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HOBBY LOBBY DECISION COULD AFFECT WOMEN IN THE TRIAD

Local politicians react to debate over religious and reproductive freedoms

whitney@yesweekly.com @YesWeekWhitney

In the wake of the landmark decision by the Supreme Court to allow closely held companies like Hobby Lobby to refuse birth control coverage for employees due to religious reasons, politicians have expressed support and outrage respectively.

While no corporations in the Triad have announced that they will now be dropping coverage for treatments like emergency contraceptives and intrauterine devices (IUDs), most companies in the U.S. are considered “closely held” and are eligible to deny coverage.

North Carolina Representative Pricey Harrison disagrees with the Supreme Court ruling. “I think it really is an unfortunate decision,” said Harrison. “The people who are going to be impacted the most by this ruling are low income women who would benefit the most from this type of care.”

Phil Berger Jr., who is running to represent North Carolina’s Sixth Congressional District, views the decisions as a triumph for not only religious freedom, but for the rights of businesses. “This decision is a victory for small businesses,” said Berger. “I think it was good for religious liberty and will have a positive impact on those who own closely held companies.”

Senator Kay Hagan released a statement on June 30 condemning the ruling. “I am extremely disappointed in today’s Supreme Court decision,” said Hagan. “It is shameful that a woman’s access to contraception is even up for debate in the year 2014. The choice about whether to use birth control should be between a woman and her doctor, not her boss, and no employer should be allowed to interfere with a woman’s access to contraception.”

So where can bosses now make these decision? According to the IRS, a closely held corporation is one in which five or fewer individuals own 50 percent or more of the company. Closely held companies cannot be personal service organizations such as a law firm.

While the IRS does not keep track of the number companies that are considered closely held, other data collected suggests that most companies could meet the requirement. Of the over four million companies counted by the IRS in 2011, 94 percent had ten or fewer shareholders.

Private, for-profit closely held companies could end up refusing to cover certain reproductive treatments in Greensboro for political reasons in addition to religious ones. Harrison said she wouldn’t be surprised to see companies drop the coverage just because the birth control mandate is associated with the Affordable Care Act, and many conservative people are passionately against Obamacare. Candidate Berger expressed the view held by many conservatives.

“Hopefully this Supreme Court decision will be a precursor for other decisions related to Obamacare and all the awful legislation with that,” said Berger.

But emergency contraceptives such as Plan B and IUDs are also considered abortive treatments by certain religious groups. Plan B is not an abortion inducing medication – that would be misoprostol – but a synthetic progestogen similar to the active ingredient in everyday birth control. It is a one-time treatment that prevents fertiliza tion and can be purchased at your neighborhood drug store without a prescription.

But Hobby Lobby believes that Plan B does kill fertilized embryos and therefore is an abortive procedure. Hobby Lobby argued that life begins at conception, and while condoms prevent sperm from meeting an egg and birth control prevents ovulation, we can’t be 100 percent sure that Plan B prevents pregnancy before a zygote can be formed.

While there are clearly dissenting opinions as to how Plan B works, the opposition to IUDs is even less concrete. IUDs work by preventing ovulation and keeping sperm away from the uterus, but in some cases an IUD inserted just a few days after unprotected sex could theoretically block a fertilized egg from attaching to the uterus, therefore killing it.

Despite the unlikelihood of this occurring, religious freedom prevailed over medical science in this instance. The consequence is that it could not be more difficult for women to access the most effective form of birth control on the market.

IUDs are over 99 percent effective at preventing pregnancy and can last five to 10 years. The Guttmacher Institute estimates that 17 percent of women aged 15 to 44 use the pill, while only 3.5 percent of that demographic use and IUD Despite the popularity of the IUD in Europe, the device has been slow to catch on in America. This could be due to misconceptions about how the device works, but it is most likely because of the expensive upfront cost for the procedure, which can range from $500 to $1,000 at Planned Parenthood The Planned Parenthood Center in Greensboro offers emergency contraception and IUDs. To have an IUD inserted you must schedule an appointment, but patients can walk-in at any time during operating hours to obtain Plan B. Planned Parenthood will treat women whether or not they have insurance.

The Obama administration is reportedly hurrying to find a way to provide coverage under the ACA for women who may be affected by this ruling.

“People who think that birth control is not that expensive, and that women should be able to pay for it themselves are out of touch,” said Harrison. “They are also lacking empathy.”

Those who argue the case for religious and personal freedom still disagree. “Any type of drug that is related to abortions is objectionable to some people, and to require them to provide that to employees is very heavy handed on the part of the government,” said Berger. “It’s a situation where the federal government doesn’t need to be involved in what benefits employers provide employees.”

In the controversial debate over reproductive rights, corporate rights, religious rights and medical rights women in the Triad need to understand their options. Unplanned pregnancy can be one of the most economically devastating things that can happen to a woman, especially if she is young or unmarried. Now that bosses can limit birth control access, women at risk of losing coverage should explore their reproductive rights. !

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