The three branches of our government are supposed to keep each other in check. But our supposedly balanced arms are broken. Probably equally so, but this past week, the Supreme Court has been the most disappointing (and being more disappointing than Congress, even temporarily, is a pretty big accomplishment.)
The first disappointing decision was especially disappointing because it was unanimous. Ruth Bader Ginsberg, where the fuck were you on this day? And Justice Sotomayor? Et tu? McCullen v Coakley dealt with buffer zones around abortion clinics, in this case in the city of Boston. The Justices decided that these zones were a strain on the free speech of protesters. Justice Roberts even went so far as to imply that abortion clinic protestors aren’t protestors. From his ruling:
While the Act may allow petitioners to “protest” outside the buffer zones, petitioners are not protestors; they seek not merely to express their opposition to abortion, but to engage in personal, caring, consensual conversations with women about various alternatives.
But to characterize these interactions as personal, caring or consensual is a joke. These people do not care if women wish to engage with them, and they are often violent and disruptive to the health care that women are seeking. They harass and threaten patients and employees. They are not small quiet grad ma’s with Bibles. The laws are in place because employees and patients have been assaulted and killed. And furthermore, free speech isn’t unlimited. You can’t throw a ticker tape parade down 5th Ave without clearance, you can’t block sidewalks, and the very Justices who handed down this decision rule from behind their very own buffer zone.
They just decided that women’s right to get health care, which is basic, isn’t as serious as the rights of anti-choice protestors to ‘speak out.’ They ignored the evidence that the violence is a real threat. And FYI, these clinics are often providing a wide array of health care such as cancer screenings, STD tests, and even pre and post natal care. NOT THAT IS MATTERS BECAUSE ABORTION IS LEGAL AND ITS A PRIVATE MEDICAL MATTER. I urge you, if you are able and live in an area where clinics are unsafe, consider being a clinic escort. And my deepest thanks to the brave folks already providing this care in the face of danger, and the volunteers who try to make the experience less terrible. These folks deserve better from the justice system.
Secondly, in Sebelius v Hobby Lobby, the court decided yesterday that corporations that are closely held can deny women coverage for certain types of birth control, based on their sincerely held religious beliefs. Now, to me, the first issue here is that CORPORATIONS AREN’T HUMANS. Is that not obvious? Companies cannot have sincerely held religious beliefs, because that’s fucking silly. But the courts say they do, and that contraception is the only kind of coverage that religious beliefs can be used to deny. So right off the bat, the decision limits the scope by privileging some types of religious beliefs over others (the beliefs against blood transfusions or anti depressants, for example. [All 5 dudes who ruled this way are Catholic, just an FYI fun fact.]) The exemption only applies to companies that want to limit health care options for it’s female employees. Stellar. But even more disturbingly, the decision elevates these sincerely held beliefs over science. The corporations in question believe that IUD’s and emergency contraception cause abortions. According to the medical and legal definitions, that is categorically untrue. These methods do not end pregnancies, they prevent them. So the law says that even when religious beliefs fly in the face of accepted science, we should honor those beliefs over the actual facts, and at the expense of millions of women. Religious beliefs shouldn’t be used as a weapon to police the behavior of others, and freedom of religion shouldn’t trump the right of millions to life, liberty, and the pursuit of fucking happiness (fucking here being both literal and emphatic!)
Here’s the lynch pin guys: birth control is basic health care for women. It isn’t frivolous. It’s not just for sluts, as the right would have us believe. 99% of sexually active women will use BC in their lifetime, and the education and access to this basic health care should indeed be as universal as other care. It should be covered. Remember, men’s sexual needs are universally covered and deferred to, and I doubt those 5 men would have ruled in favor of companies whose sincerely held religious beliefs oppose Viagra. If erections and other penis issues count as basic care, then so should family planning and vagina needs. I’ve read comments that claim this isn’t a big deal, that companies will still provide coverage for some birth control and if they believe this other stuff is morally wrong it’s not a problem. This is categorically false. Employers shouldn’t get to decide what method of basic care you seek. And they shouldn’t get to limit the health care decisions of workers. They don’t wanna pay for it? Well you know what, I don’t want my taxes going to the industrial military complex, and I’d like it to go only to fixing potholes in the bike lanes and public education. But that’s not how the system works. You don’t get to pick and choose.
This decision elevates the accepted patriarchal reality of “closely held corporations” (UGH) and the needs of it’s religious owners over the real lives of women. 5 men decided that corporate personhood was more viable than the rights of actual human women. So they don’t have to pay for women’s choices. But we all pay for each other’s choices everyday, that’s how taxes and also insurance works. It’s fine if you disagree with that system and work to change or dismantle it, but these kinds of exceptions undermine the norm and elevate patriarchy. They do not serve justice or the needs of most citizens. And it’s wildly important that this is only about contraception, because that means it’s really about women’s bodies and women’s sex lives. It’s about control.
Yesterday, I was disheartened. It felt, in a really tangible way, like a personal attack. And it is personal. Because this ruling upholds the idea that women mustn’t make their own choices, that their bodies aren’t their own, and that they don’t have a right to the sex life of their choosing. This exemption validates the needs of men while undermining the existence of women as full humans. It’s personal because who and how we choose to love and fuck is personal, and our sexual health isn’t incidental or a second class issue. It’s central to our health and our lives.
I’m not sure what to do about these rulings. A murderous rampage crossed my mind. I’d like to say we should all vote, and that is important, but we don’t vote directly on these judges so that feels like a round about solution (but obviously vote, duh.) So I say we just get loud, keep shouting until they take us seriously. Add your name to the Planned Parenthood dissent, join the Lady Parts Justice protest, and have conversations about why this matters. We must stay loud, that’s how these issues gain critical mass. Like the investigations on how colleges handle sexual assault. Slowly but surely, those violations on Title IV are being handled. Because we screamed about it. And we need to scream about this. We need to keep saying, over and over, that our right to bodily autonomy and safety is real, and basic, and paramount. We can’t stop until they stop calling us sluts, until offenders are punished, until our health care is provided no matter what we do or who we work for. We can’t stop until our personhood is upheld and valued. We can’t stop until justice is actually serve.