“The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.” –Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, in her dissent of “Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.”
Today, the Supreme Court issued a 5-4 ruling that says the government can’t require certain employers to provide insurance coverage for birth control and emergency contraception that conflict with their religious beliefs. The case centers around Hobby Lobby, a self-proclaimed Christian corporation and chain of craft stores, and their refusal to cover birth control for their employees. These Supreme Court cases can be tricky to fully understand at times, so let’s break it down a bit.
Some background: Hobby Lobby, which has used their Christian values to explain away their lack of Hanukkah decorations in the past, decided that once the Affordable Care Act (aka ACA, aka Obamacare) made it mandatory to cover birth control and emergency contraception, they were having no part of it, and took it to the Supreme Court. Then, after reviewing all the evidence, five out of the nine judges ruled in Hobby Lobby’s favor, noting that in some cases, religious values was enough to get out of covering contraception care for female employees.
But let’s back up a little. Let’s take a look at the fact that before the ACA came into existence, Hobby Lobby actually covered emergency contraception like Plan B and Ella for their employees. And, on top of that, Hobby Lobby invests in numerous companies that manufacture birth control like Mirena and ParaGard. So, color me confused. So when the ACA mandates they continue to do what they are already doing, all of a sudden it conflicts with their religious beliefs.
And speaking of religious beliefs, this ruling is actually very narrow when it comes to what religious beliefs cover. Can all companies claim religious beliefs as reason to deny coverage of other health care needs like blood transfusions, vaccines, or organ transplants? No. According to the decision, written by Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito, it’s really just about preventing women from accessing certain health care coverage.
“In any event, our decision in these cases is concerned solely with the contraceptive mandate. Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs. Other coverage requirements, such as immunizations, may be supported by different interests (for example, the need to combat the spread of infectious diseases) and may involve different arguments about the least restrictive means of providing them.”
So, it’s less about religious convictions and more about policing women’s reproductive care? Oh, okay, gotcha. Also, Alito’s repeated use of “may” within that section doesn’t really fill me with hope that other companies won’t actually attempt to try and use religion as a reason to deny other forms of healthcare.
Now, many people who either don’t care one way or the other, or are applauding SCOTUS’s decision have countered any and all argument against it with “well, you don’t have to work there, do you?” And no, you don’t. Valid point. Unless you stop to think about all the people who may not have a choice where they’re able to find a job. Perhaps they live in an area where big box stores reign and that is all they are qualified for. Maybe they don’t have the opportunity or privilege of being picky about where they work and a store that sells bedazzled crosses (but not menorahs!) is their only option. And, if they continue to work at Hobby Lobby without contraceptive coverage, an IUD will set them back what they would make in a month at the craft store at minimum wage. And what about the other companies that fit the criteria of “closely-held corporations” that can now use religious objections to deny employees birth control coverage? (90% of American companies, according to Mother Jones–so good luck finding a company you can work for, ladies!).
So, when Justice Ginsburg wrote a “blistering” dissent to this decision noting that the court has ventured into a minefield, she wasn’t kidding. This ruling will impact thousands of women who don’t share their employer’s beliefs, it seems to favor some religious beliefs over others, and finally, it undermines a woman’s bodily autonomy (I’m still waiting for the company with the religious conviction to deny a man his Viagra prescription!). Justice Ginsburg summed up my own personal fears when she pointed out that this ruling is incredibly broad in scope, essentially allowing corporations to opt out of almost any law that they find “incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.” That is indeed a slippery slope and not one I am comfortable seeing corporations race to the bottom of.
I wonder what the female employees of Hobby Lobby–the ones who don’t want to keep popping out kids like it’s their (other) job–will do. If they can’t afford a month’s pay for an IUD, or the cost of monthly birth control, where does that leave them? Praying that they can find another job? Putting their work skills to use and macramé-ing themselves an IUD out of tinseled pipe cleaners?
Sadly, this Supreme Court decision is not a moment to be added to the scrapbook of justice. Hobby Lobby should be ashamed at what they’ve done and the far reaching impact this decision will have.