Economics & Politics, Gender Equality, Health, Rights
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#JoinTheDissent: America Has ‘Ventured Into A Minefield’

hobbylobby

I am so angry about the recent Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decision I don’t know where to begin. I had to wait a few days to write a post about the ruling in order to let the reality of it all sink in. Did SCOTUS really just favor major corporations’ religious beliefs over women’s health?

In case you haven’t heard, SCOTUS ended in a split 5-4 decision in favor of Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts store. It is no surprise that the five justices who voted in favor of Hobby Lobby’s religion over women’s health argument were all conservative Catholic men and have never used nor will ever use contraceptives in their lives.

The official ruling allows ‘closely-held’ corporations with strong religious beliefs to deny coverage of certain forms of birth control. Contrary to what you may believe, ‘closely-held’ does not mean small. According to the IRS, a company is closely-held if five or fewer people own more than half the corporation, a definition that now represents 90 percent of American businesses. For example, Hobby Lobby is considered closely-held yet it has over 500 locations and over 16,000 employees. And don’t think that this decision stops with Hobby Lobby. At least 100 more for-profit companies, from the very small to the gigantic, think birth control is murder and will soon join the ranks of corporations with health insurance policies that refuse to cover certain contraceptive methods.

Supporters of SCOTUS’ decision might say, “If you don’t like Hobby Lobby’s beliefs, go work somewhere else.” That’s easier said than done. According to recent statistics, one in three Americans fell below the poverty line for at least two months between 2009 and 2011 – the majority of whom were women and children. These individuals cannot afford to choose not to work anywhere.

What’s more, SCOTUS’ decision goes against the majority of Americans who, in a recent poll, disagreed with the notion that employers should be able to choose what contraceptives their health plans provide based on religious beliefs. As a result, SCOTUS has essentially ruled that corporations have the right to enforce religiously based policies because, you know, corporations are people too.

Even though this ruling only specifically mentions contraceptives, SCOTUS’ decision opens the floodgates for corporations to argue that their religious beliefs contradict the Affordable Care Act (ACA) and the federal law.

Does your employer believe in Scientology? Technically, a company can now refuse to cover antidepressants and any type of psychiatric treatment. Is your employer a Jehovah’s Witness corporation? Guess what, you no longer have surgical coverage since they do not believe in blood transfusions. Do you work for a Jewish or Hindu company? Bad news. Your employer can refuse to cover any medications derived from pigs including anesthetics, intravenous fluids, or medications coated in gelatin. Does your employer reject to vaccinations on religious grounds? We may soon all be exposed to diseases that have long been extinct – especially children.

But wait, there’s more.

Don’t believe in homosexuality? Refuse to hire LGBT applicants. Don’t believe in Judaism? Refuse to hire Jews. Anti-discrimination laws have essentially been thrown out the window – all in the name of ‘religious freedom.’

One must wonder, would the ruling have been the same if Hobby Lobby was owned by a Muslim family attempting to impose Sharia Law on its employees?

And let’s get one thing straight. When women take birth control, they do not automatically become a sex-crazed fiend who goes about her days and nights searching for her next sexual target, only to inevitably get pregnant and immediately abort the baby. Women on birth control are just that – women on birth control. They are no different than men who use condoms or men who get vasectomies. (Vasectomies, by the way, are still covered – as is Viagra.)

Even though the ruling covers only four types of methods, limiting women’s access to IUDs and morning-after pills, oral contraceptives may not be far behind. Just one day after the ruling, ‘the Supreme Court all but confirmed its decision applies to all contraception coverage.’ Should that be the case (God forbid), let’s be clear: oral contraceptives can serve a greater medical purpose than merely preventing pregnancies. Birth control pills have been found to lower the likelihood of endometrial and ovarian cancers; ease the symptoms of endometriosis; and provide relief for Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, severe acne, and heavy and painful periods.

This ruling is an attack on women and on women’s health.

The Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, believe that life begins at conception. Honestly, I disagree, but I respect their opinion. My problem comes with the belief that certain forms of birth control (morning-after pills and IUDs) are essentially abortifacients, meaning they kill fertilized embryos rather than prevent contraception.

First of all, the belief that these contraceptives kill fertilized embryos is simply scientifically wrong. Studies have shown that morning-after pills prevent pregnancy by inhibiting or preventing ovulation and IUDs prevent sperm from reaching the egg. As you can see, neither of these methods involve the killing of anything or anyone. Additionally, as an IUD-user, I take offense to the idea that I have been continuously having abortions since its insertion a few years ago. My doctor recommended that I switch to the IUD because I have epilepsy and, in my case, IUDs are much safer and more effective, as birth control pills can interfere with the effectiveness of my seizure medications.

“You have a 34-year-old woman with diabetes and hypertension, she’s not going to be served as well with an oral contraceptive as she is with an IUD. It’s such a personal decision, that should be made between a physician and patient based on the risks and benefits. Having Supreme Court justices make that decision is just inappropriate.” – Dr. Jeanne Conry, The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists immediate past president

When the ACA passed, many considered it a win for the health of the entire country, but particularly for the health of women. A provision in the ACA mandated that organizations include all forms of birth control in their healthcare plans without enforcing additional costs on female employees. Under the ACA, most for-profit companies are required to comply or else pay fines. We, as a nation, were headed on the right track. No longer would people be denied coverage due to a pre-existing condition and no longer would women suffer the brunt of the insurance company’s sexist policies, policies which often unjustly charged them more just for having the biological ability to bear a child (i.e. more costs for insurance companies to cover).

