On Oct. 27, Justice Clarence Thomas swore in Amy Coney Barrett as only the fifth woman to become a Supreme Court justice. Barrett’s addition to the court gives the institution its first conservative majority since the 1930s, but it is also ushering in a new era for SCOTUS. While it is unclear how Barrett will rule on issues, especially with the current case dealing with the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and others, her confirmation is leaving many things hanging in the balance. Barrett’s confirmation was met with opposition from the left, given her previous viewpoints surrounding reproductive rights, LGBTQ+ rights, health care, HIV research, and other pressing issues. Moreover, Barrett has spent a career chipping away at these issues, both professionally and personally.
Barrett’s deeply religious viewpoints have carried over into her political life. Using religion as the basis of a political viewpoint is incredibly problematic and does not leave much room for exceptions, which is true of Barrett’s religious beliefs. In 2006, she added her name to an advertisement calling for abortion rights to be overturned, and she refused to answer questions on Roe v. Wade during her confirmation hearings. She also offended the LGBTQ+ community and advocates when, in front of the Senate Confirmation Committee, Barrett used the term “sexual preference” when referencing the 2015 case Obergefell v. Hodges, which granted the right to same-sex marriage. Her use of the phrase alarmed many within the LGBTQ+ community and also called into question her lack of understanding and sensitivity when miscategorizing sexual identity as a choice.
This lack of sensitivity signaled to many that Barrett regards sexual preference as a choice, which is simply not the reality for LGBTQ+ individuals and has been rejected by the queer and medical communities for decades.
As a former Notre Dame law professor, Barrett was a member of University Faculty for Life, a group that had ties to a South Bend, Indiana, clinic “that has been criticised for misleading vulnerable women who were seeking abortions and pressuring them to keep their pregnancies,” according to The Guardian. This is another example of how Barrett’s religious viewpoints have carried over into her social stances in a way that has wrongly impacted a vulnerable social group. Barrett’s participation in both of these situations showcases her inability to separate out her religious ties from the social and political choices she engages in, leading many to question how this will play out in her new role as a Supreme Court justice.
These instances are alarming, and at 48 years old, Barrett is the youngest of the justices to sit on the bench, meaning she may shape rulings for several decades to come. Her confirmation will likely change the larger sociopolitical landscape of America. Her age, combined with her religious conservative views, are making many on the left side of the aisle, including myself, nervous for the future of SCOTUS.
Barrett’s rulings could affect health care access, abortion rights, and other critical issues, while having a trickle-down effect and impacting funding to organizations such as Planned Parenthood, further polarizing the debate surrounding the pro-choice movement as well as HIV research and funding. The timing of Barrett’s confirmation as well as her being pushed through the confirmation process was done both to sway the court’s majority and to have her on the bench in time to hear arguments on the ACA on Nov. 10.
While the Trump administration has managed to gut a large portion of the ACA, the law has nonetheless allowed 20 million Americans to obtain health insurance coverage since its inception in 2010.
In Trump’s State of the Union address in February 2019, he pledged to end the HIV epidemic by 2030. The initiative, titled, “Ending the HIV Epidemic: A Plan for America,” allocated $267 million in new federal spending that same year, with a large amount set aside to concentrate on areas across the U.S. where HIV transmission rates were growing. This plan also relies on elements of the ACA. One of the main goals of the Trump plan is to make antiretroviral medications more readily available, because these medications help to stop transmission rates.
In the past eight years, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), a daily antiretroviral medication taken by HIV-negative individuals to prevent HIV, has helped to reduce the spread of HIV, particularly among gay and bisexual men. They are among the largest group that takes PrEP, and they also account for seven in 10 new infections. In an effort to fund the cost of the high price tag of antiretroviral drugs, which is roughly $39,000 per year per patient, the ACA expanded its insurance coverage to fund this, which is a linchpin of the Trump plan.
Medicaid also expanded its coverage to include the cost of PrEP and HIV testing, in an effort to curb the spread of HIV. These efforts have made a big difference in helping to prevent HIV, while also getting people access to things they did not previously have. However, the COVID-19 pandemic has created challenges for getting people’s PrEP prescriptions refilled, as well as other medications, and HIV preventative measures have been impacted. Medical officials are still unsure what the overall effects will be long-term due to the pandemic.
When it comes to the spread of HIV, it still disproportionately affects some of the most marginalized portions of the populations in the U.S., particularly those in Black and Latinx communities. African Americans make up 42% (16,055) of HIV diagnoses and only 13% of the population. When looking at the LGBTQ+ community, these numbers are even more shocking. Black gay and bisexual men account for 26% of new HIV diagnoses in the U.S.
If the Supreme Court rules to take down the ACA, then the Trump plan is essentially dead in the water—and Barrett’s potential vote plays a huge role in this. Barrett’s views could very much inform her vote on this, which directly affects HIV insurance coverage, as well as reproductive health issues. For decades conservatives have been trying to chip away at Roe v. Wade, the 1973 landmark case that granted women access to safe and legal abortions. And now many things are hanging in the balance with the court’s new conservative majority.
Having access to affordable and safe abortion services and insurance is essential, especially for people who are the most vulnerable portions of the population. This includes a large segment of the LGBTQ+ community, who need access to mental health services, health care, and sexual and reproductive health services. As an alternative to the health insurance machine, for decades many people have sought out the services at Planned Parenthood. Planned Parenthood and similar organizations offer sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing, OB/GYN checkups, and access to contraceptives, as well as providing counseling services and educational resources surrounding HIV. They cater to some of the most disenfranchised portions of the population throughout the U.S.
In my early 20s, Planned Parenthood is where I would go to receive my yearly GYN checkup. I was also able to obtain affordable birth-control options, as well as STI testing, in a judgment-free space. I was able access to safe and reliable health care, and these experiences empowered me to think about my sexual and reproductive health in a new way while also considering how my mental wellness was tied to this. If I had not had that option, I would have likely paid thousands of dollars in medical bills and would be in debt over routine, yearly procedures. This is many people’s reality today, both in terms of routine procedures and also those who have preexisting conditions—and this should not be the case.
Health care and having access to reproductive and sexual health services, including abortion, are universal and human rights. Health coverage is incredibly important, and while the future of the ACA and other initiatives that are tied to it are still uncertain, Americans are breathing a sigh of relief given the recent election results. Given President-elect Joe Biden’s stance on the ACA and his public pledge to protect it, things seem to be moving in the right direction. However, with Barrett on the court, she will remain a conservative roadblock to the progress Biden wants for the LBGTQ+ community and beyond.