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Originally published Sunday, July 6, 2014 at 5:12 PM

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Guest: Hobby Lobby ruling puts bosses’ values ahead of a woman’s health

In a very disappointing ruling, the court gave bosses of some closely held profit-making corporations the right to deny their employees legally mandated coverage, writes guest columnist Chris Charbonneau.


Special to The Times

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LAST week, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a verdict in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. that placed women’s health-care needs as secondary to the personal beliefs of their bosses.

In a very disappointing ruling, 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.

As chief executive officer of Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, I am the boss of 450 people across three states. The health insurance plan that I buy for my employees costs the same whether birth control is included or not.

For me, choosing to make that plan cover fewer of the services my staff and their families might need, only to satisfy my own beliefs, would be unconscionable. Just as I don’t tell my staff what to do with their paychecks, I don’t tell them how they must use their insurance. It’s none of my business, and it’s surely none of the Supreme Court’s business.

It’s unbelievable that in 2014 we’re still fighting about whether women should have access to birth control. 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 675,000 women in Washington state and nearly 30 million nationwide.

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 — nearly 60 percent of whom have used contraception for health reasons. 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.

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, women are granted access to this important preventive care through their insurance plans at no additional out-of-pocket cost. In its first year, the birth-control benefit has saved women across the country more than $483 million, according to a report by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. This number will only continue to rise.

Now, as a result of a verdict that was issued by five male justices (and opposed by all three female justices), that coverage is jeopardized for all women who work at closely held corporations. The court’s decision affects for-profit companies employing thousands of women and more than half of the workforce in this country.

To the majority of Americans, birth control simply isn’t a controversial issue. What is deeply unpopular, however, is the idea of giving bosses a right to discriminate and deny their employees access to birth control.

Local women’s health leader Kristin Rowe-Finkbeiner, co-founder of MomsRising.org, put it succinctly: “America is just waking up to the fact that women are 50 percent of the labor force for the first time in history, and we need to update our outdated workplace policies to match our modern labor force and to build a vibrant economy. It’s time to move forward, not backwards for the good of our economy and our families.”

At Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest, we agree, which is why we’re not giving up. Every day we work to ensure that all women have access to the full range of reproductive health care, including birth control — no matter where they work, live or how much money they make. We believe cost shouldn’t get in the way of important medical care.

Planned Parenthood will continue to fight for women’s access to affordable birth control, and we look forward to working with local leaders like U.S. Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and U.S. Rep. Suzan DelBene, D-Medina, to fight back and make sure women have the same rights and protections as everyone else.

The solution is clear: Responsible members of Congress must join together to pass legislation that stands with women and our right to affordable health care.

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



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