Last week's Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby left us dismayed, furious, and determined to push back. As advocates of reproductive rights, we believe strongly that women’s basic human rights should come before a corporation’s objections, however sincerely held they may be. This decision sets a dangerous precedent and codifies discrimination against women—it’s a blow to our rights that we simply can’t afford and must resist.
As mothers, we understand that the decision to build or expand one’s family is a deeply personal one. As women, we understand that birth control and abortion care are part of a much broader spectrum of reproductive choices, which most of us will seek during our lifetimes. In fact, 99 percent of women use birth control at some time in their lives, whether it’s to prevent pregnancy, or as medicine to treat a wide variety of health issues, including such debilitating conditions as endometriosis and polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS).
But for whatever reason a woman chooses to use birth control, the fact remains that she should not have to appeal to her employer to validate that choice. That simply isn’t how medicine works. To suggest otherwise is both inaccurate and dangerous. Birth control is basic health care. It should be treated that way.
In Washington State, we have a long and proud history of affirming a woman’s right to the full spectrum of reproductive health care options, including birth control, maternity care, and safe and legal abortion. From the passage of Initiative 120 in 1990 to programs like Take Charge, which provides critical reproductive health care services to low-income women, to the Washington State Pharmacy Board’s recommendation that pharmacists fill all needed prescriptions—including emergency contraception—without delay, we have led the charge for policies that empower women and affirm our right to make our own personal medical decisions.
But in recent years, we have lost significant ground.
With the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, women and health care organizations in our state have faced confusion surrounding abortion coverage. With an unprecedented number of mergers between Catholic-affiliated hospitals and secular health systems, we have seen best practices in reproductive health care discarded in favor of antiquated religious views. And despite having a pro-choice majority in the state legislature, we have been told that passing the Reproductive Parity Act—which would protect abortion coverage for women in our state—is unnecessary and not “worth the political capital.”
The Hobby Lobby decision shows that exactly the opposite is true. As women in Washington face barriers to abortion access, and attacks on reproductive freedom escalate nationwide, it’s time for Washington to become a leader on this issue once again. It’s time to draw the line. It’s time for us to mobilize our state’s pro-choice majority to vote for leaders who will champion our rights and stand for our state’s values.
This year, we have the chance to retake the State Senate and transform our legislature into one that values good policy, not just power. Three key races could tip the balance.
In the 30th legislative district, Shari Song has emerged as both a strong candidate and an advocate for reproductive rights. Song’s opponent, Mark Miloscia, shares Hobby Lobby’s opposition to both abortion and birth control. In the 28th District, strong progressive Tami Green will face Steve O’Ban, yet another Republican candidate with retro views on women’s health. O’Ban sponsored a work session on a bill that would have created protections for discrimination on the basis of religious beliefs—exactly the type of out-of-touch legislation that could be used to justify future decisions like the one in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby—and he’s the lawyer in the Stormans case, representing pharmacists who want to refuse to stock emergency contraceptives.
While fervent opposition to reproductive health care impedes public health and progressive change, lawmakers who are pro-choice in name only are equally troubling. Sen. Andy Hill (R - 45) is one of these lawmakers. While ostensibly pro-choice, Hill has repeatedly failed to support proactive legislation or prioritize women’s health. In a national political climate that already stigmatizes women’s health, inaction is inexcusable. Hill’s opponent, Matt Isenhower, is committed to advancing legislation that supports women’s health care.
After two years of gridlock at the hands of a small group of politicians more concerned with “political capital” than strong policy that serves our state, it is critical that we take back the Senate. Electing Shari Song, Tami Green, and Matt Isenhower will bring us closer to the innovative legislation women and families in our state deserve.
It’s time to show the rest of the country that in this Washington, women are not second-class citizens. That starts with protecting and expanding access to the full spectrum of reproductive health care options for women in our state—including quality maternity care, treatments for women’s health problems that meet the standard of care, safe and legal abortion, and, yes, birth control. This isn’t revolutionary. This is basic health care. It’s time we elected leaders who get it.
Rachel Berkson is Executive Director of NARAL Pro-Choice Washington. Judy Nicastro is a former Seattle City Councilmember.