Corporations win over women: Hobby Lobby roundup

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The Supreme Court struck a blow against reproductive rights yesterday in its ruling in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that Katie McDonough sums up as “five male justices ruled that thousands of female employees should rightfully be subjected to the whims of their employers.” It’s infuriating that medical decisions that should be made between women and their doctors are subjected to religious beliefs grounded in junk science. Women need access to the full range of contraception options, and imbuing corporations with the religious rights of a person and inserting those beliefs into women’s health care decisions is unacceptable. 

Imani Gandy at RH Reality Check explained earlier in the month how ludicrous it is that the Hobby Lobby can make their case by completely contradicting scientific fact:

Hobby Lobby and the Greens make two assertions in their lawsuit. First, they allege their belief that life begins at conception and that any action that might potentially harm a fertilized egg, including any action that might prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus, is immoral. Second, they assert that Plan B and ella “could prevent a human embryo … from implanting in the wall of the uterus.”

The first assertion is a religious belief, and the Greens are welcome to it. It’s not my place to quibble with their religious beliefs no matter how absurd I think they are. So sacred are individuals’ religious beliefs that courts rarely challenge or question them.

Despite this, and many other objections to Hobby Lobby’s ridiculous argument, the court rules in their favor in a 5-4 ruling. New York Magazine gives you the rundown of what you need to know about the rulingVox distills it to three sentences:

  1. A federal law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act was written to protect individuals’ religious freedoms — and on Thursday, the Supreme Court ruled that, under RFRA, corporations count as people: their religious freedoms also get protection.

  2. The requirement to cover contraception violated RFRA because it mandated that businesses “engage in conduct that seriously violates their sincere religious belief that life begins at conception.”

  3. If the federal government wanted to increase access to birth control — which they argued was the point of this requirement — the Court thinks it could do it in ways that didn’t violate religious freedom, like taking on the task of distributing contraceptives itself.

Justice Ginsburg wrote a dissent for the minority, which included all of the women on the court, in which she describes it as a “radical” decision. Salon offers highlights:

Ginsburg opens with a bang, immediately describing the decision as one that will have sweeping consequences:

In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.

She frames the decision as one that denies women access to healthcare, rather than as one that upholds religious liberty:

The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would…deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage.

Amy Davidson at the New Yorker, in a piece slamming the ruling, points out that it’s not as narrow as some would claim:

The decision is limited to “closely held” corporations, that is, ones for which five or fewer owners control more than fifty per cent of the stock, but that is not much of a limit; as Ginsburg writes, “closely held” is not synonymous with “small.” Cargill is closely held, and it “takes in more than $136 billion in revenues and employs some 140,000 persons.” (What if the owners have differing religious beliefs? Alito, in one of this decision’s many invitations to litigation, says “state corporate law” will help.) And anyway, Alito writes, there is nothing here that precludes a publicly held company, of any size, from bringing a suit making the exact same claim: since Hobby Lobby and another company involved in the case, Conestoga, are not in that category, the Court didn’t make a judgment on them either way. That may be next.

Amanda Marcotte at RH Reality Check reminds us that this isn’t just about Hobby Lobby but is another salvo in the wider war on contraception:

I realize it’s tempting to minimize this and say that they aren’t all that bad—that things can’t be that bad. And it’s true that, so far, we’re not seeing any moves from the anti-choice movement to outright ban contraception, or even to ban female-controlled versions like the pill and the IUD for which they have a special hatred. But that’s because, while they do spout endless fantasies about their version of paradise where icky sex mostly goes away (their paradise being hell for the rest of us, of course), anti-choice activists are not stupid. They know that rolling out a hardline anti-contraception agenda is going to cause most Americans to shut down and laugh them out of the room.

So instead, the strategy is to cast around, looking for certain soft spots, places where they can attack contraception access, making it harder for women to get while assuring everyone that they are not actually out to get rid of their contraception. Target young women or poor women first, like the college women Sandra Fluke was defending or women who rely on government-subsidized contraception. Insinuate that these women’s sexual lives are improper and should be policed from outside. Gradually widen the net by using “religious liberty” as a fig leaf to grant women’s bosses veto power over their health-care coverage, injecting their boss’ opinion about their private sex life into their medical decision making. Chip chip chip. Bit by bit, they can make us accustomed to the idea that contraception is “controversial” and whether or not you get pregnant is a matter of public debate instead of a private choice.

