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 ruling. Vox distills it to three sentences:
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.
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.”
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.