Beyond Birth Control: This is About Workers’ Rights

(note: I tried my best in this piece to use gender-neutral language when talking about pregnant people, respecting that some transmen become pregnant.)

{Photo: Thigh tattoo- bouquet of red/orange roses and wheat, wrapped in a newspaper, with a banner that says "Lowell Offering"}

{Photo: Thigh tattoo- bouquet of red/orange roses and wheat, wrapped in a newspaper, with a banner that says “Lowell Offering”}

I went to college in Lowell, Massachusetts- the birthplace of the American industrial revolution, about 45 minutes drive from where I grew up. As a child, I loved going to the Lowell National Historical Park, and even went to “Boott Camp” a few summers, where I first became interested in Gender Studies. It is, in many ways, the roots of my feminist and workers’ rights beliefs, and it’s no wonder why UMass Lowell has a great research Center for Women and Work.

Lawrence is just down the Merrimack River from Lowell. Lawrence is famous for its 1912 Bread and Roses Strike, named after the poem by James Oppenheim, which partly inspired the tattoo above (along with The Lowell Offering, which was published by mill workers and is theorized to have possibly inspired Charles Dickens’ classic A Christmas Carol). A few years after the strike, my great-grandmother worked in those mills. And just this week, I read in an adorable Margaret Sanger biography that Sanger had helped as a nurse during Bread and Roses. She even got her political start testifying before congress about these conditions. So, it’s not just me, thinking about birth control on those streets. Birth control renegades have been at the core of workers’ rights for over 100 years.

Oral arguments were heard in Sibelius v. Hobby Lobby yesterday, which concerns employers and the Affordable Care Act’s $0 copay birth control mandate. I spent yesterday morning protesting (in the snow!) with many other activists in front of the Supreme Court building.

Here’s a picture of me at the rally, with Pillamina, a Planned Parenthood mascot of Romney-campaign-following fame:


{photo: a woman dressed a pack of birth control pills with a Planned Parenthood logo hat poses for a photo with author of this blog, in the snow, bundled for the cold.}

Of course, any rally with “birth control” in the title can usually get me out of bed early on a snow day. But here’s the thing. The Hobby Lobby may be about birth control at face value, but it isn’t just about birth control. Hobby Lobby is a corporation that employs 21,000 people seeking to impose its religious beliefs about contraception on others, by dictating how employees spend their money, or their premiums on plans that do not cover contraception.This may also violate these 21,000 employees’ religious beliefs, as 47 nationally-recognized religions stated access to contraception is a moral good, including mine, which passed this resolution in the 80s.


If the court rules in Hobby Lobby’s favor, the results could go far beyond people paying copays on their contraception. Many religions are morally opposed to vaccines- and workplaces especially need those herd immunities. Blood transfusions also may not be covered because of an employer’s beliefs. Furthermore, other employment laws may come into question. Many experts fear anti-gay discrimination could be ruled constitutional.

It’s hard to say exactly how far the workers-oppression-rabbit-hole would go, but I think it is certainly an interesting coincidence that the oral arguments were heard on the 103rd anniversary of the Triangle Shirtwaist Factory fire, which inspired much the workers’ rights legislation over the last 100 years, and we still have work to do there, too. While one is an issue of day-to-day safety and the other an issue of how a worker lives their life outside of the workplace, the core issue for both is respecting each worker’s inherent worth and dignity as a person. That sure sounds like a moral value to me. Oh wait, that’s the 1st Principle of my religion.

I hope that the Supreme Court takes this anniversary seriously and stands on the side of workers.


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