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The Resolve: Supreme Court Decisions and their Impact on Survivors

July 16, 2020

The Resolve is NNEDV’s newsletter focused on policy from the perspective of the domestic violence field. Through The Resolve we are able to update you about how your actions directly influence what happens on Capitol Hill and its impact on survivors and advocates. Check out a recent issue of The Resolve below and sign up for the newsletter.

It has been a noteworthy year at the United States Supreme Court, with critically important challenges – from workplace protections to healthcare coverage – making their way to the Court. Over the last few weeks, the Court issued several decisions on cases that impact the lives of survivors and advocates across the country. In this issue of The Resolve, we discuss four of those important decisions and their connections to our work of ending domestic violence. We will discuss the groundbreaking victories to celebrate and the losses that will take our collective action to rectify for future generations. 

Upholding Protections for LGBTQ Employees
Bostock v. Clayton County, GA; Altitude Express Inc. v. Zarda; R.G. & G.R. Harris Funeral Homes Inc. v. EEOC

In these combined cases, the Supreme Court issued a landmark 6-3 decision holding that an employer who fires an individual for their gender identity or sexual orientation violates Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964. This groundbreaking decision provides uniform, nationwide employment protections for millions of LGBTQ workers in the United States. Now, LGBTQ workers will not have to worry about being fired or discriminated against at work for who they are or who they love. Having employment protections is a crucial economic justice victory for LGBTQ people and especially for LGBTQ survivors.

According to one study, about 20% of LGBTQ workers report experiencing discrimination based on their sexual orientation or gender identity when seeking employment and 22% when being paid equally or considered for promotion, making it harder to gain or keep employment. LGBTQ survivors also face the threat of outing from their perpetrators, making employment even more tenuous and the need for employment discrimination protections that much more important. Adding to the economic impact that the lack of employment protections presents, LGBTQ survivors may also be victims of financial abuse, a common tactic used by abusers to maintain control over victims, which often has a long-term impact on security and safety. Increased employment security will help LGBTQ survivors work towards stability and financial independence after experiencing abuse. 

We celebrate this Supreme Court decision while also acknowledging that more work needs to be done to ensure that LGBTQ protections are also enshrined in other legislation that ensures healthcare, housing rights and more. NNEDV will continue to support passage of additional laws, like the Equality Act and others, to provide clear and consistent protections for LGBTQ people across all areas of life. Read NNEDV’s full statement about this ruling.

Healthcare Access Impacts Survivors 
Reproductive rights, including access to abortion care and birth control are critical for survivors’ health, safety, and autonomy. Restrictions to abortion services and birth control disproportionately harm Black and brown women, LGBTQ people, low-income women, and survivors of domestic violence. Moreover, abusers often use reproductive coercion against survivors – acts that include birth control sabotage, pressuring a victim to become pregnant against their will, and forcing someone to carry a pregnancy to term. Survivors forced to continue a pregnancy may remain bound to an abuser and are at risk of continued violence. Two major Supreme Court decisions this term impacted survivors access to reproductive health care with very different outcomes. 

June Medical Services, LLC v. Russo
In June Medical Services, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision that a Louisiana state law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital was unconstitutional because it imposed an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to seek an abortion. The Louisiana law’s additional restrictions on providers would have resulted in all but one abortion clinic to close in the state. Such restrictive laws impose substantial burdens and costs on women and deprive them of the ability to participate in society on equal terms. The Court struck down an identical Texas law requirement in Whole Women’s Health v. Hellerstedt, just four years ago. While Chief Justice Roberts left open the door for future challenges to abortion rights, these protections stand for now. NNEDV applauds the ruling, which will preserve access to care for survivors facing reproductive coercion, a position outlined in the amicus brief we joined in this case.

Little Sisters of the Poor Saints Peter and Paul Home v. Pennsylvania
In Little Sisters, the Supreme Court ruled in a 7-2 decision that the Administration had authority under the Affordable Care Act to promulgate rules exempting employers with religious or moral objections from providing contraceptive coverage to their employees. The ruling essentially allows any employer to exempt themselves from including birth control in its health insurance coverage for employees by claiming a sincere religious or moral objection. NNEDV signed onto an amicus brief with the National Women’s Law Center and others opposing such an outcome, citing concerns about reproductive coercion and the Administration’s overreach of authority. This disappointing ruling will increase barriers to healthcare faced by several communities, including low-wage workers, people of color, and the LGBTQ community. For survivors experiencing reproductive coercion, limiting access to birth-control can put them at risk of losing autonomy over their reproductive health decisions. Particularly since many survivors experience financial abuse, the out-of-pocket cost of birth control may be too expensive for many.

Maintaining Protections for Immigrant Survivors
Department of Homeland Security v. Regents of the University of California 

In this 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court struck down the Administration’s efforts to dismantle the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. The DACA program gives undocumented immigrants who entered the U.S. as children critical protections and opportunities, including protection from deportation and access to work authorization, driver’s licenses, and education. The Court held that the Administration’s decision to end the program had no reasonable justification and was arbitrary and capricious, thus leaving the program in place for now. The opinion, however, does not prevent future Administration attempts to end DACA.

For immigrant survivors of domestic violence, immigration status can be a barrier to receiving services because of fear of deportation and other legally imposed limitations and restrictions. Abusers often use immigration status as a way of maintaining control over victims to prevent them from leaving. Programs like DACA provide protections and opportunities for eligible immigrant survivors that make it easier for them to seek help, reach safety, and gain independence from abusers. NNEDV applauds this ruling, which provides immediate relief for DACA eligible individuals. But we call on Congress to pass comprehensive immigration reform to provide pathways to citizenship and enhance other protections for survivors to ensure long-term and permanent protections. To learn more about why DACA is important for immigrant survivors of domestic violence, read this statement from our friends at the Alliance for Immigrant Survivors.

Today, we celebrate the victories, but our resolve to continue our work to rectify the losses continues. We must continue our work to ensure survivors have access to safety and justice, economic security, and health and well-being.

For peace and safety,

Deborah J. Vagins, NNEDV President and CEO