What Black Women Should Know About Birth Control in a Post-Hobby Lobby World

The Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling threatens access to no copay birth control for millions of women — including the approximately 4.6 million African-American women using contraception.  Now, bosses of family-run businesses can interfere with legally mandated birth control coverage by claiming a religious objection to paying for that coverage—despite the fact that the Affordable Care Act mandates no copay birth control for all American women.

I am outraged by the Hobby Lobby decision because allowing bosses to deny birth control is quite simply discrimination against women.  After all, 99 percent of all sexually active women use birth control at some point—to prevent pregnancies and plan their lives and families or to treat medical conditions such as endometriosis and menstrual pain.  No one is talking about denying Viagra or vasectomies to men, but somehow some believe it is okay to deny coverage of a preventive medicine for women.  The five male Justices who ruled in favor of bosses and against women just don’t get it. 

The Hobby Lobby decision is particularly troubling to financially struggling women. Birth control is expensive—which is why it’s covered by the Affordable Care Act in the first place.  Many women spend up to $600 a year on birth control; some of the most reliable forms, such as the IUD, can cost much more.  When a woman is earning an hourly wage, paying for birth control out-of-pocket can pose a serious financial hardship.  It may mean choosing between paying for birth control and buying groceries for her family or filling her tank with gasoline.

Although many of us have questions in the wake of the ruling, there are seven things we know for sure:

1.  Birth control is fundamental for all women— and especially for African-American women.  Only 54 percent of African-American women of reproductive age are currently using birth control (compared to 66 percent of white women) — and only 83 percent of African-American women at risk for unintended pregnancy currently use birth control (compared to 91 percent of white women).  The more African-American women get access to no copay birth control, the more we are able to prevent pregnancies, plan our lives and our families, and take control over our futures.

2.  Most women continue to be covered.    The Supreme Court didn’t strike down the birth control benefit entirely, but it did give bosses of family-run businesses the right to refuse to pay for that coverage for their employees. It’s not yet clear how many bosses will refuse to cover birth control, so you should make sure you’re prepared in case they do.

3.  All methods of birth control are still covered.  The birth control benefit requires insurance companies to cover all FDA-approved methods of birth control — including pills, implants, IUDs, and more. However, they aren’t required to cover all brands, so you should ask your insurance carrier if it includes yours.

4.  Your boss is required by law to notify you if he decides to end your coverage.  If you have any questions, contact your office’s HR department or text “birthcontrol” to 69866.

5.  Women who work at religiously affiliated organizations still get coverage of their birth control at no cost.  The Hobby Lobby decision was in connection with family-run, for-profit corporations.  Meanwhile, churches also don’t have to provide birth control coverage for their employees.  But if you work for a religiously affiliated organization such as a Catholic hospital or Christian university, you are still entitled to no-copay birth control.

If your employer stops covering birth control, you should know that Planned Parenthood’s 700 health centers around the country provide a range of affordable birth control options for women no matter where they work or what their boss thinks.

If you’re still not sure how (or if) the Hobby Lobby decision affects you personally, we can help.  We launched a text helpline to provide quick access to information and assistance.  If you have questions about your coverage, or you’re afraid to ask your boss about birth control in your workplace, text “birthcontrol” to 69866.  We will reach out to your employer and ask what the policy is, then follow up with you with what we know.

Our birth control is no one’s business but our own.

Alexis McGill Johnson is the chair of Planned Parenthood Federation of America