Last June, we witnessed first hand how one Supreme Court decision can have drastic effects on society when the justices ruled in the case of Obergefell v. Hodges that all 50 states are required by the 14th Amendment to provide marriage licenses to and recognize the marriages of same sex couples. The Supreme Court is now entering a new term, and there is no limit to the changes their decisions could impose.
Think Progress recently highlighted a few cases that the justices could decide to take in the future that would have huge effects on women, particularly when it comes to reproductive health. While none of these cases have yet to be taken up by the Supreme Court for this new term, it is still important to know what they are and how they could affect you should they be taken. I’ve broken them down below.
1. Whole Women v. Cole
Roe vs. Wade has been the law of the land for 42 years now, guaranteeing the legality of abortion in all 50 states, but this case is just the latest effort to chip away at a woman’s right to choose. In the case of Gonzales v. Carhart in 2007, the Supreme Court upheld the Partial-Birth Abortion ban. This was largely interpreted to mean that a woman’s right to choose needs to be restricted to protect her from making unwise decisions that she will later come to regret.
Unfortunately, this patronizing decision has been taken further to allow states to enact “sham health laws” that are supposed to protect women but actually limit their right to choose. The most recent example of this can be found in the decision of the Fifth Circuit Appeals Court in the case of Whole Woman v. Cole. Here the Court supported a list of regulations in order for Texas health clinics to perform abortions, including have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. If this is enacted, Texas will only have 7 or 8 abortion clinics in the entire state as opposed to 40.
Back in June, the Supreme Court temporarily voted to block the law, but now the Supreme Court must decide whether or not to take the case. If they do not, the law will likely go into effect and the clinics will be shut down. This means thousands of women would either have to travel much further to find their health care or will be unable to obtain it at all.
2. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Revisited
Back in 2014, the Supreme Court ruled in the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that employers are not obligated to provide birth control in their health care packages if they object for religious reasons. This means that women employees can be denied coverage of birth control because their employers doesn’t believe in it. Luckily, the ruling included an alternative method in which the employer could appeal to the government to find an alternative plan that includes birth control coverage if they could not provide it due to religious beliefs.
Courts of appeals have held up this alternative method, saying that religious objectors can at least do the bare minimum of filling out a form so their employees can obtain birth control another way. This all changed last month when the Eighth Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that religious objectors could not be required to fill out the form because it would pose a “substantial burden” on their religious beliefs.
This break from tradition means that the Supreme Court will likely take up this case at some point. Should they agree with the eighth circuit, women will face even more difficulty obtaining coverage for birth control than they already do.
3. Stormans v. Weisman
There currently exists a law in Washington that allows pharmacists to refuse to fill a prescription as long as there is another pharmacist available to fill it. This means that if, for example, the pharmacist objects to birth control or certain types of birth control for religious reasons, he/she does not have to fill prescriptions for it as long as there is someone else there to take care of it. If there is not another pharmacist present, he/she will have to fill the prescription for the patient regardless of his/her objections. Additionally, owners of pharmacies cannot refuse to carry certain types of medicine because they have religious objections to it.
In the case of Stormans v. Weisman, a pharmacist sued saying that owners of pharmacies should not be obligated to provide birth control if they have religious objections. Should the Supreme Court decide to take this case, the ruling will affect how easy it is for women to obtain birth control prescriptions, but could also be extended to affect whether patients with HIV or diabetes or a range of diseases can easily access their prescriptions as well.
Again, it is unclear if and when the Supreme Court will decide to take these cases. What is clear, however, is that these rulings will have substantial impacts on women across the country, ranging from where they obtain health care, whether certain prescriptions are covered in their health insurance, and how easily they can obtain their prescriptions. With four Democrats and six Republicans currently sitting on the bench, this Supreme Court is unpredictable in its rulings, so it is likely that these cases will be decided by just one vote. It is important to pay attention to cases like these and to know how they will affect you and other women.
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.