“The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield,” Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote today in her vociferous dissent following the high court’s 5-4 decision to allow certain employers the right not to provide coverage for medical procedures and medications that run contrary to their stated religious beliefs. The case in question was brought before the Supreme Court by Hobby Lobby, a national chain of craft stores, and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation, in the wake of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) having been signed into law. The owners of both companies, who identify as evangelical Christians, took exception to the ACA mandate that they provide contraception coverage as a part of their employee health insurance plans, and refused to comply. And, with today’s ruling, it would appear that the law is on their side. Closely-held companies, in the opinion of the Supreme Court majority, should be afforded the same rights as individuals, who are protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.
Bader Ginsburg, to put it mildly, had significant problems with the majority decision. “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?”, she asked. It’s a good question, and one which we will undoubtedly hear more about in the coming months, as more and more CEOs who consider themselves to be religious, begin challenging the mandates of Obamacare in court. As an estimated 90% of companies in America, as I understand it, would be considered “closely-held,” which is to say that they are privately held, there’s an enormous opportunity for people to jump into the fray now that the opportunity has presented itself. [note: "Closely-held does not necessarily mean small. Hobby Lobby has over 550 stores, and employs as many at 21,000.]
Noting the “startling breadth” of the decision, Bader Ginsburg suggested that it was just a matter of time before corporations begin opting out of laws they find “incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.” And the result, you can be sure, will be messy. Now that we’ve decided in favor of a Christian-owned firm, how can we decide against a Scientologogist-owned one, as doing so, in the opinion of Bader Ginsburg, would be “perceived as favoring one religion over another,” the very “risk the (Constitution’s) Establishment Clause was designed to preclude.”
But, five men on the Supreme Court felt it necessary to intervene on behalf of David Green’s company (Hobby Lobby), and its right to operate according to “Biblical principles.” (Perhaps not so surprisingly, all of the women on the Supreme Court were on the other side of the argument.)
In addition to the blatant misogyny inherent in the ruling, I’m troubled by the fact that the whole argument is built on the notion of corporate personhood. Essentially these five justices, by ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, are saying that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which was written to protect the religious freedoms of individuals, can be applied to corporations as well. They’re saying that corporations can have deeply held religious beliefs, and that those beliefs are protected under law. Instead of restricting the notion of corporate personhood, which has proven to be absolutely cancerous to American electoral politics, when-in corporate spending has been deemed equivalent to free speech, we’re actually pushing it even further with today’s decision. (The Department of Health and Human Services unsuccessfully argued that theses companies forfeited the protection of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act when they chose to incorporate.)
It’s worth noting that the plaintiffs in this case, as far as I can tell, are not completely against contraception. At least, historically, Hobby Lobby’s insurance covered some forms of contraception. The owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga, though, objected to the fact that four of the twenty forms of contraception currently approved by the Food and Drug Administration “prevent an already fertilized egg from developing any further by inhibiting its attachment to the uterus.” And that’s where the battle lines were drawn.
Before you begin feeling too much sympathy for these companies that were asked by our government to do something they didn’t feel God would approve of, though, you should know that they’e hypocritical at best when it comes to enforcing these “deeply held beliefs.” Not only does Hobby Lobby buy most of their goods from China, where abortion is essentially mandated by the state, but they apparently invest in the very corporations that manufacture the forms of contraception they claim to have ethical problems with. The following comes from a Mother Jones report on where Hobby Lobby invests their retirement funds.
…These companies (Hobby Lobby invests in) include Teva Pharmaceutical Industries, which makes Plan B and ParaGard, a copper IUD, and Actavis, which makes a generic version of Plan B and distributes Ella. Other stock holdings in the mutual funds selected by Hobby Lobby include Pfizer, the maker of Cytotec and Prostin E2, which are used to induce abortions; Bayer, which manufactures the hormonal IUDs Skyla and Mirena; AstraZeneca, which has an Indian subsidiary that manufactures Prostodin, Cerviprime, and Partocin, three drugs commonly used in abortions; and Forest Laboratories, which makes Cervidil, a drug used to induce abortions. Several funds in the Hobby Lobby retirement plan also invested in Aetna and Humana, two health insurance companies that cover surgical abortions, abortion drugs, and emergency contraception in many of the health care policies they sell…
I know my optimism may be somewhat misplaced, but I can’t help but think that this most recent development, as terrible as it may be, could bring us closer to the goal of single-payer health care. The more that individual companies push back, and try to fight Obamacare, the more they make it clear to the thinking people of America that health care isn’t something that should be left to corporations. As has been mentioned by others today, if the federal government wanted to increase access to birth control… which was the objective motivating this requirement all along… “the Court thinks it could do it in ways that didn’t violate religious freedom, like taking on the task of distributing contraceptives itself.” Amen. Let’s remove the corporations from our private health care decisions altogether, and create a robust, fair and science-based health care system that serves all Americans, irrespective of their religious beliefs.
In conclusion, I’d like to leave you with a quote from infant-footed Ann Arbor businessman Al McWilliams… “I don’t understand,” says McWilliams, “most of what Hobby Lobby sells is effective contraception.” I have my doubts as to its authenticity, but McWilliams, shortly after making the previous comment, bolstered his argument by quoting Hobby Lobby CEO David Green. “In an effort to curb teenage pregnancy,” Green, according to McWilliams, said, “we’ve deployed extensive scrapbooking workshops throughout the Midwest.”
Oh, and for those of you who work at Hobby Lobby, here’s a link to a bunch of information on the effectiveness of pulling out… Best of luck… And God bless you.