4 Ways the Hobby Lobby SCOTUS Case Could Spell Disaster

The Religious Right wants to deny you birth control coverage. So what’s next?

Erika L. Sánchez, AlterNet March 27, 2014

Could the Supreme Court's decision on whether Hobby Lobby has the right to deny its employees coverage for contraceptives open the floodgates to other (legal) forms of discrimination? (Charlotte Cooper / Flickr / Creative Commons)

Reprint­ed with per­mis­sion of Alter­Net.

Many reproductive rights experts warn that a ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby can set a harmful precedent for the healthcare of American women.

On Mon­day, the Supreme Court heard oral argu­ments in Sebe­lius vs. Hob­by Lob­by Stores, Inc., on whether for-prof­it com­pa­nies can use their reli­gious beliefs to deny their employ­ees cov­er­age of con­tra­cep­tives, which they are cur­rent­ly enti­tled to by fed­er­al law.

Over 100 law­suits chal­leng­ing the Afford­able Care Act’s birth con­trol cov­er­age ben­e­fit have been filed in fed­er­al court so far. Under the ACA, health plans are required to include cov­er­age for the full range of FDA-approved meth­ods of birth con­trol, ster­il­iza­tion and relat­ed edu­ca­tion and coun­sel­ing at no cost-shar­ing. So far, 48 cas­es against this ben­e­fit have been filed by for-prof­it com­pa­nies, 46 of which are pend­ing. Some of the for-prof­it com­pa­nies which have filed cas­es include Hob­by Lob­by, Con­esto­ga Wood, Auto­cam and Eden Foods. Non-prof­it orga­ni­za­tions with reli­gious objec­tions to birth con­trol have also chal­lenged the ben­e­fit. Group health plans of reli­gious employ­ers” are cur­rent­ly exempt­ed from hav­ing to pro­vide con­tra­cep­tive coverage.

Many repro­duc­tive rights experts warn that a rul­ing in favor of Hob­by Lob­by can set a harm­ful prece­dent for the health­care of Amer­i­can women. The Nation­al Women’s Law Cen­ter, joined by 68 oth­er orga­ni­za­tions, filed an ami­cus brief at the Supreme Court, which explains that pro­vid­ing access to con­tra­cep­tion with­out cost-shar­ing reduces the risk of unin­tend­ed preg­nan­cy. These orga­ni­za­tions believe that access to con­tra­cep­tion improves the health of women and chil­dren and leads to greater social and eco­nom­ic oppor­tu­ni­ties for women.

Here are four ways that a rul­ing in favor of Hob­by Lob­by could seri­ous­ly impair the well-being of Americans.

1) License to dis­crim­i­nate can harm the LGBT com­mu­ni­ty. The Hob­by Lob­by case, in con­junc­tion with recent efforts to legal­ize dis­crim­i­na­tion, have caused many LGBT and wom­en’s rights groups to become par­tic­u­lar­ly vig­i­lant. Last month, the Ari­zona state Sen­ate vot­ed to pass Sen­ate Bill 1062, which would allow busi­ness­es to reject ser­vice to any cus­tomer based on the own­ers’ reli­gious beliefs. Though Gov. Janet Brew­er vetoed the bill, many orga­ni­za­tions wor­ry that bills like this will con­tin­ue to surface.

Experts believe the Hob­by Lob­by case can set a ter­ri­ble prece­dent for the LGBT com­mu­ni­ty. On March 3, 50 lead­ing LGBT, HIV and wom­en’s groups, includ­ing Planned Par­ent­hood Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­i­ca, issued a joint state­ment of oppo­si­tion on recent license to dis­crim­i­nate” efforts. We val­ue the rights of all peo­ple to exer­cise their reli­gion free from dis­crim­i­na­tion or inter­fer­ence,” the state­ment reads. How­ev­er, we are deeply alarmed by a sharp increase in efforts by politi­cians and cor­po­ra­tions to use reli­gious objec­tions to dis­crim­i­nate against and deny health care to large num­bers of Amer­i­cans.” The groups believe that these efforts are not about reli­gious lib­er­ties, but rather let­ting cor­po­ra­tions pick and choose which laws they want to obey.

These orga­ni­za­tions believe that peo­ple all across the coun­try would face real harm if cor­po­ra­tions get a license to dis­crim­i­nate. In addi­tion to the many oth­er forms of injus­tices this kind of leg­is­la­tion can cause, they point out that LGBT peo­ple could be turned away from busi­ness­es, sin­gle moth­ers could be denied bank loans and chil­dren could be pre­vent­ed from get­ting immunizations.

