On the same day that the U.S. Supreme Court justices heard oral arguments about employer-covered birth control, some in Santa Barbara weighed in on the debate Tuesday, with several dozen of those opposed to limiting contraception to women gathering outside the courthouse.
Those gathered were keeping close tabs on the arguments in the case brought forward by two companies that maintain they should be exempt from covering certain types of contraceptives they say cause early abortions.
Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma-based craft store chain, and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., a Pennsylvania cabinet maker, have argued they should not have to pay for employees to use IUDs or morning-after pills because of the religious convictions of their owners.
Hobby Lobby and supporters maintain that the four kinds of birth control they are fighting against providing coverage for cause abortions by not allowing a fertilized egg to implant in a woman's uterus, while productive rights groups contend that the drugs prevent fertilization and unwanted pregnancies.
Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor opined that granting Hobby Lobby's objections would pave the way for companies to opt out of covering other procedures based on their beliefs, such as blood transfusions or vaccines. More conservative voices, like that of Justice Antonin Scalia, argued that for-profit corporations shouldn't be barred from making freedom of religion claims and the government could still provide access to those contraceptives in a way that is less restrictive to businesses.
On Tuesday during the lunch hour in downtown Santa Barbara, about 40 people gathered to voice their opposition to Hobby Lobby's case.
The Planned Parenthood Action Fund, the Santa Barbara Pro-Choice Coalition, Democratic Women and the Women's Political Committee all had a presence at the demonstration. Santa Barbara Councilman Gregg Hart and Councilwoman Cathy Murillo were also there to issue support.
Wearing a bright pink Planned Parenthood T-shirt nearby was Gina Fischer, who works as director of public affairs for Planned Parenthood of Santa Barbara, Ventura & San Luis Obispo Counties. Fischer said passersby had issued a good response to their signs, many of which were homemade, and that many drivers had been honking in support as they passed by in their vehicles.
Fischer said that the five Planned Parenthood clinics in the three counties saw 74,102 visits by 36,806 patients in the last fiscal year, the majority of which were seeking birth control and/or testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections.
Fischer said Planned Parenthood had a "huge contingency" at the presentations before the Supreme Court on Tuesday.
"This is about birth control," she said, and Tuesday's local event was "an opportunity to remind people what's at stake. Most logical people support birth control and access to that."
She said private, religious institutions, such as Catholic universities, have already been granted exemptions from the contraceptive portion of the law, and allowing for-profit companies to opt out would discriminate against women.
Stephanie Langsdorf, chairwoman of the Pro-Choice Coalition, was on hand and said she was out during the lunch break to express "solidarity, just to say that we stand up for reproductive rights."
"Health-care decisions are best left up to doctors and patients. Corporations really have no place in that decision. It's a dangerous precedent to set," she said, adding that corporations could choose to opt out of other health-care decisions in the future.
Other locals disagreed, however, including Betsy Gray, director of Network Medical, a nonprofit that offers ultrasounds, counseling and medical care to women in unplanned pregnancies.
Gray said that Tuesday's rally was "ill-conceived" and that the Supreme Court case wasn't about birth control or preventive health care, but about government taking away the religious liberty of private-sector businesses.
"There are 20 FDA-approved birth control methods on the market today. Hobby Lobby only disagrees on four of them," she said, adding that "those four can end a human life."
Gray said Planned Parenthood and pharmaceutical companies would profit from a decision against the companies, and that the debate is not about health care but about government involvement.
The Supreme Court is expected to reach a decision on the issue by this summer.