Big news out of the Supreme Court this week. What does it mean for women?

The United States Supreme Court holds immense power to shape the legal landscape of our country. The court has made landmark decisions Just this week, they handed down three major decisions, all of which will have disproportionately harmful impacts on women. Here’s a breakdown of the three decisions and what they mean:

NIFLA v. Becerra: This case took on crisis pregnancy centers (CPCs), anti-choice facilities typically religiously affiliated, which have been established throughout the country to counsel pregnant women on abortion. These centers – which pose as women’s health clinics and often refer to themselves as “pregnancy resource centers” – are a serious threat to women seeking comprehensive health care information and services. In reality, CPCs are not actually licensed or regulated healthcare clinics, do not provide reproductive healthcare services, and  have a history of providing misleading, false, and medically inaccurate information about abortion to pregnant women seeking information about their options.  They will not refer women to an abortion provider  – even if that is what the woman wants.

NIFLA v. Beccerra challenged a California law known as Reproductive FACT (Freedom, Accountability, Comprehensive Care, and Transparency), which was passed in response to a rise in CPCs in the state. The law required licensed clinics to post information about free and low cost abortion as an alternative option, and the state agencies who could connect women to providers. Unlicensed clinics were required to post a notice stating that they were not licensed medical providers.

The court ruled 5-4 in favor of the National Institute of Family and Life Advocates, upholding the challenge to the FACT Act. Citing free speech, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of NIFLA and stated that clinics can not be required to post notices offering comprehensive information if it is information that goes against their beliefs. Yet, as Justice Breyer noted in his dissent, “if a State can lawfully require a doctor to tell a woman seeking an abortion about adoption services, why should it not be able, as here, to require a medical counselor to tell a woman seeking prenatal care or other reproductive healthcare about childbirth and abortion services?”

The Court ruling in favor of NIFLA is an irresponsible threat to the health of pregnant women. Women need and deserve to know the truth about their health care in order to make fully informed decisions, and they need to know whether or not they are receiving licensed medical help. An uninformed pregnancy is a potentially dangerous one. Allowing health care providers to withhold information – or provide false, medically inaccurate information –  from women under the guise of “free speech” sets a dangerous precedent. It undervalues women and their safety, and leaves vulnerable women at risk of misinformation campaigns. [More information]

Trump v. Hawaii: The justices ruled 5-4 in favor of upholding the Trump administration’s argument in Trump v. Hawaii, the case also known as the “travel ban”. The ban applies to seven countries: Iran, North Korea, Yemen, Syria, Libya, Somalia, & Venezuela. Multiple versions of the ban have been challenged in courts after the President’s language suggested the ban was intended prevent residents of Muslim-majority countries from entering the United States, not to protect national security. The Court ruled without regarding the context of the President’s comments, but the ban will discriminately target Muslim’s and legitimize discrimination in immigration processes.

The travel ban goes even farther than furthering xenophobia and religious discrimination. The ban will disproportionately harm women and families, particularly those who already at risk in conflict zones or facing gender based violence. Despite the fact that fear-based discussions frame refugees as threats, women and children make up three quarters of Syrian refugees to the US and the majority of refugees admitted to the US. Women and children already make up the majority of those fleeing conflict zones and seeking refuge in the United States. They also face gender-based violence in many countries, which is exacerbated by conflict and in refugee camps. Immigrants and refugees are less likely to commit crimes than people born here, and they play a key role in supporting the US economy. Banning refugees threatens women and children fleeing conflict because of inaccurate stereotypes, endangering the most vulnerable in a false pursuit of national security.

The ban also separates family members living in both the United States and the countries included in the ban. Many fear traveling, even for a family emergency or to visit relatives, should they be barred from re-entry. This doesn’t protect US National security interests – it makes broad generalizations about countries with Muslim majorities and uses families as political pawns. [Read more]

Janus v. AFSCME: The court ruled 5-4 against the AFSCME and public sector labor unions. The unions are legally required to advocate for all employees, regardless of their membership status in the union. This Court ruled that law cannot require non-union members to pay a fee to support collective bargaining efforts. This threatens the ability of unions to effectively advocate for workers rights and bargain with their employers. If non-union members have no accountability to pay their fair share for collective bargaining, they are essentially benefiting from the work of unions at no cost.

The Janus decision hurts the safety and economic potential of women, specifically women of color. Research from the Economic Policy Institute shows that black women make up the highest percentage of public sector employees, women who are already facing racial and gender pay disparities. Women as a whole face a pay gap compared to their male counterparts, and any decision that threatens their ability to bargain with their employers only exacerbates the issue.

Women make up the majority of union-represented public sector workers, committing to helping the public in jobs like nursing, teaching, and other public services. They benefit from advocacy for policies like transparent wages and paid leave, and they stand to lose the most from threats to union organizing. The ability of women to bargain for better working conditions and fair wages is essential to their economic security and that of their families. Janus leaves women more vulnerable to exploitation and discrimination in the workplace and infringes on their ability to organize democratically. [Read more]

After these case decisions were announced, we were hit with more big news from the Supreme Court: Justice Anthony Kennedy is retiring from the court. President Trump will have the opportunity to appoint a new Justice – and he made a campaign promise to only appoint justices who will overturn Roe v. Wade. That means all of our rights are on the line. 

Justice Kennedy has been a swing vote on a number of critically important cases, such as the landmark case that guaranteed the freedom to marry for LGBTQ people and a case that reaffirmed the right to abortion. Call the Capitol Switchboard at (202) 224-3121 to contact Senators Brown and Portman, and urge them to oppose any nominations that stands against reproductive rights, labor rights, and immigration rights.