WASHINGTON — Dozens of reproductive-rights advocates from Seattle and around the nation converged on U.S. Supreme Court steps Tuesday morning, as the justices prepared to hear oral arguments on a pair of cases concerning the right of private corporations to refuse to provide mandatory insurance coverage for contraceptives based on religious objections.
Elaine Rose, chief executive of Planned Parenthood Votes Northwest, warned that a ruling in the companies’ favor would be a “radical” shift that would cede women’s right to medical coverage to their bosses’ personal beliefs.
The cases have become a major cause for congressional Democrats, both as a matter of women’s right to choose and as defense of the Affordable Care Act. Under the health-care law, all insurance plans must cover 10 essential benefits, including emergency, vision, maternity and mental health care and prescription drugs.
In January, Sens. Patty Murray and Maria Cantwell and 17 other Senate Democrats filed an amicus brief in support of the Obama administration in one of the cases, involving Hobby Lobby Stores. Murray attended Tuesday’s oral arguments.
Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma City-based national chain of craft stores, was founded by an evangelical Christian family. David Green, its CEO, said the company will not cover “abortion-causing drugs that go against our faiths.”
Green was referring to emergency contraceptives sold under brand names Plan B and ella. Plan B, so-called morning-after pill, can be taken a day after unprotected sex to prevent pregnancy. ella can be taken up to five days after.
Green views the pills as abortifacients because he believes they prevent a fertilized egg — a potential embryo — from implanting in a woman’s uterus for gestation. But medical researchers largely agree Plan B works by preventing ovulation, meaning an egg never gets to meet the sperm to fertilize.
“If you are pregnant and you take emergency contraceptive, you will stay pregnant,” Rose said, whose organization is the political arm of Planned Parenthood.
Research on ella, a newer drug, is less definitive, but it’s believed to work similarly as Plan B.
Rose said curtailing women’s access to coverage for birth-control pills and devices — something virtually all women use in their lifetime — will led to higher numbers of unintended pregnancies. She estimated 640,000 women in Washington and 27 million nationally benefit from the free contraceptive coverage.