Hobby Lobby Heartbreak

U.S. Supreme Court finds in favor of men over women–again.


The U.S. Supreme Court saves its most complicated and controversial decisions forthe end of the term. Last year it was a two-fold victory for lesbians and gay men with rulings on same-sex marriage. This year there is none of that jubilation as the court came down hard again women’s rights.


Reproductive rights advocates have been waiting for the SCOTUS ruling on Sibelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. for months. The arts-and-crafts chain stores, which have 500 outlets nationwide, argued that the tenet of the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) that requires businesses to pay for contraception violated the religious beliefs of the chain’s owners who are fundamentalist Christians who adhere to biblical principles. A co-signer to the case is Conestoga Wood, a Pennsylvania company owned by Mennonites.

The ACA requires any company with more than 50 employees to cover all preventative health services–including contraceptive devices, notably the morning-after pill, IUDs, diaphragms and of course, birth control pills.


The ACA already has an opt-out clause for non-profit religious organizations. Hobby Lobby is for-profit and also employs nearly 20,000 people. (It should be noted that Hobby Lobby’s previous health insurance plan had a similar requirement, which the chain never objected to prior to ACA.)


SCOTUS ruled 5-4 in favor of Hobby Lobby, divided distinctly along ideological lines. Conservative Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion, while the court’s most liberal justice, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, wrote the dissent.


SCOTUS determined that companies do not have to cover contraception for their employees if the company has a religious objection to doing so. SCOTUS ruled–for the first time–that for-profit companies can file claims under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), enacted in 1993.


In his majority opinion Alito stipulated that the ruling applies only to the birth control mandate and not to any other insurance requirements like vaccinations or blood transfusions or prescriptions for anti-depressants–all of which are objected to by various religious groups as Justice Ginsburg pointed out in her dissent. And all of which would also cover men, it must be noted.


In short, this is a decision solely about women’s reproductive freedom. Other religion-based objections to the ACA are not covered by the ruling.


This has disastrous consequences for women–lesbians and bisexual women (and trans men who have not had hysterectomies) included. Anyone who can get pregnant is, no pun intended, screwed by this ruling. So too is any woman on HRT (hormone replacement therapy) for peri-menopausal or menopausal symptoms, endometriosis symptoms or to regulate irregular periods or control PMDD. The costs of these drugs can be substantial. While health insurance coverage means these medications cost about $20 per month, without a prescription plan, the out of pocket costs are between $125 and $200, depending on the particular prescription–a significant cost to women per year.


One of the most impactful aspects of the SCOTUS decision is that no morning-after pill contraceptives are covered. This will affect any woman who has been sexually assaulted. It will also affect poor women most dramatically, as Justice Ginsburg pointed out in her 35-page dissent. Among many points made by Ginsburg was the fact that an IUD would cost an entire month’s salary for a woman making minimum wage.


There are 49 other cases pending nationally that have been brought by employers. Reproductive rights advocates expect more will be filed after the Hobby Lobby decision.


Justice Ginsburg, who has consistently linked the rights of women and the rights of LGBT people in her opinions, called the Hobby Lobby ruling one of "startling breadth" that was a “radical statement" that would "wreak havoc." She was so outraged that she read from her dissent on Monday morning.


In specific she noted that women who are not themselves religious or who do not share the religious views of their employers are penalized by the ruling–amounting to a theocratic rendering of the law. She said, "In the Court’s view, RFRA demands accommodation of a for-profit corporation’s religious beliefs no matter the impact that accommodation may have on third parties who do not share the corporation-owners’ religious faith."


The larger picture of this decision both as Ginsburg writes it and as can be easily extrapolated by the number of cases still pending, is that assaults against women’s health care will continue.


The Hobby Lobby decision once again sets women aside as an unprotected group, declaring unequivocally that religious zealotry trumps women’s rights to health care–even health care that is already mandated by law, like the Affordable Care Act. Hobby Lobby won, but American women lost.

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