By Congresswoman Julia Brownley

Originally published in the Ventura County Star 

Last week was a bad week for women and their families. Like many of you, I was deeply disappointed by the Supreme Court’s shortsighted 5-4 Hobby Lobby decision allowing some employers to deny basic health care to their workers. At stake was whether the owners of a corporation have the right to impose their religious beliefs on their employees, at the cost of a woman’s health or even her life.

The Affordable Care Act requires employers to provide insurance that meets minimum essential benefits. This requirement was intended to ensure that plans on the market met a minimum threshold for quality care, including important preventive medical care, which would in turn help drive down costs.

These minimum essential benefits include free preventive screenings, like blood pressure and cholesterol tests, mammograms, colonoscopies, coverage for vaccines, coverage of contraceptives and more. These benefits went a long way toward creating equality between men and women in the health care market.

However, the court has turned this requirement on its head, ruling that closely held for-profit companies can deny women access to basic health care based upon the religious beliefs of the company’s owners.

This is not the first time the court has given corporations rights the Constitution expressly provides to individuals. It undermines not only the rights of our citizenry, but the very foundation of our democracy.

In the ruling, the court put the First Amendment rights of corporations ahead of those of actual citizens by ruling that employers could opt out of providing the full range of contraception options to their employees if it violates the corporation’s religious convictions.

This decision is also a serious step backward for women’s health. It should be up to a woman and her doctor — not her employer — to decide what constitutes appropriate care. An employer should not be able to pick and choose what type of birth control his or her employees can use.

Birth control is basic health care for women. Millions of American women use and rely on the birth control benefit every day.

Access to birth control allows a woman and her partner to decide when to start a family, which increases the financial stability and long-term health of mothers and their children. According to a 2011 study of more than 2,000 women seeking contraceptives at U.S. reproductive health services providers, the majority said that access to contraception had enabled them to take better care of themselves or their families, support themselves financially or complete their education.

More than half of the pregnancies in the U.S. are unplanned. By preventing unplanned pregnancy, effective contraceptive use also dramatically reduces the number of abortions.

Also, many women use birth control for reasons wholly unrelated to preventing pregnancy, such as preventing certain types of cancer, menstrual disorders and pelvic pain.

In the dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg rightly noted that the cost of some forms of birth control is nearly equivalent to a month’s full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage.

These are just some of the reasons why it’s so crucial that women across the U.S. have affordable access to basic, preventive care like birth control, no matter where they work, how much they earn or who their employer is.

There is no doubt that birth control is essential for women’s health, but there is also no doubt that it is essential to the fight for equality between men and women in America. It is as essential as the Violence Against Women Act, equal pay for equal work and raising the minimum wage. All essential to making sure women succeed in America and in Ventura County.

While the Supreme Court decision is a major setback for women’s health care rights, as a member of Congress I will continue to fight to ensure women’s full access to reproductive care and I will always be a strong voice for the rights of Ventura County women and their families.

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