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Reprinted with permission of AlterNet.
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?”
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