Great news! The Hobby Lobby ruling does not apply in Oregon

By Michele Stranger Hunter of Portland, Oregon. Michele is the executive director of NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon

After last week's ruling on the highly anticipated Hobby Lobby case, the country is on high alert. In a shocking 5-4 vote, for-profit companies can now use religious objections to avoid paying for contraception coverage required by the Affordable Care Act. This is the first time the Supreme Court has granted for-profit companies the ability to discrimination based on religious beliefs.

From the moment the ruling was announced, the conversation began to swirl, “how does this ruling affect women in Oregon?” Our coalition partners, ACLU of Oregon executive director Dave Fidanque and legislative director Becky Straus gave us the best news! The Hobby Lobby ruling does not apply in Oregon. Oregon once again protects women!

The ruling pertained to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993, enacted by President Clinton, which prevented laws that burden how someone can exercise their religion. This only applies to actions by the federal government, the portion of RFRA that applied to the states was overturned by the Supreme Court in 1997 and the decision to enforce was left up to each individual state. Oregon is 1 of 19 states that has not passed RFRA.

In addition to Oregon not passing the RFRA, Oregon did pass a law in 2007, the Access to Birth Control Act (known nationally as a contraceptive equity law), making all prescription methods used to prevent pregnancy covered by any health plan that includes prescription benefits; (see ORS 743A.066). Insurance plans must comply with Oregon insurance law which requires all plans with prescription medication coverage to cover birth control.

The second element at play in keeping Hobby Lobby decision from Oregon is that the Religious Freedom Restoration Freedom Act (RFRA) only applies to actions by the federal government. The portion of RFRA that applied to the states was overturned by the Supreme Court soon after it was passed by Congress. Oregon is 1 of 19 states that has not passed it. Insurance companies therefore have to comply with Oregon insurance law which requires all plans that cover prescription medications to cover birth control.

Birth control is basic health care for women and Oregon law says so, and Oregon elected officials agree. In 2007, when Governor Ted Kulongoski signed the contraceptive equity bill into law he said the new law "is fundamentally about women being able to make the best health care decisions for themselves and their families." And the Affordable Care Act should have made gender-based health care discrimination a thing of the past but the Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision calls out women’s health care alone. The case that Oregon makes now is that yes, the Hobby Lobby decision is discrimination.

Shortly after the Hobby Lobby ruling, Senator Jeff Merkley -- who was instrumental in getting the contraceptive equity bill passed in 2007 as Speaker of the Oregon House -- released a statement calling out this discrimination:

“The Supreme Court decision will make it more difficult for women to make critical personal health choices and shows just how far we still have left to go to ensure total equality for women in the workplace and, unfortunately, even in the doctor’s office.”

Jeff Merkley is up for reelection this fall and his opponent, Oregon US Senate hopeful Monica Wehby, had a different opinion. Monica Wehby says that she supports their decision on Hobby Lobby. Wehby said that she doesn’t see a problem with the Hobby Lobby decision. She has been very clear that the same Justices who came to this misguided ruling are the ones she would confirm to the Supreme Court if she were a member of the US Senate. Wehby said that as long as every women still has access to contraception through a third party, she doesn't see a problem. Wehby clearly does not understand the full implications of the Hobby Lobby decision. No one should have to access third party benefits for basic health care.

Monica Wehby is personally against a woman’s rights to choose, and she would confirm anti-choice Supreme Court justices who want to overturn Roe v. Wade. After an editorial board interview with the Willamette Week, Monica Wehby described Justice Samuel Alito, the architect of this week’s ruling, as the Supreme Court Justice she “likes best of all.” She also describes Justice Antonin Scalia, perhaps the Court’s most conservative justice when it comes to women’s health, as her “ideal.” Justice Scalia believes Roe v. Wade was wrongly decided, and says “it can and should be overruled.” Scalia has called the Court’s decisions related to a woman’s right to choose, “utterly idiotic.” Monica Wehby wants voters to think she’s not going to Washington to change laws, but her embrace of the court’s most conservative justices says otherwise.

It is no secret that 99% of women use contraception sometime in their life for a variety of reasons. Denying a woman certain health care coverage is denying her fair payment for her work. A women works for her paychecks and part of her earned wages is her health care coverage, so telling her what prescription medications she can have access to, is no different than a boss telling her how to spend money each paycheck.

Starting in 2006, the Oregon House has maintained a pro-choice majority. Oregon has ensured health care access for all Oregonians, and they don’t suggest women get basic health care through a third party. In Oregon, women’s health care is protected, and NARAL Pro-Choice Oregon will work to keep it that way. Bosses should stay in the board room and not the bedroom.

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