Feminists React to “Devastating” Ruling Prioritizing Employers’ Religious Beliefs Over Women’s Rights

In a 7-2 decision on Wednesday, the Supreme Court upheld Trump administration rules allowing employers to opt out of providing birth control if they have religious objections.

The ruling will prevent 70,000 to 126,000 women from accessing contraception and may lead to religious and sexist employers completely ostracizing women employees.

Feminists React to Supreme Court's Limiting Birth Control Coverage
A Planned Parenthood rally in New York City in June 2011. (Women’s eNews / Flickr)

The Affordable Care Act requires coverage of preventive health services and screenings for women. In 2011, the Obama administration issued revisions so that religious employers would not have to pay for the coverage—but insisted that all women still be covered.

However, Trump––and today, the Supreme Court––pushed for greater exceptions and further obstacles to birth control coverage.  Fulfilling a 2016 campaign promise, Trump argued employers should not be “bullied by the federal government because of their religious beliefs.”

Justice Clarence Thomas wrote the majority opinion, claiming the Trump administration “had the authority to provide exemptions from the regulatory contraceptive requirements for employers with religious and conscientious objections.”  

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented, writing: “Today, for the first time, the Court casts totally aside countervailing rights and interests in its zeal to secure religious rights to the nth degree.”

Feminists React

Throughout the U.S., feminists are reeling from the devastating ruling that prioritizes employers’ religious beliefs over women’s rights to bodily autonomy and full control over their reproductive lives.

“This move gives employers the power to make decisions about their employee’s healthcare without their consent. This decision hurts most those who can least afford birth control including young women, poor women and disproportionately women of color.”

—Eleanor Smeal, president of Feminist Majority Foundation

“The Supreme Court’s decision to allow the Trump administration to put control over people’s birth control in the hands of the whims of their bosses and employers is deplorable. This decision just further exposes that ultimately, the Radical Right is really about controlling women and our lives with no eye towards equality or public health and well being.”

—Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America.

“Employers should never be allowed to discriminate against employees, especially when it comes to the type of health care they need, and that includes access to birth control. As the Trump administration and Republicans continue to chip away at access to affordable health care, Democratic AGs will continue to fight back. Most importantly, we must all work together to elect leaders who will fight with us. This is far from over.”

—Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey and Oregon Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum, Co-Chairs of the Democratic Attorneys General Association

At the same time, medical professionals highlight how contraception is an essential part of healthcare—and has many additional uses beyond preventing pregnancy.

“As an ob/gyn providing the full spectrum of reproductive health care, I see every single day how contraception is a critical part of our collective health and wellbeing.

“Today’s decision is especially egregious coming amidst a global pandemic and economic uncertainty. Contraception is health care and we must work to restore this essential coverage.

—Dr. Kristyn Brandi, board chair of Physicians for Reproductive Health

Other feminists point out this decision will disproportionately impact those who already struggle to receive adequate medical care and financial support—before, during and after the COVID-19 pandemic.

“As restrictions on health care often do, this decision will compound the harm for those who are not served or supported by our health care systems: low-wage workers, people of color, young people, immigrants and LGBTQ+ people.

“This is especially shameful during a global pandemic that has highlighted just how precarious economic security is for so many and launched a national discussion about the racial disparities that have always existed in our health care systems.”

—Kelly Blanchard, president of Ibis Reproductive Health

Many recognize this decision as another attempt by the Trump administration to severely limit reproductive rights and discriminate against women.

Without constitutional protections for women, we can only expect this trend to continue.

And others emphasize that this ruling is not only dangerous for women, but also an egregious distortion of religious freedom rights.

“Making healthcare decisions based on your personal beliefs and needs is a matter of religious freedom—and no one’s business but your own. [This decision is] the result of a conservative campaign to redefine religious freedom into a sword, not a shield, to be wielded against those who live or believe differently.”

—Katy Joseph, Director of Policy & Advocacy at Interfaith Alliance

Take Action

Women’s rights should not be dictated by the whims of the president in office and the justices they appoint. And contraception cannot be a regulatory tool.

In the wake of this decision, it is more important than ever to fight for women’s rights in every election, and increasingly essential for Congress to act to codify the coverage of contraceptives as part of the preventative healthcare package included in the ACA. The Equal Rights Amendment and other legal protections for women’s healthcare are essential steps towards full equality.

Today’s Supreme Court decision threatens not only women’s reproductive health but also equal opportunity in the workforce.

As rapid change and continued economic hardship falls on our nation, it is time to demand more from those in power.

About and

Katie Fleischer (she/they) is a Ms. editorial assistant working on the Front and Center series and Keeping Score.
Jenna Ashendouek is an editorial intern at Ms. and a student at Tufts University pursuing a BA in International Relations with a minor in Women, Gender, Sexuality Studies.