The question now is what we do about it. Congressional Democrats are reportedly looking at legislative solutions. UltraViolet and Planned Parenthood have petitions you can sign, a first step as we all get ready to fight back against this attack on women’s rights.

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Author: Rebecca Griffin

I am a passionate advocate for progressive causes with over a decade of experience organizing for social change. That organizing experience informs the way I look at the world and the challenges we face in working toward social justice. I started Of Means and Ends to write about social issues I care about and share my thoughts on how we organize in a smart, strategic way. Please visit and join the conversation.

16 thoughts on “Corporations win over women: Hobby Lobby roundup”

  1. Another perspective…

    This isn’t about health or reproductive rights, it is about birth control to allow recreational sex which is just the opposite of reproduction,

    Is there any reason that women can’t pay from their own pocket, or keep their pants on? It seems that no one is preventing birth control, it just seems to be an argument about who pays for it.

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    1. And I suppose in this situation men are all going to keep their pants on as well?

      You’ve highlighted one of the troubling undercurrents in this whole debate. Some people just don’t like the idea of women having control over their bodies and having sex when and with whom they want to. It doesn’t make sense to pretend that premarital sex doesn’t happen when more than 90% of people engage in it. Being able to control reproduction, and deal with health problems that birth control also addresses, is a fundamental right. As many people said before me, if this was about men having access to birth control there probably wouldn’t even be a debate.

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      1. Don’t be silly, no one is going to keep their pants on, we are all under hormonal influence.

        I’m all for women and men to doing whatever they want in this regard, Actually, I don’t care one way or the other, but it’s a choice and with every choice, there is responsibility.

        No one is refusing people access to birth control. What is happening is that people want other people to pay for it. That is the issue which concerns me. If a woman has unintended health issues caused by birth control, than, of course, that should be covered by insurance.

        Rebecca, sometimes I think you believe me to be the enemy, I am not. However, I do occasionally think that some issues are over the top. The fact is that recreational sex is not a medical issue, neither is smoking, but both can result in medical issues which is another subject altogether.

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      1. I read the link you posted and there wasn’t much there that was directly related except a mention of unwanted pregnancies and possible complications.

        [quote]Paying for birth control is especially important, said the panel.

        “Women with unintended pregnancies are more likely to receive delayed or no prenatal care and to smoke, consume alcohol, be depressed, and experience domestic violence during pregnancy. Unintended pregnancy also increases the risk of babies being born preterm or at a low birth weight, both of which raise their chances of health and developmental problems,” the report reads.[/quote]

        This doesn’t make sense because there isn’t any real difference between women that are trying to have a baby and those that it unintentionally happens to, unless they are saying that women with the (mentioned) negative traits shouldn’t have babies.. With all the unrelated consequences, I’m surprised that they forgot to throw in the kitchen sink. The point is that I read a lot of statements, but nothing in reference to anything scientific. As for sexually transmitted diseases, that is not gender based and effects both men and women.

        Men use condoms that they pay for out of their own pocket, why shouldn’t women also pay for their own contraception’s?

        The fact is that I am extremely in favor of population control, regardless of who takes steps to prevent child birth. I think it’s wonderful that women are not wanting children, and the men too.

        BTW, the medical profession used to recommend smoking. I wouldn’t take everything they say as gospel.

        Personally, I support insurance paid sterilization such as vasectomies and tubal ligation.

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  2. Rebecca, one more thing…

    If you enjoy my opposing comments than I am glad, but if you would rather just hear from people that share you own viewpoint, I’l happily bow out and let you bask in one sided conversations. There’s a slight amount of sarcasm there, but that is only because I find opposing opinions constructive and a learning experience. At this point, I think you are somewhat biased, but at the same time somewhat open minded, otherwise, I wouldn’t bother speaking with you. I don’t think you will ever see my side of the things we talk about, but that’s okay, because you have been more than decent about keeping this civil.

