The current make-up of the Supreme Court of the United States, led by Chief Justice John Robers, has been highly controversial. With a Republican majority in the White House, Senate and Supreme Court, of which two justices were appointed by President Trump, Democrats feared that their voices would fail to be heard and represented. However, as it turns out, what initially looked like a conservative court has slowly become more unpredictable, making landmark decisions that sway equally between conservative and liberal.
Most recently, the court has made contentious decisions in regards to women’s health and women’s reproductive rights. The first decision came on June 29, 2020, when the Supreme Court ruled on the case of June Medical Services vs. Russo regarding admitting privileges in Louisiana. Admitting privileges gives doctors and clinics the right to admit patients to local hospitals in order to perform abortions. The decision opens up the possibility of increased closures of abortion clinics if hospitals refuse admitting privilege applications, which would, in effect, slowly strip away the right to an abortion for women.
In the 5-4 ruling, Chief Justice John Roberts joined the four liberal justices in striking down the Louisiana law, rendering it unconstitutional. However, this isn’t a sure win for Democrats and those who support the right to choose. While Chief Justice Roberts did side with the liberal wing of the court, it was for reasons other than those held by the liberal justices, who stated that the law would make it “impossible for many women to obtain a safe, legal abortion in the State and [impose] substantial obstacles on those who could.” Roberts dissented, stating that his decision was based on a similar ruling which set a precedent four years prior.
Moreover, on July 2, 2020, the Supreme Court declined to take up a number of abortion cases, forcing them back to lower federal courts. Of these were challenges concerning two Indiana laws, one of which requires minors to receive parental permission before an abortion, the other requiring an ultrasound and an 18-hour waiting period before an abortion. Others surrounded the issue of protests near and outside abortion clinics. The hesitation demonstrated by the justices towards making sweeping decisions on abortion and other reproductive rights indicates a reluctance towards making unified decisions for the country over the issue of reproductive rights.
Furthermore, while some decisions and instances point towards hope and optimism, others serve to strip away reproductive rights for women in this country.
On July 8 when the Supreme Court backed the constitutionality behind refusing health insurance coverage if there are moral or religious objections to contraception. Originally, under the Affordable Care Act, employers were required to cover the cost of contraception. This, of course, exempted churches and other religious objectors and allowed employees to receive contraception straight from their insurer without involving the employer at all. However, in 2017, the Trump administration extended the exemptions to include any employer with moral or religious objections. This effectively leaves over 100,000 women without coverage because of their employers.
This decision fuels the age-long debate between freedom of choice and freedom of religion. The issue here is that instead of working to balance these freedoms, the Supreme Court is allowing people’s religious beliefs to supersede the interests and rights of others,, especially those who do not share the same beliefs.
This decision also poses more problems than initially foreseen. Most obviously, thousands of women are losing access to their birth control. This drastically increases the threat of unwanted pregnancy, which can be extremely dangerous. On top of this, it is harmful to women economically; as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg stated in her dissent, “Destructive of the Women’s Health Amendment, this Court leaves women workers to fend for themselves, to seek contraceptive coverage from sources other than their employer’s insurer, and, absent another available source of funding, to pay for contraceptive services out of their own pockets.”
What many people do not realize, however, is that birth control is imperative in regulating women’s health. The reality is that every single woman has had to deal with their periods, and we, as a society, shy away from the topic and have deemed it taboo. Thus, what we do not realize is that millions of women are dependent on birth control to regulate their menstruation cycles and aid them in the debilitating pain that comes monthly for them, whether it be in the form of cramps or headaches.
In addition, the benefits of birth control extend to reducing the risk of ovarian cysts and ovarian cancer by 50 percent. Now, these women have to forego medication that is necessary to their ability to live a painless, normal life. The fact that several companies choose to cover Viagra for men but not birth control for women is further indicative underlying layers of sexism and discrimination.
This current Supreme Court has proven to be an unpredictable one. While certain decisions undoubtedly uphold reproductive rights, others erode them significantly, causing uncertainty and ambiguity and often prioritizing religious freedoms over reproductive ones. Until and unless we awaken to the fact that reproductive rights should be inalienable and essential, the saga of reproductive rights and Supreme Court decisions will continue.