth control in jeopardy, and could result in many more women losing access to birth control coverage.

MYTH #2: This ruling is limited to "closely held" corporations, which affects only a small number of employees.

FACT: The Supreme Court ruling could apply to companies that employ more than half of the U.S. workforce — that's tens of millions of American women. Many massive companies, like candy giant Mars Inc. and multinational corporation Koch Industries, could be eligible to change their policies under the ruling.

MYTH #3: Any woman whose company takes away coverage can just get contraception through another government program.

FACT: No, she can't. For example, Medicaid is available only for low-income women and absorb a patient influx.

MYTH #4: Even if birth control isn't covered, it is cheap and easy for women to get it out-of-pocket at a place like Target.

FACT: You can't just buy prescription birth control at a convenience store like you would condoms. First, for many Alaskan women there isn’t a convenience store nearby and more to the point, you usually need a doctor's visit first. Prescription birth control methods can cost upwards of $600 a year — that's equivalent to nine tanks of gas, an expense that many women can't afford. If women cannot afford it, they are more likely to use it inconsistently, incorrectly, or not at all. In fact, 55 percent of young adult women have experienced a time when they could not afford to use birth control consistently.

So, where do we go from here? Last week, the U.S. Senate tried to remedy this unfair ruling and voted on the Protect Women’s Health from Corporate Interference Act, also known as the “Not My Boss’ Business" bill. I'm proud to report that both Alaska Sens. Mark Begich (a co-sponsor of the bill) and Lisa Murkowski voted to advance the bill. Unfortunately, it failed to get the necessary 60 votes to move forward.

Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest praises Sen. Begich for co-sponsoring this important legislation and coming to the defense of Alaskan women. Like the majority of Alaskans, he understands that decisions about birth control belong between a woman and her doctor – not a woman and her boss.

Chris Charbonneau is president of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest.

The views expressed here are the writer's own and are not necessarily endorsed by Alaska Dispatch News, which welcomes a broad range of viewpoints. To submit a piece for consideration, e-mail commentary(at)alaskadispatch.com.