Who Knew? Hobby Lobby Is a Person

Five years ago this week, on June 30, 2014, for the first time in the history of the United States, the Supreme Court ruled that some for-profit corporations could, like human beings, exercise religious beliefs and exempt themselves from general laws that violate those beliefs. Five justices bestowed upon a handful of business owners the right to deny thousands of their employees the contraception method of their choice otherwise guaranteed under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Guess who performed this legal baptism?

The Hobby Lobby majority quintet: Justices Thomas, Roberts, Alito, Kennedy, and Scalia. Source: Media Matters, June 30, 2014

Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority quintet. His rationale seemed to be:

  • The statute at issue, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), doesn’t specifically exclude for-profit corporations as protected “persons” who collectively exercise religion and deserve exemption from laws, so the court relies on the legal Dictionary Act, which states: “In determining the meaning of any Act of Congress, unless the context indicates otherwise … the words ‘person’ and ‘whoever’ include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals.”
  • Religious exemption requests are taken at face value — without regard for actual scientific evidence. In the Hobby Lobby case, the religious exemption was requested based on the claim that some forms of contraception are infanticide (Plan B, ella, and IUDs). (Such claims are false. Per the Guttmacher Institute, “The weight of the evidence clearly shows that emergency contraceptives and IUDs are not abortifacients.”)
  • The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has not implemented a legally acceptable accommodation for for-profit corporations (our new “persons”). Alito suggested a workaround that the government provide these women contraceptives (with tax dollars) instead. (Subsequent to the decision, an HHS accommodation was reached to allow these closely held, for-profit corporations to use the same opt-out procedure allowed for entities operated by religious groups — e.g., universities, hospitals, and charities).
  • This is a narrow decision that won’t open the floodgates of other religious objections to other laws. (More on this later.)

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STD Awareness: Trichomoniasis, the Pear-Shaped, Blood-Sucking, Silent Scourge

What’s shaped like a pear, hangs with a posse of bacteria, and is a silent scourge upon millions of urogenital tracts? I hope you guessed Trichomonas vaginalis, the single-celled parasite that causes trichomoniasis, or trich (pronounced “trick”). Trich is the most common curable sexually transmitted disease out there — currently afflicting around 3.7 million Americans and 156 million Earthlings.


These single-celled creatures pack a punch, but the body fights back.


When trich causes symptoms, sufferers might experience vaginal discharge (which sometimes has a bad odor), penile burning or discharge, spotting, and itching or swelling in the genital area. But around 70 percent of infections have no symptoms at all, making it a mostly “silent” disease. Based on the totality of the evidence, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) doesn’t currently recommend routine screening for trich in people without symptoms.

But it’s the subject of some debate. Since both symptoms and screenings are rare, and the disease isn’t reportable, some health experts worry that trich could be doing a lot of damage right under our noses. An infection during pregnancy could increase risk for preterm labor or low birth weight. It can increase risk for both acquiring and transmitting HIV from or to a partner. Women with trich are more likely to acquire an HIV infection when sexually exposed to the virus — in fact, one study estimated that 6.2 percent of all HIV infections among U.S. women could be attributed to trich. It’s also easier to catch HIV from a man with trich than from a man without trich. Continue reading

The Gag Rule and the Abortion Bans Explained, and What You Can Do to Fight Back

The following post comes to us via Ava Budavari-Glenn, a political communications major and a nonprofit communications minor who is entering her sophomore year at Emerson College. She is a writer whose work focuses mainly on advocacy, and a community organizer who has worked for nonprofit organizations and political campaigns. She is a media and communications intern at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.

Reproductive health has been under attack in the United States for decades, and this administration is no exception. Especially within the past few months, both national and state governments have taken definitive steps to take away bodily autonomy from those who can get pregnant. Title X funding and legal abortion are both essential aspects of reproductive health care in this country, but several states have made attempts to effectively ban abortion, and the Trump administration has attempted to place restrictions on Title X funding. Although Title X is only used to fund birth control, not abortion care, the two issues are connected, as hostility toward abortion and hostility toward birth control both come from the same place.


Access to reliable birth control prevents abortion. So why is it being restricted?


Title X is a program that was passed by Congress in 1970 that provides federal funding for birth control and other reproductive services to low-income families who otherwise could not afford them. These lifesaving services include birth control, cancer screenings, wellness exams, and STD testing and treatment. Approximately 33 percent of recipients are Hispanic/Latinx, and 21 percent are black/African American. Thanks to Title X funding, in 2016, health centers provided more than 4 million STD tests, 1 million breast exams, and 720,000 Pap tests.

The gag rule that the Trump administration has issued would prevent doctors from telling women how to access abortion, prevent Planned Parenthood from providing Title X-subsidized birth control to eligible patients, and prevent health-care professionals from giving women complete and accurate information about their sexual and reproductive health. It would impose strict and unnecessary requirements on the separation of Title X-related services and abortion services. It prevents doctors from giving abortion referrals, which discourages comprehensive reproductive health centers such as Planned Parenthood from offering counseling and referrals, while encouraging the same from inadequate resources such as crisis pregnancy centers, which shame women and do not provide accurate medical information. Low-income people using Title X shouldn’t have their health care compromised by politicians playing doctor. They should receive the same high-quality care as anyone else. Continue reading

Being a Parent of a Gender-fluid Youth

My child, assigned female at birth, is discovering who they are. They have been gay, straight, pansexual, and everything in between. They have been male, female, both, and neither. They go by both their given name and the name they chose for themselves as a male.

They use the men’s restroom in public and have a “boy” haircut, but still love flowy dresses they can twirl and feel pretty in. They bind their breasts when they feel like a boy, but wear a basic bra when they feel like a girl. They don’t wear a bikini to the pool, but rather a swim shirt and trunks to feel the most comfortable in their skin.


