The issue of birth control is particularly important to me as a woman of color from an immigrant community in Pennsylvania. Beyond my own experience, I also understand the difficulties other marginalized communities face in obtaining this essential health care.
The first time I sought birth control, the provider lectured me based on stereotypes she had of people from my “culture.” She also insisted repeatedly that I choose a birth control method which I was not comfortable with because it was more effective. She even went as far as to say she would withhold a prescription for the method I preferred due to her beliefs. While this experience was patronizing and dehumanizing, I also realized that someone like me still had a lot of privilege — I am fluent in English, I didn’t have to hide my decision from anyone at home and I had insurance.
Birth control has allowed me to shape my life on my terms. As an adolescent, birth control helped me manage migraines that had previously led to my missing school once a month. As an adult, birth control has allowed me to easily and effectively manage my reproductive life and decisions so that I am able to lead the life that I most desire and that makes the most sense for me.
My own experiences as a young person initially being denied the birth control that I needed to consistently attend school showed me just how wrong it is not only to deny people like me access but also why everyone should be able to get birth control without unnecessary obstacles.
This is why I was honored to be able to appear as co-counsel on an amicus brief to the Supreme Court on a recent case the court heard related to birth control which has its origins in my home state. The case in question involves two consolidated cases — Trump v. Pennsylvania and Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania. The cases concern the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive mandate, a part of the law that allowed for coverage of contraception without cost-sharing, which meant that many people could obtain contraception without out-of-pocket costs through their insurance.
Pennsylvania is party to the case — arguing against the rule that would make birth control more inaccessible. Not only was I born and raised in Pennsylvania, I also attended law school and graduate school here. My parents moved to Philadelphia when they first came to the United States, and Pennsylvania was the first place that made my family Americans. I’m deeply proud to be a Pennsylvanian. While I know that our state is often politically divided, I also know that fighting for contraception is what is right for both Pennsylvanians and for all Americans who will be impacted by this case.
The case builds on a previous Supreme Court decision, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., which allowed employers with sincerely held religious beliefs to opt out of providing this coverage for contraception despite the mandate. In 2018, the Trump administration took this exemption a step further by issuing a final rule that expanded which types of employers could obtain exemptions. The rule also expanded the categories of exemptions to include not just sincerely held religious beliefs but also “moral” exemptions.
Currently, 61.4 million women get birth control through their insurance with no out-of-pocket costs. Justice Sonia Sotomayor pointed out during oral arguments that the Trump administration is downplaying the impact the rule would have by “calling it a small number of women who won’t get coverage,” even though anywhere from 75,000 to 125,000 women could lose their coverage for birth control if it goes into effect. The rule not only makes contraception more inaccessible, it also seeks to control the autonomy and lives of many people. As our amicus brief argues, this is particularly true for people of color and people with lower incomes, who have historically been denied reproductive autonomy.
Coming from a family and community in which my elders’ reproductive lives were often defined by war, violence and immigration policy, having control over my reproductive life has always been vital to me. It has allowed me to surpass the dreams my family and community had for me when they first began calling the U.S. and Pennsylvania home. It is the reason that, as an attorney, I am able to contribute to the fight to ensure birth control is not denied to so many people.
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