America has been abuzz the past few days after the Supreme Court’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. In a 5-4 decision the court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby; meaning that family-owned corporations no longer need to cover certain forms of birth control normally covered under the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate if their religion objects. The court applied the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 to corporations in this ruling, as it prohibits any agency, department or official of the United States or any State from substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religion. The burden here is methods of birth control that some perceive to be a form of abortion.
One potential problem is the precedent that it sets. Justice Ginsburg said it best in her 35 page dissent – “In a decision of startling breadth, the court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with the partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
The beautiful thing about the U.S. is that we have freedom of/from religion thanks to the Bill of Rights, which states in the First Amendment that Congress shall make no laws respecting an establishment of religion or prohibiting the free exercise of religion. We the people have the choice to subscribe to any religion we choose or none at all. Religion cannot reign in America, a secular nation.
However, the ruling forces the employees of closely held corporations to subscribe to the religious beliefs of their employers. A very complicated web has been woven. As Justice Ginsburg wrote in her dissent “Would the exemption the Court holds RFRA demands for employers with religiously grounded objections to the use of certain contraceptives 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 (Christian Scientists, among others)?”
The decision in the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby treats corporations like humans, giving them religious rights the same as you and I have. Yet, corporations are not humans. In his HBO show Last Week Tonight with John Oliver, Oliver looked at the “humanity” of corporations established by this case from an interesting perspective. He said “If you really want to be treated like a person, corporations, then guess what? Paying for things you don’t like is what it feels like to be one.”
Other closely held corporations affected by this ruling include Dell, Toys ‘R’ Us, Petco and Heinz. These corporations make up more than 90% of the businesses in the United States and 52% of our labor force. As Sandra Fluke (you might remember her as the woman berated by Rush Limbaugh for testifying before Congress in 2012 on the importance of contraception being covered by health insurance) wrote in her op-ed for the Washington Post, the likelihood of corporations of all kinds being granted additional rights previously reserved only for individuals will increase due to this ruling. As Justice Ginsburg said, “The court has ventured into a minefield.”
The obvious response by many has been “if you want it, pay for it.” But if that is going to be the response to this court case, the nation might as well do away with all health insurance. Most people want medical treatment when needed, whether it be chemotherapy for a cancer patient, trips to the chiropractor for the carpenter, or surgery for the athlete who tore their ACL. So should they just pay to stay alive and make a living too? Birth control does much more than just aiding in preventing pregnancy. It regulates women’s menstrual cycles; it is used as a treatment for endometriosis; it aids in reducing menstrual pain; and it can be used as a treatment for acne and it can help prevent ovarian cancer. Most people have heard these benefits of the pill before, but it really cannot be said enough. According to a study done by the Guttmacher Institute, 58% of pill users rely on it for the aforementioned reasons. 42% rely on it to prevent pregnancy. The study also found that 762,000 women who have never had sex use the pill for other health benefits.
Again, Hobby Lobby does cover the birth control pill and nearly every other form of birth control excepting “Morning After” pills and IUD’s. This court case can change that though and closely held corporations can decide at any time to drop coverage of these other types of birth control. The other problem with “if you want it, pay for it” is that birth control can be extremely expensive, especially if you are working a minimum wage job. Below is a chart of the average prices of 14 different types of birth control.
The Supreme Court opened up Pandora’s box on Monday with their ruling on the Hobby Lobby case. Some are wondering how the court would have ruled if the religion in question was Islam or Judaism as opposed to Christianity. Many, such as journalist Ann Friedman, are wondering where the interviews are with Hobby Lobby employees.
Many are also wondering why Hobby Lobby has investments in pharmaceutical companies that produce contraceptives. According to Forbes, Mother Jones found that their 401(k) employee retirement plans hold more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptives, intrauterine devices and other drugs used in abortions. The hypocrisy in this case is astonishing. Republicans are saying that this case is a “win for religious freedom.” But is it really? Maybe for corporations, who, again, are not actual people. But for thousands of employees, it can be considered a huge loss.
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