“I am incredibly proud of the person my child is becoming and look forward to all the things they will accomplish.”


Since they now identify as both genders, but more often male, they chose the label gender-fluid. Gender-fluid means “denoting or relating to a person who does not identify themselves as having a fixed gender,” as from the Google dictionary.

Even though they now fit into one of the many labels available to them, it has been hard for me to accept the loss of my little girl. I have felt confusion and fear, sometimes so strangulating I fight back tears. Confusion as to whether I did something wrong in their younger years, or if there was something I could have done better to help them accept the gender they were born in. As I’ve had time to reflect, it has become apparent to me that my confusion came from a place of misunderstanding. An ignorance of how gender expression can be more than just male or female; that androgyny is an expression of gender as well, and there are many ways to explore gender other than simply what I grew up to accept. I have come to understand my child and I are on a path of self-discovery together, learning and growing into more well-rounded people as a result. Continue reading

National HIV Testing Day: A Time to Empower Yourself and Get Tested

The following post comes to us via Ava Budavari-Glenn, a political communications major and a nonprofit communications minor who is entering her sophomore year at Emerson College. She is a writer whose work focuses mainly on advocacy, and a community organizer who has worked for nonprofit organizations and political campaigns. She is a media and communications intern at Planned Parenthood Advocates of Arizona.

It was the 1980s. All of a sudden, seemingly out of nowhere, thousands and thousands of people were dying from an illness that had never been seen before. The diagnosis was a death sentence. As soon as you had it, you would die painfully and quickly. The disease was AIDS, caused by a virus called HIV.

In the United States, this disease ravaged the LGBTQ community; gay and bisexual men were the hardest hit. The Reagan administration failed to acknowledge the disease, until Ronald Reagan’s press secretary laughed about it and called it the “gay plague.” Tired of the government’s inaction, the people decided to take matters into their own hands and formed the grassroots organization ACT UP (AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power) in 1987.


With modern medical treatment, people with HIV can live pretty normal lives.


They protested, made targeted demands, and created poster campaigns. They formed a network of community organizers in cities across the country, and employed radical protest strategies, such as the AIDS Memorial Quilt, which covered the National Mall with names of people who had died from the disease. They focused their targeted efforts on specific politicians, as well as the Food and Drug Administration and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They did such an extensive amount of research that the activists essentially became scientists themselves. They were able to lower drug prices and get the FDA to approve experimental drugs for HIV at a quicker pace. They educated, diminished social stigma, and perhaps most important, supported medical advances that reduced AIDS-related deaths.

And finally, in 1996, scientists discovered the treatment that turned HIV from a death sentence to a chronic illness. Finally, after 15 years of tragic deaths, obsessive scientific research, and fiery activism, patients could live long and happy lives with a drug “cocktail” that could suppress the virus. Continue reading

A Gentle, Compassionate Man: Remembering Dr. George Tiller

Dr. Tiller’s memory is honored at a vigil in San Francisco, June 1, 2009. Photo: Steve Rhodes

Ten years ago this week, Dr. George Tiller was murdered in church on Sunday morning, May 31, 2009. Since the the Supreme Court’s 2014 ruling in McCullen v. Coakley, which ended buffer zones at abortion clinics, violence in the anti-abortion movement has increased, as has racist violence, since the 2016 election. Leaders of what became the Christian right first mobilized their congregants to political action after private Christian schools were forced to integrate or lose tax-exempt status, and abortion was chosen by these leaders as the issue to keep their followers politically involved.


People who know nothing about the complex medical and personal needs that lead to late abortions tell stories that sow mass hysteria among abortion opponents.


When I volunteered to write something commemorating this sad anniversary, I was thinking of the connection between racism and the religious right, and of recent murders in churches, synagogues, and mosques. In this political moment, with the religious right passing flagrantly unconstitutional laws against abortion to get a case to the Supreme Court that would overturn Roe v. Wade, with the government itself stepping up violence against minorities and women, revisiting Dr. Tiller’s assassination seemed more crucial than ever.

But the more I learned about Dr. Tiller, the more I was captivated by the man and the doctor, by his essential decency and kindness, his commitment to his patients, and the way those who knew him felt about him. So, rather than a political argument, this post will be a tribute to Dr. George Tiller, using his own words and the words of those who knew and worked with him. Continue reading

Falling Short: Sexual Health and LGBTQ+ Youth

This guest post comes from the Planned Parenthood Arizona Education Team’s Casey Scott-Mitchell, who serves as the community education & training coordinator at Planned Parenthood Arizona.

We know most young people in Arizona are not getting sex education in their schools — or if they are, it is often abstinence-only, not fact-based, and not inclusive of all students’ identities. Comprehensive sex education programs do a better job of approaching sexuality from a more holistic perspective covering a range of topics such as STDs, relationships, birth control methods, reproductive anatomy, and abstinence, at an age-appropriate level and utilizing fact-based information. Additionally, comprehensive programs are often more inclusive of students’ identities — specifically various gender identities and sexual orientations.


Schools should be responsible for educating all students about keeping themselves healthy.


However, even with comprehensive sex ed, we often fall short of inclusivity when addressing topics of pregnancy prevention and choices, healthy relationships, and sexual health.

As educators and providers of sexuality information to young people, when we talk about pregnancy we often slip into language that assumes (heterosexual and cisgender) identities, which leaves many folks out of the conversation. We all have a gender identity, a sexual orientation, and sexual behaviors that we engage in — sometimes those pieces line up in a way that is “predictable,” but oftentimes, they don’t.

For example, in working with a student who is a cisgender girl, how often are we going to automatically assume she is attracted to boys, and that she will then be having vaginal/penile sex and therefore be at risk for unintended pregnancy? The answer is often. Continue reading