As of Monday, we are no longer on the right track. In fact, we are nowhere near the track. With one court case, SCOTUS has set women in America back over 40 years to the pre-Roe v. Wade days. Before the ruling, America ranked 31st in global maternal health rankings. With the court’s appalling and terrifying decision, we are doomed to drop even lower.

The good news (if good news even exists in this situation), is that men and women across the country are not taking this ruling lying down.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a scathing 35-page dissent and defended mandatory contraception coverage. The dissent includes numerous quotables, too many to list if I am trying to keep this blog short and concise. Read highlights here.

“The burden of paying out of pocket for contraception has now unfairly shifted to women whose bosses’ religious beliefs conflict with their own.” – Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg

Medical professionals from The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a statement that said the College was ‘profoundly disappointed’ by the ruling.

Democrats are already preparing four different response strategies:

  1. Writing a new regulation requiring an insurer to cover the cost of contraception that the corporation claiming a religious objection refused to cover;
  2. Having the government, in some fashion, cover the cost of that contraception;
  3. Amending the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (which was the basis of Hobby Lobby’s successful lawsuit) to specify that corporations are not granted certain protections given to individuals and others; or
  4. Amending the statute in the opposite direction, by adding explicit language protecting individuals from having employers’ religious beliefs imposed on them.

Social media has become a megaphone amplifying American women’s and men’s frustration with the ruling. On Twitter and Instagram, users are using #Dirty100#NotMyBossBusiness#JointheDissent and #HobbyLobby to voice their concern and anger. The hashtag #DrHobbyLobby has also gone viral, allowing users to vent their frustrations by poking fun at the idea that Hobby Lobby can make medical decisions for its employees.

On YouTube, a video of a young man putting Ginsburg’s words into song has been featured on The Huffington Post and, as of this writing, has over 160,000 views.

Are you a woman or a girl? Are you a man or boy with a mother, daughter, wife, sister, girlfriend, female friend, or female relative? If you answered yes to any of these questions, SCOTUS’ ruling directly affects you. It’s time take action.

Join the Dissent.

Learn more about the ruling:

*UPDATE: The Supreme Court has broadened the Hobby Lobby ruling to include ALL forms of birth control and LGBT anti-discrimination exceptions are in the works. 

Cover Image Courtesy of Flickr Creative Commons

3 Comments

  1. Lizzy says

    I respect your opinion but completely disagree. What happened to Freedom of Religion? Yes, I am personally against birth control due to my Catholic belief, but that doesn’t mean that I am a bigot, prejudice, or think every gay person is going to hell. All that means is that it’s unconstitutional for the government to MAKE me support something that is blatantly against my religious beliefs. If someone has a problem with my beliefs, then they don’t have to work for me. It doesn’t make me a bad person to be against birth control, just like it doesn’t make you a bad person to be pro-birth control. It’s about the living document of the Constitution – and my freedom of religion should be just as protected as any other amendment in the Bill of Rights.

    • Elisabeth Epstein says

      Hi Lizzy. Thanks for your comment. All due respect, I am not saying that all or any Catholics are bigots, going to hell, etc. What I’m saying is that a corporation’s beliefs or rather, the CEO of a company’s beliefs, should not stand in the way of its employees getting birth control if that should be their desire.

      As I said in the article, over 30% of Americans live in poverty and cannot necessarily choose to not work at specific companies that have different beliefs. They will take what they can get. For them, it is often a choice between buying birth control and buying groceries. In this case, birth control obviously comes second. As a result of a person’s inability to afford birth control, there are more unwanted pregnancies and more single-parent homes, thus causing a domino effect on education, health and the economy as a whole.

      Furthermore, this ruling has no impact on your personal responsibility to pay/not pay for someone else’s birth control. Because SCOTUS already deemed corporations as people, companies can now enforce their owner’s religious beliefs on others, enabling the corporation – not the average citizen – to opt out of coverage and pay less.

      This case does not just impact employees of Hobby Lobby. The decision creates a loophole that allows all closely-held (i.e. five or less owners) for-profits the right to deny healthcare coverage based on religious beliefs. ‘Religious beliefs’ is a vague term and can mean a number of things. Religion includes all forms, not just Catholicism. By allowing religion to enter the equation of healthcare coverage, SCOTUS has opened the door for companies to discriminate against LGBTs, refuse to cover blood transfusions or psychiatric care, and much much more. Therefore, should you, yourself, at some point in your life need antidepressants, you better double check your company’s religious beliefs. You may need to find a new job.

  2. michael mazur says

    Mr Ungar of Forbes was motivated to write a piece solely because of what he saw as the monumental hypocrisy of the Green family, being the owners of Hobby Lobby, purporting to have religious convictions, which were motivating them to be opposed to the provision in the Affordable Care Act requiring them to cover their employees contraceptive needs, while at the same time directing – he believes that, that the Hobby Lobby employee retirement funds in the 401(k) plan be invested in companies which manufactured contraceptive products.

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