The Supreme Court announced Tuesday that it would hear the latest legal challenge to Obamacare: Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. Churches and other religious organizations are already exempt from the Affordable Care Act's birth-control mandate, but Hobby Lobby is one of 40 for-profit businesses now seeking the same exemption based on the owner's religious beliefs. The ACA requires that most employers offer health plans that cover birth control.
If the Supreme Court strikes down this requirement, it could end up costing millennial women about $50,000 each during the course of their lifetimes. (More on that depressing statistic in a moment.)
The Green family, Hobby Lobby's owners, specifically opposes paying for coverage of Plan B, Ella, and two types of IUDs on the basis that these forms of birth control promote abortion. Not only is that premise scientifically inaccurate, but if their case is successful it would have dangerous implications for other companies seeking to undermine the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and for the millions of millennial women using birth control today.
If the court strikes down the birth control mandate it could raise some serious legal questions. For example, should an employer also be able to withhold coverage of vaccines because he or she believes they cause autism? What about Christian Scientists who own businesses?
By taking away women's access to free birth control coverage, it would have immediate, tangible financial effects for women.
Any millennial woman could tell you that birth control is both expensive and hugely varied in cost. And an overwhelming 70% of Americans think that insurance companies should be required to cover birth control, as they do other preventative services. Organizing for Action has estimated that birth control copay costs average $600 a year for women, and will total an average of $18,000 over a women's lifetime. But that might even be a conservative estimate.
Mother Jones has a calculator of birth control costs based on various research, and when I entered my age into the calculator I was greeted with an estimated cost of $49,259 to prevent pregnancy for the rest of my lifetime without insurance. It's impossible to know exactly how many women have started or improved a birth control regimen because of the ACA, but it is safe to assume that many young women would not be able to suddenly pay out of pocket and would instead stop using contraception altogether.
We've been down the road of dialing back contraceptive funding before, and the results were predictably clear: more unwanted pregnancies, more abortions, more costs to taxpayers. Texas passed a two-year budget in 2011 that cut a drastic $73 million to family planning services. The next year, the Health and Human Services Commission predicted that there would be 23,760 more births a year among poor women, at a cost of $231 million to taxpayers. Everyone loses when contraceptive access is defunded, especially the women who can't afford it the most.
Besides the increased fiscal costs and eventual unintended pregnancy spikes, denying birth control for younger women is an especially bad idea for medical reasons. According to the Guttmacher Institute, 58% of women on the pill use it at least partially for other purposes besides contraception. Teenage girls and young women are often prescribed the pill or IUDs for reducing and controlling PMS — one in three teenage girls on birth control use it solely for medical reasons. A hormone-based contraceptive treatment is often the healthiest and most cost-effective way to control debilitating symptoms.
The Supreme Court will answer this question in March: should a woman be denied coverage of a medical treatment just because her employer doesn't like the fact that they could also use the treatment to prevent pregnancy? The fact that Hobby Lobby has made its way to the Supreme Court is appalling enough, but the thought that the court could choose a corporation's religious liberty over a women's right to prevent an unwanted pregnancy or treat a medical condition is downright terrifying. Who really needs protection here — a multi-million dollar corporation or a young woman not able to spend hundreds more dollars on medicine? Hobby Lobby CEO David Green is free to use whatever contraceptive methods he prefers in his personal life, but he should not be able to pick and choose which to cover for his 20,000 employees.