Fresh Ideas: Supreme Court opens can of worms with contraception decision
July 2, 2014
Monday's U.S. Supreme Court decision in favor of craft-chain Hobby Lobby allows corporations to discriminate against women in the name of religion. Or is it profits? The controversial decision is reverberating on social (and anti-social) media. It's also a lady-parts punch to women who have advocated for equal rights and reproductive freedom for more than 50 years.
The 5-4 ruling broadly interpreted the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 which Congress intended to be a narrow clarifying piece of legislation. The effect of the Hobby Lobby ruling is to give preferential legal status to closely held corporations with "sincerely held religious beliefs." In the view of the court majority, the beliefs of corporations trump the right of women to obtain certain types of contraception through their employer's health care program, governed by the Affordable Care Act.
What a can of worms! As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg writes in her dissent, "Would the exemption … extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah's Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations?" What are "sincerely held religious beliefs" and who determines the sincerity and the validity of the beliefs? Ginsburg cites a case where the owner of a restaurant chain refused to serve black patrons because of his religious beliefs. This precedent-setting decision could propel America in the wrong direction — backwards.
Social media is abuzz with allegations Hobby Lobby pays for Viagra and vasectomies. The ruling raises many questions. If the anti-contraception religious beliefs of the corporation were "sincerely held" but non-Christian, would the Court's decision have been the same? What if the closely held corporation with sincere religious beliefs employed mostly men rather than women? Did religious belief or profit instigate this legal action by the craft-chain corporation? Justice Ginsburg cites the Senate ACA debate about health care costs, women of childbearing age spend 68 percent more in out-of-pocket health care costs than men, with co-pays so high women avoid getting preventive and screening services.
The Court's decision gives Hobby Lobby and other closely-held religion-based corporations power over reproductive health care for their female employees. The majority opined other options could be made available for these women, including government coverage similar to the compromise forged for nonprofit religious-based health care institutions. Wouldn't it just be simpler if Hobby Lobby didn't hire women who need IUD contraception for birth control or other health reasons? Could this decision be used to justify discrimination in employment?
The Affordable Care Act was a rough-hewn compromise to provide better health care for Americans. The Hobby Lobby decision is just one example that proves the ACA did not go far enough to guarantee affordable and inclusive health care coverage. Single payer universal health care is essential to guarantee all Americans including women of childbearing age receive health care regardless of age, race, gender, sexual preference or religion – of their employer.
Abby Johnson is a resident of Carson City, and a part-time resident of Baker, Nev. She consults on community development and nuclear waste issues. Her opinions are her own and do not necessarily reflect those of her clients.