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    1. I am happy to hear other people’s opinions, and I think those conversations are important. I agree it’s important to be able to keep those conversations civil. But it doesn’t mean that those other opinions are going to go unopposed. I’m not somewhat biased, I’m totally biased. I write this blog because I have strong opinions about these issues that I want to share and have conversations about.

      Birth control can be very expensive, even if you’re lucky enough to have insurance. A lot of men benefit from women’s taking birth control and don’t have to contribute monetarily (though some recognize that there’s mutual benefit and will contribute). Being able to control if and when we have children is a critical part of women’s health and the direction of their lives. Here in California, they’re working to make it equitable for men as well and make sure that vasectomies are covered under the birth control mandate as well.

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      1. I understand what it means to be biased. I see a great deal of wrong done against men, I suppose because I am a man, You, in your way, because you’re a woman.

        Women organizations have been pushing very hard over the years for equality, which I support, but they too are very biased, to the point of often using misinformation to gain an edge and garner support. I’ll give you an example…

        Down south, a woman’s organization paid to have posters put on buses showing a child with the caption, “someday my father may murder me” (I’m paraphrasing) These women believed that men are a danger to their children and felt justified (Although I’m not sure what they expected to come from this). The reality is that women actually murder their children more often than men. You can find these stats on the net.

        There is a great deal of misinformation presented as fact. The problem is that too many people accept it without question. I’ll give you example of this…

        People were told that second hand cigarette smoke was worse than smoking itself. I’m amazed at how many people believe this. I’ve spent most of my life working in the chemical and pharmaceutical industry which entailed handling a multitude of chemicals. Of all these chemicals, there hasn’t been even one that is more dangerous the less of it you are exposed too. So, why would they say second hand smoke was? It’s simple, the people who want to ban tobacco present this information to get non smokers to force smokers to quit. It’s simple and it seems to be working. Too bad many people don’t question the “facts”. I realize that the motive behind this is anti-smoking campaign is meant with the best intentions, but frankly, I don’t like being lied to and it’s not necessary. However, it works because people are trusting and believe anything as long as it aligns with their personal mind set. Also, even though I just gave a logical reason against the claimed seriousness of second hand smoke, many, if not most, people will continue to believe that is is still more dangerous. The fact is that people want to believe what they want to believe.

        This type of thing happens often in politics and special interest groups, . That is the reason I don’t accept anything at face value.

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  3. Steve, it won’t let me reply directly to your response to your 11:34 am comment, so I had to start a new comment.

    First, here is a link direct to the IOM report that the first article I linked referred to. The original source will be more thorough.You can view the entire report for free online. http://www.iom.edu/Reports/2011/Clinical-Preventive-services-for-Women-Closing-the-Gaps.aspx

    Second, regarding condoms my point of view is that condoms should also be covered by insurance. I am of the opinion that all forms of birth control should be covered. But to go further, condoms are not as effective as other methods of birth control, and many women use both condoms and an IUD/pill. That being said, I don’t understand how condoms didn’t make the list when the CDC lists it as one of women’s top five sources for birth control. http://www.cdc.gov/nchs/data/nhsr/nhsr060.pdf

    Third, I am a bit confused as to why you are not in favor of insurance covering birth control when you are in favor of population control. I would be interested to hear more of your rationale.

    Fourth, I want to address the following statement you made “This doesn’t make sense because there isn’t any real difference between women that are trying to have a baby and those that it unintentionally happens to, unless they are saying that women with the (mentioned) negative traits shouldn’t have babies.”

    No, there is no biological difference between the women who are trying and women who are not trying to have children, and the report is not saying there is one. And you also cannot infer that the report is saying “women with negative traits shouldn’t have babies” because the traits you are referring to are A) not all traits (ex: domestic violence) and B) the results of having an unintended child. When women have control over their reproductive life they avoid these negative outcomes. That is the whole point of birth control being considered a preventative measure.

