WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court announced today it would hear Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius, challenges by two for-profit companies to the Affordable Care Act’s (ACA) requirement that insurance companies cover contraception. Both businesses are suing because they do not want their insurance plans to cover contraception for their employees and claim doing so would violate their religious beliefs. The cases have been highly publicized and present a concern for health advocates along with the millions of women and their families who rely on access to affordable birth control.
“The issues raised in these cases are far reaching, going to the core of women’s health equity,” said Kathy Ko Chin, president and executive director of the Asian & Pacific Islander American Health Forum. “A woman’s health needs should never be subject to her boss or politics. A decision by the Court holding otherwise could open the door to unprecedented interference, putting women’s health— particularly low-income and women of color— at risk.”
Despite the critical role that contraception plays in allowing women to plan and space their pregnancies and manage health conditions, more than half of all pregnancies in the U.S. are unintended. Unplanned pregnancies present a major public health challenge and have a serious impact on women and children, often coupled with delayed prenatal care, preterm birth and low birth weight.
Low-income women and women of color are more likely to experience an unintended pregnancy, leading to health disparities. Over the last decade, Asian American, Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander women have experienced increased numbers of unintended pregnancy and teen pregnancy and, as a whole, are less likely to use contraception, even as public awareness about family planning has improved.
Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties are just two of a number of cases by for-profit businesses challenging this important provision in the ACA.
Expanding access to contraception– by removing cost barriers—is essential to eliminating these racial, ethnic and gender disparities in health and health care. The ACA takes the needed step of bringing equity to this area by requiring that nearly all insurance plans fully cover contraception. Contraceptives can cost up to hundreds of dollars a month, historically putting reliable methods entirely out of reach for many young and low-income women. These cost barriers may be part of the reason Asian American women have lower utilization rates of oral contraceptives and are less likely than non-Hispanic women to have ever used birth control.