Cecile Richards, pres­i­dent of the Planned Par­ent­hood Fed­er­a­tion of Amer­i­ca also issued a state­ment warn­ing that the Ari­zona leg­is­la­tion rais­es issues sim­i­lar to those in the Supreme Court cas­es: The nation is just get­ting a peek at this extreme agen­da designed to give cor­po­ra­tions a license to dis­crim­i­nate, and they don’t like what they see,” she writes. Gov­er­nor Brew­er was right to reject this extreme mea­sure, and we hope the U.S. Supreme Court rejects it, too, when the jus­tices hear a case on the same prin­ci­ple next month.”

2) Employ­ers’ reli­gious views can dic­tate health­care beyond birth con­trol. Eric Fer­rero, vice pres­i­dent of com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Planned Par­ent­hood, says these efforts to legal­ize dis­crim­i­na­tion are all cut from the same cloth.” The root of it is that folks who want to dis­crim­i­nate are find­ing new ways to do that,” he says. He feels the case is not sim­ply about birth con­trol, but health­care in general.

Sharon Levin, direc­tor of Fed­er­al Repro­duc­tive Health Pol­i­cy, also believes a Supreme Court rul­ing in favor of Hob­by Lob­by would allow employ­ers with reli­gious beliefs to deny their employ­ees from oth­er kinds of cov­er­age for care, such as blood trans­fu­sions and HIV drugs. They should rule in behalf of the gov­ern­ment because it’s what is best for the pub­lic,” Levin says.

3) Neg­a­tive impact on the qual­i­ty of life for women and fam­i­lies. Levin points out that 99 per­cent of women use birth con­trol and that it is cru­cial to gen­der equal­i­ty because it allows women to par­tic­i­pate in edu­ca­tion. Not only can the case have detri­men­tal effects on repro­duc­tive heath, it can neg­a­tive­ly affect the over­all qual­i­ty of life for women and families.

Kim­ber­ly Inez McGuire, direc­tor of pub­lic affairs at the Nation­al Lati­na Insti­tute for Repro­duc­tive Health, agrees. We know that this affects whole fam­i­lies,” she says. Before the Afford­able Care Act, fam­i­lies were pay­ing hun­dreds of dol­lars for birth con­trol or for­go­ing it because they could­n’t afford it. The fam­i­ly bud­get is a fam­i­ly issue.”

She says her orga­ni­za­tion is con­cerned about the impli­ca­tions beyond birth con­trol. Lati­nas are already fac­ing health dis­par­i­ties. Employ­ers could have a detri­men­tal impact on the health of our com­mu­ni­ty. In some ways, this is the same old attack on wom­en’s health­care with a new dis­guise. The claims of a cor­po­ra­tion are being used to drown out the moral agency and faith of women themselves.”

McGuire says that if the court rules in favor of Hob­by Lob­by, the Nation­al Lati­na Insti­tute for Repro­duc­tive Health will do every­thing pos­si­ble to con­tin­ue to expand birth con­trol access and coverage.

4) Set­ting a prece­dent that opens the door to many oth­er forms of dis­crim­i­na­tion. The Hob­by Lob­by case will affect mil­lions of women. That by itself is cause for seri­ous alarm,” says Eric Fer­rero. It’s a slip­pery slope of dis­crim­i­na­tion. A deci­sion can have very far reach­ing con­se­quences. It could allow com­pa­nies to dis­crim­i­nate against a wide range of peo­ple. Any­body who they could claim to have moral dis­ap­proval of with­out hav­ing to sub­stan­ti­ate it. These are beyond retro views about the role of women in soci­ety. It gives a peek at how these folks are try­ing to move the clock back. The Nation­al Wom­en’s Law Cen­ter pro­vid­ed an ami­cus brief that lays bare what the agen­da is. I’m sur­prised that not many peo­ple have picked up on that.”

For a long time there’s been a con­cert­ed effort to allow peo­ple to use reli­gion as a means to dis­crim­i­nate,” says Sharon Levin. This has been hap­pen­ing on many fronts and it’s now com­ing to a head in a way the pub­lic can real­ly see it.” Levin believes these efforts are dan­ger­ous for every­one in the coun­try. Busi­ness­es are argu­ing to get out of a fed­er­al law. It begs the ques­tion, what oth­er laws can they get out of?”

Eri­ka L. Sánchez is a poet, writer and edi­tor liv­ing in Chica­go. She is the sex and love advice colum­nist for Cos­mopoli­tan for Lati­nas and has con­tributed to the Guardian, NBC News, Rolling Stone, Al Jazeera, Truthout, Salon, and many oth­er pub­li­ca­tions. Email her at es@​influencemediagroup.​com.
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