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Research

The Real World Effects of Reproductive Rights Decisions

By Lee Ivory

SPA Associate Dean Jessica Waters, left, and Ph.D. Student Leandra Carrasco, right

SPA Associate Dean Jessica Waters, left, and Ph.D. Student Leandra Carrasco, right

An article by Jessica Waters, associate dean of the School of Public Affairs (SPA), and Ph.D. student Leandra Carrasco was published in the latest issue of the Yale Journal of Law and Feminism.

Titled "Untangling the Reproductive Rights and Religious Liberty Knot," the article explores how courts in several pregnancy-discrimination cases sided with employers over the civil rights of employees.

Waters and Carrasco connect their analysis to the recent Hobby Lobby case, in which the Supreme Court, in a 5-4 decision, ruled that for-profit corporations with sincerely held religious beliefs do not have to provide a full range of contraceptives at no cost to their employees via the Affordable Care Act—commonly known as Obamacare.

The case also involved Conestoga, a cabinet-making company, which had challenged the so-called contraceptive mandate. Conestoga and Hobby Lobby claimed the mandate forced them to either violate their faith or pay ruinous fines.

"Using employment-law context, I looked at religiously based schools and the question of whether they can, for example, fire a woman who is pregnant out of wedlock, because being pregnant out of wedlock is a contradiction to the school's values or religious beliefs," Waters said.

The outcome of the Hobby Lobby case could impact millions of working women across the country.

"If courts recognize religious liberty for an organization, like a religious school, how far does that trickle down? Are employees bound by their employers' religious beliefs?" Waters asked. "The article looked at real world implications. It's one thing to look at a Supreme Court decision about a contraceptive mandate in Obamacare and it's another thing to look at actual cases and look at a woman who was fired for being pregnant, which is what our article did."