One of the biggest concerns about President Donald Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh is how he could shift the balance of power on the court on matters involving reproductive rights. Given his hostile record on church-state separation and of allowing religious freedom to be misused as justification for discrimination, it’s a valid concern – and many women are stepping forward to explain why they oppose Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Several Americans United staff members and interns have shared personal stories about how Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court could be a detriment to their rights and church-state separation. Several of those stories, videos of which are available on AU’s social media platforms, involve access to birth control.
As we’ve previously noted, Kavanaugh, a judge on the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, has indicated he would have permitted a nonprofit to use religious beliefs to obstruct women’s access to birth control. His view was far from mainstream – his opinion was at odds with the opinions of eight of the nine federal appeals courts that heard similar challenges to the Affordable Care Act’s accommodation process for religiously affiliated nonprofits with objections to providing health insurance that included birth control coverage.
The likelihood that Kavanaugh on the Supreme Court would permit employers to cite religious beliefs as justification for discrimination is particularly concerning in light of the Trump Administration’s proposed new rules that would allow employers and universities to cite their religious beliefs to deny employees and students health insurance coverage for no-cost birth control. Several lawsuits have been filed to challenge the Trump rules, including Irish 4 Reproductive Health v. Department of Health and Human Services, which was filed in late June by Americans United and our allies. These cases could ultimately end up before the Supreme Court.
That’s why young women like Alexandra Willingham and Mackenzie Price – both summer interns at Americans United – shared their stories about how important their birth control is to them and why they fear Kavanaugh could interfere with that coverage, all in the name of religion.
Alexandra spoke of how she and her doctor determined an IUD was the best method of contraception for her. “After getting the IUD, I had some complications and needed a few follow-up procedures to make sure everything was okay,” Alexandra said. “Both the IUD and these follow-up procedures would have each cost thousands of dollars, but I was lucky because my insurer covered all of it.
“But there are employers and universities in this country that want to use their religious beliefs to deny access to contraception coverage to their employees and students, harming their health, their education and their careers,” she continued. “Brett Kavanaugh has previously supported using one's religious beliefs to deny contraception coverage and cases on this topic (could come) up before the Supreme Court.”
Mackenzie spoke of how she relies on birth control to treat her medical conditions: “Before I started using birth control, some days I was in so much pain, I had to stay home from work or from school, and my ability to have kids was being put in jeopardy.
“Luckily, I do have access to birth control, but some women with the exact same issue don't. And Brett Kavanaugh supported letting employers and universities use their religious beliefs to deny these women from access to contraceptive coverage,” Mackenzie said.
Also speaking out is Alicia Baker of Indiana, a seminary graduate who was a plaintiff in the first lawsuit Americans United and allies filed last fall against the Trump administration’s proposed birth control rules. When Alicia worked for a church, her insurance provider cited religious beliefs for denying birth control coverage. (AU and allies dismissed the suit after Alicia got a new job with insurance coverage that included birth control.)
In a recent op-ed in USA Today, Alicia explained how difficult it was to get an unexpected $1,200 bill for an IUD because her insurance provider refused to cover it.
“Instead of finalizing last-minute details in the days leading up to our wedding, I was fighting with my insurance company,” she wrote. “Because while I believed – and still believe – that no insurance company or employer should get to decide what’s best for my health, this wasn’t just about the principle. It was also about our family’s financial security. Because we were paying for our student loans and trying to save up for a down payment on a home, the unexpected bill caused us a lot of anxiety.
“Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the bench would shift the balance of the Supreme Court against women’s right to birth control at a time when pivotal cases concerning it will come before the court,” Alicia continued. “Because I’ve experienced firsthand what it’s like to struggle to afford the birth control my family needed, I know how important it is to make sure Judge Kavanaugh isn’t given the chance to sit on the Supreme Court.”
Alicia, Alexandra and Mackenzie are just three of countless Americans whose health care and rights could be infringed by Kavanaugh’s skewed view of religious freedom.
Kavanaugh is wrong on church-state separation and wrong for the U.S. Supreme Court. That’s why it is important for you to urge your senators to reject his confirmation. Religious freedom and church-state separation are on the line.