Op-Ed: Fighting Back Against “Hobby Lobby”

Op-Ed Published on The Huffington Post

By Eric T. Schneiderman

New York State has long been a leader in advancing women’s equality, stretching back to the Seneca Falls Convention 166 years ago this weekend. Sadly, as we mark this important anniversary, hard-won victories by the women’s rights movement are being threatened by a radical right wing that seeks to roll back the progress we’ve made.

Last month, the Supreme Court issued an outrageous decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that empowered the owners of corporations to use their religious beliefs to deny female employees access to key reproductive health coverage.

No woman should have her personal health care decisions dictated by the religious beliefs of her boss. That’s why I joined with some of my colleagues to propose the Reproductive Rights Disclosure Act, which will bolster the ability of all women in New York to make their own health care choices.

My commitment to gender equality is rooted in the quintessentially American principle of equal justice under law. I believe that in New York, we must have one set of rules for everyone – and that means women cannot be unfairly denied health coverage.

When I was in the Senate, I worked to pass Women’s Health and Wellness Act, which bars insurance companies from discriminating against the health care needs of women. I worked with my Senate colleagues, and with advocates in the pro-choice movement, for years to overcome Republican opposition to that bill, and I firmly believe that by requiring equitable insurance coverage for procedures like mammograms and cervical cancer screenings, the law has saved lives. Women’s Health and Wellness also requires insurance plans in New York that offer prescription coverage to cover prescription contraceptives. That part of the law became the model for the nationwide contraceptive mandate in President Obama’s Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.

The ACA’s contraceptive mandate was a major victory for women’s equality. Insurance plans were no longer allowed to pay for Viagra, but not cover contraception. Then, on June 30, in a radical and out-of-touch decision, the United States Supreme Court undercut this common-sense provision by ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that closely held corporations espousing sincerely held religious beliefs could not be bound by the ACA’s contraceptive mandate.

While the Women’s Health and Wellness Act remains in effect, it does not reach all women in New York. For them, the Hobby Lobby decision poses a grave threat to their ability to make their own health care choices.

Because the legal landscape under the Hobby Lobby decision and the Women’s Health and Wellness Act may confuse both employers and employees, my proposed legislation would create one notice standard for all employers, regardless of the type of company they run or the type of insurance plan they offer. 

The Reproductive Rights Disclosure Act would require employers to give 90 days’ written notice to employees, as well as to the state, if they are changing their contraception coverage. It would also require employers to inform prospective employees of the scope of any contraceptive coverage they offer, so workers can make an informed choice before accepting an offer of employment.

The Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby decision was both factually and legally flawed. It accepted false assertions about the science of how contraception works, and it expanded the absurd legal principle that corporations are people by essentially finding that corporations can hold religious beliefs. 

While state law cannot undo all the damage of that misguided decision, we can go a long way to empower women in New York State with the information they need to make their own health care choices. And that is what the Reproductive Rights Disclosure Act will do.

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