Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her scathing dissent of the Supreme Court's 5-4 ruling in the Hobby Lobby case this week, made an important point about women's health that's been almost entirely overlooked elsewhere: For many American women, the birth-control pill has nothing to do with controlling births. It's a life-saving medicine.
"The coverage helps safeguard the health of women for whom pregnancy may be hazardous, even life-threatening," wrote Ginsburg. "And the mandate secures benefits wholly unrelated to pregnancy, preventing certain cancers, menstrual disorders, and pelvic pain."
The decision, which found that closely held corporations may refuse for religious reasons to cover contraceptives in their health plans, may affect millions of women who suffer from a variety of medical conditions. These women depend on the pill to regulate their hormones and do everything from ease pain to reduce the risk of cancer. These medical benefits have nothing to do with sex or the prevention of pregnancy, which have become the sole focus of political debate around the decision. Even if these women never have sex once in their lives, they need to be on birth control.
The pill is a key treatment for at least three major medical problems. First, there are the women with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Don't be fooled by the obscure-sounding name—it is the single most frequent endocrine problem in women of reproductive age, affecting 5 to 10 percent of the female population. Hormone regulation, via oral contraceptives, is the best known treatment. Without it, these women—about 5 million American women of reproductive age—may suffer from a range problems, from irregular bleeding and obesity to the development of ovarian cysts and infertility.