    Birth control needs to be free because birth control is expensive, and the women who would most benefit from it are the ones who are least able to afford it. Women who do not have access to birth control have unintended pregnancies. Women who are poor and have unintended pregnancies, due to their lack of access to birth control, can also not afford the necessary prenatal care. The problem compounds upon itself. When women afford birth control, they cannot afford prenatal care, and they could end up with an unhealthy child, further compounding the problems the already face. Birth control keeps women healthy, and it keeps them from having unhealthy children.

    You also said “The point is that I read a lot of statements, but nothing in reference to anything scientific”. The article is referring to a government mandated report, from the institute of medicine, and the report itself packed with information.

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    1. [[[ I am a bit confused as to why you are not in favor of insurance covering birth control when you are in favor of population control. I would be interested to hear more of your rationale.]]]

      Good point! I am at odds with this . Speaking in terms of money/cost, children cost everyone money in the form of public services, medical costs, and insurance. The more children there are, the more people pay in taxes. For instance, when my neighbor has a child I have to help support that child even though I reap no benefit from it. The same applies to people having recreational sex. So, I end up paying for people to have children and to not have children. Either seems like a personal choice, neither of which has anything to do with me. It seems to me that people who engage in these actions should accept personal responsibility for it.

      However, we live in the real world where people will have sex regardless of the outcome, i.e. unwanted pregnancies, over population, malnutrition/starvation, and so on. I have witnessed what population growth can do to a community. I live in a relatively small town. In the past it was a much safer place to live, not so much any more, and continues to get worse as the population and crime increases. Oddly, most peoples standard of living has gone up, but so have the number of poor people who’s standard of living has gone down.

      Anyway, I’m getting off subject. I have no choice but to pay for other peoples actions. So does it cost me less to pay for child prevention or child birth. I don’t have the numbers, but I would imagine that hands down, it cost more to have children. With that in mind, I support paying for birth control as the lesser of two evils, so to speak.. The only reason why this is a problem is because people are hormonally driven to succumb to bad decisions. That doesn’t negate my opinion that people should be responsible for their own actions.

      To be concise, I have to pay people to have recreational sex, I resent that. The alternative is less desirable, hence the duality of my stance.

      I don’t disagree with anything you’ve said.

      There is one issue in the report that I find a stretch to accept and that is domestic violence. The inclusion of DV tells me that they are grasping at straws to make their point which weakens their stance. Depending on who you choose to believe, it seems that DV is a two way street, each sex contributing approximately equally. Before you say it, police stats on DV is more of a reflection on who lost the fight, and is not a good indicator of who started it or if it was mutual.

      Anyway, good post Lindsey.

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      1. Lindsey, one more thing…

        You mentioned the cost being a barrier for people having access to birth control. That is a problem with the entire medical profession and drug companies. It seems that it has gotten out of hand and costs have increased beyond the ability of many people to pay without insurance. For instance, a friend had a liver transplant at a cost of $400,000 for one days work and a few days in the hospital. Another person paid $150,000 to have a stint put in their heart which was a matter of a couple of hours work. Some cancer drugs cost $10,000 a month, some more than that… Well, you get the point. I can understand high costs when it cost a lot to develop and produce, but how much of it is pure profit? Also, how many people die for the sake of profit?

        You may not realize it, but as more people received health insurance, the cost of services increased dramatically. So, in a way, insurance is the reason why things are now un-affordable to the uninsured. The same thing happened with auto repair.

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    1. Is there any other context where insurance is characterised as getting other people to pay the bills? Because health insurance through your employer is essentially part of your salary. It’s *earned* by your labour. And that makes it yours. Deciding that contraceptives can’t be insured makes as much sense as demanding what you can buy with the rest of your pay.

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  4. Thank goodness for the NHS, contraceptives are free on prescription here in England – this seems like such an alien concept to me that religion can play such a big part in political decisions around health and social care in the US and religious groups wield so much influence.

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      1. I wish I could say I agree that it’s on the decline, but this ruling certainly points to things moving in the wrong direction. The assault on reproductive rights at the state level also has a strong religious undercurrent, and it doesn’t show signs of letting up any time soon.

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