Hobby Lobby Inspired New York Lawmakers To Fight To Protect Birth Control In Their State

CREDIT: AP Photo/Alex Brandon

A group of activists spell out their position on Hobby Lobby's case in front of the Supreme Court

If the craft chain Hobby Lobby and the furniture company Conestoga Wood Specialties successfully win their Supreme Court challenges, it could open the door to allow businesses across the country to compromise their workers’ access to reproductive health care. In response to that potential future, New York lawmakers are taking the opportunity to reaffirm their state’s commitment to providing insurance coverage for essential preventative health services like birth control.

Earlier this month, New York Sen. Liz Krueger (D) and Assemblymember Ellen Jaffee (D) introduced the so-called “Boss Bill,” which would close a loophole in the state’s existing workplace anti-discrimination laws to protect women’s access to birth control. Under the legislation — which was written in direct response to the multiple lawsuits against the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive provision — New York’s labor law would be amended to prevent employers from discriminating against workers on the basis of their reproductive health care decisions, even if those employers are trying to cite their religious beliefs.

“Now is the time for New York to make clear that a boss’ personal beliefs do not trump a woman’s health and access to the health care they need,” Krueger explained at a press conference to unveil her new legislation earlier in March. “The fact that I take a job with somebody who may not share my views about family planning and reproductive health doesn’t mean they get to tell me I can’t use a certain kind of contraception, I can’t access certain kinds of health care or they will fire me. That’s completely unacceptable but currently protected under New York state Labor Law.”

The “Boss Bill” extends beyond birth control to include other types of reproductive health care, like infertility treatments. The legislation’s proponents point out that it helps protect employees’ privacy, since they won’t be forced to negotiate with their bosses over coverage for personal medical decisions. A diverse group of progressive organizations — including the Family Planning Advocates of New York State, NARAL Pro-Choice New York, Catholics for Choice, and the AFL-CIO — have come out in support of the bill.

New York lawmakers are also pushing for the Women’s Equality Act, a ten-point agenda that would protect women’s access to abortion, strengthen protections for victims of sexual assault, and advance pay equity. But, although the State Assembly passed that package of legislation back in January, it’s currently stalled in the Senate. Krueger and Jaffee believe it’s important to pass protections for women’s birth control access separately.

Particularly now that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood have taken their cases all the way to the Supreme Court, this issue has taken on even more urgency.

“As demonstrated by more than 100 other lawsuits objecting to the Affordable Care Act’s birth control benefit — including the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood case before the Supreme Court today — federal protections for access to reproductive health care are often not enough,” the president of NARAL Pro-Choice New York, Andrea Miller, noted in a statement released on Tuesday. “States must be proactive in passing legislation that safeguards protections for reproductive health care decisions, including contraception.”