Q & A with Ashley Coffield 

President & CEO of Planned Parenthood Greater Memphis Region

The Affordable Care Act (ACA) giveth, and the Supreme Court taketh away. At least that's the case for women affected by the high court's June 30th ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods, both companies claiming that having to cover birth control in their employer health plans violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

The ACA mandated that employers with 50 or more employees cover preventative health-care, such mammographies, colorectal cancer screenings, flu vaccines, or birth control. Although some religious nonprofits were exempt from covering birth control, for-profit businesses were required to until last week.

The national Planned Parenthood organization fought to have birth control included with other preventative health-care under the ACA. Ashley Coffield took a few minutes to discuss the broader implications of the birth control ruling and other legal matters regarding women's reproductive health.

Flyer: can for-profit employers now deny coverage of other preventative services or just birth control?

Coffield: The Supreme Court ruling was really specific to what two contraceptives these two plaintiffs had a problem with. That was IUCs (intrauterine contraception) and emergency contraception. But I think anyone who reads [the ruling] realizes that this really opens the door to organizations with other religious objections to health-care services bringing complaints. That could include blood transfusions, vaccines, mental health care, or other types of contraception.

Can you talk a little more about specific forms of birth control in the Hobby Lobby case.

IUCs can be implanted in the uterus or in the arm. It provides hormonal birth control for many years. And the morning-after pill is like a high dose of birth control pills. You have a 72-hour window before the egg can be fertilized, so no fertilization takes place in either case. What is interesting to me is you can bring a religious objection to something that isn't scientifically factual. I can understand bringing a religious objection to something that actually was abortion, but this is not.

What will be the cost to women affected by this ruling?

Pills might cost $40 to $50 a month, maybe even higher. An IUC plus the insertion could be $1,200. That could be as much as a low-wage worker makes in a month. The point Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsberg made in her opinion was that high cost.

Can't birth control also be used for other health reasons?

Yes. Women of reproductive age who are being treated for cancer often have to take hormonal birth control for health reasons. And it treats endometriosis, ovarian cysts, and premenstrual pain. It regulates cycles. There are all kinds of reasons to use hormonal birth control.

The Supreme Court also recently struck down a buffer zone law in Massachusetts that kept anti-abortion protesters from getting too close to patients. Does that set a precedent for other states?

I think it does. There's a buffer zone law in Maine that may be called into question. In Colorado, there's a bubble that gives people personal space, and that may be called into question. In Tennessee, we do not have a buffer zone law. At Planned Parenthood, we have a natural buffer zone because we have a parking lot that surrounds our building, and protesters are not allowed on private property.

There seems to be a lot of blows to women's reproductive rights lately. Is there anything else of concern in the pipeline?

None of the hospital-admitting privileges cases [which require that doctors who perform abortions at clinics have such privileges], including in Alabama, Mississippi, Wisconsin, and Texas, are going to reach the Supreme Court in the near future. They are winding their way through the lower courts now. Considering the decisions they've made recently, the Supreme Court could uphold this type of law, and that would have disastrous consequences for abortion access in communities in which religiously affiliated hospitals refuse to offer privileges to physicians who perform abortions. Private hospitals that have no accountability to the community should not have this power over women's access to abortion.

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