The Supreme Court has relegated reproductive rights to the back burner this past week. The unanimous decision in McCullen v. Coakley this past Thursday annulled the 35-foot protest-free buffer zones around abortion clinics in Massachusetts. The decision was made under the reasoning that the buffer zones “restrict access to public ways and sidewalks,” violating protestors’ First Amendment rights to freedom of speech and protest.
Just this Monday, the majority in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby struck down the Affordable Care Act mandate requiring corporations to cover the cost of contraceptives for their female workers in order to protect the “religious freedom” of corporations that are against certain birth control methods.
These two cases strike down crucial protections for females seeking control over their reproductive lives. These two cases set a precedent of valuing freedom of expression over women’s rights and dignity. These two cases reflect backward progress for civil rights in the U.S.
While America has made incredible progress regarding the civil rights of women (the 19th Amendment), minority races (Brown v. Board of Education), disabled people (Americans with Disabilities Act) and the LGBTQ community (United States v. Windsor), all people are not yet treated equally. There are still glaring issues of discrimination and denigration that cannot continue to be swept under the rug and expected to go away on their own.
However, by claiming that freedom of speech should take precedent over patient protection, that is exactly what McCullen v. Coakley does.
The “buffer zone” law was enacted in 2007 in response to the troubling trend of violence at abortion clinics in Massachusetts. While protests and “free speech” may seem minor infractions to protect from, a shooting occurred in 1994 — over a decade before any protections were enacted to protect the clients of family planning services such as Planned Parenthood.
The majority opinion of the Supreme Court claims that the buffer zone prevented people from engaging in “personal, caring, consensual conversations with women about various alternatives” to abortion.
First off, if this were the most common type of interaction outside abortion clinics, the buffer zone would have never been necessary. Secondly, granting permission for these “conversations” so close to the entrance of abortion clinics incorrectly assumes that the right to free speech includes a right to be heard.
“Times have changed,” many say. Indeed, it is now 20 years after these shootings, but getting access to family planning services is still not a simple process. Despite the fact that only three percent of Planned Parenthood’s funding goes to abortion services, pro-life extremists have continued to target clinics with vandalism, trespassing, hate mail,anthrax letters, butyric acid attacks (a colorless liquid with a rancid odor that disrupts services), assault and death threats, according to data provided by the National Abortion Federation.
In no case could anyone consider these actions “caring” or “consensual” and in no case should women be put at any risk of this sort of harassment in the name of protecting the hate speech of pro-life extremists.
The Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision is another example of the belittlement of women’s reproductive rights — in this case for the sake of another First Amendment right in religious freedom — of for-profit corporations. These corporations can now refuse to cover the healthcare costs of contraception for their female employees if doing so “substantially burdens the exercise of religion.”
In fact, under the logic of the decision of the court, corporations now have the opportunity to go to court to appeal the “health coverage of vaccines, or paying the minimum wage, or according women equal pay for substantially similar work.”
What the majority decision fails to take into account is the fact that women that will no longer have affordable access to contraceptives if they do not share the same beliefs as their employers.
Nothing — not employers nor money nor religion — has the right to dictate control over another woman’s body. If corporations refuse to cover the costs of some birth control methods, this effectively involves the company in women’s healthcare decisions. In a country that is so advanced in the protection of religious freedom and intellectual property, it is shocking that we are still having the debate over the physical and unbiased control of our own bodies. As an employee, as a female and as a human, I stand with women to keep corporate interests out of each woman’s own reproductive choices.
It would be easy to accept these two Supreme Court opinions as the final say on the matter. But instead of admitting defeat for women’s reproductive rights, let this be a call to action to employers, to feminists, to human rights activists and to everyone that has a female loved one to advocate for these rights back.
Volunteer at targeted family planning clinics to help patients pass the radical protestors. Protest the companies that are attempting to pick and choose what healthcare you receive. And if all else fails, just make your voice heard to make sure the government steps up and provide the adequate protections for women that have been stripped away this past week.
In the words of Hillary Clinton, “Human rights are women’s rights, and women’s rights are human rights.” That is why we must stand together to fight for reproductive justice. That is why I stand with women.
Contact Aimee Trujillo at [email protected]