One of my jobs as a nurse is to help my patients access the care they need regardless of where they work or what they do for a living. A case to be argued before the Supreme Court on Wednesday threatens that access for some women who use contraceptives.
Virtually all sexually active women — 99 percent of them, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — will use contraceptives at some point during their lives. Because contraception is a preventive measure, the Affordable Care Act mandates that it must be covered at no cost, like other preventive health services.
As it stands now, a religious nonprofit corporation such as a school or hospital that doesn’t want to include contraceptives to its employees in its insurance plan can complete a form that exempts it from providing contraception. The employees can then access contraceptives at no cost directly through their insurance companies.
Several religious organizations are challenging that approach. In Zubik v. Burwell, the case now before the Supreme Court, they argue that signing the form is a violation of their religious freedom.
The real violation is what would happen to tens of thousands of women who stand to lose coverage and access to essential birth control methods. It’s unjust, unfair, and unnecessary.
In nursing school, I was taught to provide compassionate care to all of my patients. As a health care professional, I help implement the plan of care determined by a patient and her or his clinicians — not by her or his employer. Employers should offer their workers every option necessary to stay healthy, as well as the freedom to make their own personal decisions about contraceptive use.
Women use contraceptives for many reasons. Many, of course, use them for birth control and family planning. Others use them to regulate hormonal ups and downs, to manage painful conditions like endometriosis, and to prevent ovarian cysts. Many women would have trouble affording contraceptives without insurance coverage. An IUD, for example, can cost as much as $1,000 — about as much as a hard-working mom earning the $7.25 federal minimum wage would earn in a month.
The contraceptive care accommodation the Obama administration expanded after the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision in 2014 — the exemption form — respects women’s health care decisions while also respecting employers’ religious beliefs. There is no need to change this to protect employers’ religious freedom.
As a nurse, it’s hard to understand why the individuals bringing this case would feel it’s their right to interfere in a woman’s health care decisions and care. When it comes to our health care, we should have the basic freedom to make decisions as patients and as health care professionals. We should never feel like our boss is in the exam room.
When it comes to health, each of us should be able to freely make decisions with our clinicians about preventive and other health care and have access to the care we need. Our employers should not be part of the conversation.
Nina Wells, a registered nurse and clinical educator at St. John’s Regional Medical Center in Oxnard, Calif., is a member of SEIU, one of 69 organizations that filed a Supreme Court brief supporting seamless access to no-cost contraceptive coverage.