History of U.S. Laws That Negatively Impacted Opportunities for Women

And Now, 2014 SCOTUS Ruling In Hobby Lobby Denies Women Access To Birth Control

Many laws enacted between 1769 and 1981 were created to deny women certain rights and opportunities in life and in the workplace. Most of these laws have since been ruled unconstitutional, but it is important to know just how far women's rights in the workplace have come -- and how new laws continue to repress the rights of women.

Unfortunately, in June of 2014, the United States Supreme Court (SCOTUS) added one more law that denies equal rights for women. In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, SCOTUS rule 5-4 in favor of Hobby Lobby.  This ruling now allows for-profit employers to refuse to offer contraception coverage under Obamacare if they cite religious reasons for refusing coverage.

It should be noted that birth control pills, the most affordable means of contraception, are also used to treat serious health disorders suffered by millions of women including Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome  which now afflicts one in ten woman in the United States, as well as endometriosis, amenorrhea, severe cramps, severe acne, heavy bleeding, and premenstrual syndrome (PMS).

Justice Ruth Ginsburg dissented. Some of her noteworthy quotes why she feels so strongly this decision will have far-reaching impact, "...The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield," include the following:

"Approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be 'perceived as favoring one religion over another,' the very 'risk the [Constitution's] Establishment Clause was designed to preclude."

"Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community."

"The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would…deny legions of women who do not hold their employers' beliefs access to contraceptive coverage"

One of the main concerns over this decision is that employers may also be able to refuse to offer coverage for blood transfusions, medications used to treat depression, schizophrenia, and other mental health disorders. Medications derived from pigs may also be cause for claiming religious exemption for coverage and include anesthesia drugs, IV fluids, and pills coated with gelatin, an animal product. Even vaccinations are now susceptible for not being covered base on religious beliefs.

Another concern over the decision is that other religious organizations have been denied the right to deny certain medical coverage to employees based on religious beliefs, but those filed representing the beliefs of Catholics were upheld. This decision is now being criticized not as being in support of religious freedom, but in support of one particular religion.

1769 - Women Lose Autonomy in Marriage

National Women's Sufferage Association
Public Domain

In 1769 American colonies adopted English common law that established women as becoming one with their husbands when they married. Only the husband retained any legal rights once a woman entered into marriage. Once married, women cease to exist legally, and essentially become property of her husband. More

1777 - Voting Rights Abolished

In 1777, laws are passed by every state that prohibited all women from voting in elections. More

1866 - Rights of Voters and Citizens are Defined as Being Male

In 1866 Congress passed the 14th Amendment defining how state representatives will be appointed by the number of voters. The Amendment identifies “voters” and citizens” to be counted specifically as “male."

1873 - Women Barred From Practicing Law

The U.S. Supreme Court permits states to ban women from practicing law. Bradwell v. Illinois, 83 U.S. 130 (1872). Unfortunately, in 2014, female attorneys still fight to become partners and are paid less than male attorneys. The legal field, by and large, remains a male-dominated profession. More

1875 – Once Again, Voting Rights Are Denied to Women

In 1875, the U.S. Supreme Court declares women as persons, but as “non-voting citizens.” Minor v Happersett, 88 U.S. 162 (1875). This may have granted women some rights in marriage and other settings, but they still are denied the right to vote. More

1908 – Women’s Workdays Are Shorter Than Men’s

Implying that women are physically weaker than men, the U.S. Supreme Court rules in favor of Oregon laws that limited women to a 10-hour work day. Muller v State of Oregon, 208 U.S. 412 (1908) More

1924 – New York Waitresses Must Work Days

In 1924, laws are passed forbidding women to work the nightshift in restaurants and clubs except as women’s bathroom attendants, or as entertainers. Radice v. New York. More

1932 – A Law to Force Women Out of Government Jobs

In 1932, The National Recovery Act was enacted. The law forbid more than one family member from holding a government job. This law was effective in removing women from the workplace who filled in many jobs while men were fighting in WW II. As men returned to government jobs, women were ousted.

1981 – Women Cannot be Drafted

In 1981, The U.S. Supreme Court ruled that excluding women from the draft is constitutional. More

2014 - Women Denied Access To Birth Control Pills

In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, SCOTUS rule 5-4 in favor of Hobby Lobby.  This ruling now allows for-profit employers to refuse to offer contraception coverage under Obamacare if they cite religious reasons for refusing coverage.

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