Hobby Lobby: On The Brink Of A Women’s Rights Abyss

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In a decision mostly divided along ideological and gender lines, the Supreme Court voted last week in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby to release certain companies from providing insurance coverage for contraceptives to their female employees.

Simply put, at 5-4, the Supremes crawled into the LadyBusiness of America and voted to allow closely-held companies to opt out of paying for contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act. The IRS defines “closely-held” as any company that is not a personal service organization, and has five or fewer owners who possess more than half of the stock. A 2009 New York University Stern School of Business study says that’s little more than half of private sector companies that employ around 60 million people.

Hobby Lobby protest

Providence Journal Photo

Hobby Lobby protest in Rhode Island.

Though press coverage would have you think otherwise, this is not a narrowly-defined decision. This is huge, because of – in no particular order –the creeping religiosity factor, and the fact that a woman’s right to plan her own pregnancies (or not get pregnant, ever) is fundamental to her ability to control her own destiny.

Multiple studies draw a thick line between economic and physical health and a woman’s access to contraceptives. A 2012 Guttmacher Institute study said access to birth control contributes mightily to a woman’s choices in education and employment. Access also helps make families healthier. Planned pregnancies generally mean a family has – well – planned for the child, and has emotional and physical resources for child-rearing. Overburdened families have limited health outcomes. Short birth intervals are linked to poorer infant health. This – as is everything – is a class issue. The number of unplanned pregnancies among women living in poverty is five times that of women of higher income.

In an amicus brief, the National Women’s Law Center called it discriminatory to exclude contraceptive coverage for women. Women – poor and rich — bear the burden of cost for birth control and – society being what it is – women by far bear the burden of rearing the child, particularly if the father is not custodial. That’s a polite way of saying it. This portion of the ACA was supposed to correct that.

Supposed to, until the Supremes got religion.

Religious exemption is not a new concept. A 1999 Connecticut law requires insurers that offer prescription drug coverage to include coverage for contraceptives. The law also includes a proviso for “religious employers,” who can be excluded if such coverage runs counter to the “religious employer’s bona fide religious tenets.” A religious employer is identified as a “qualified church-controlled organization” – which does not include a for-profit organization such as Hobby Lobby.

The health implications for women who work for Hobby Lobby-esque organizations are huge, but the impact goes beyond those women and their families. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote in her 35-page dissent, the Supremes have wandered into a “minefield.” Religious organizations, she wrote, exist for like-minded individuals. For-profit corporations do not.

(They’re not, unless they’re a cult. Oh, wait. That’s me talking, not Justice Ginsburg.)

But then, if cases such as Citizens United allow personhood for corporations, it’s probably a natural progression that some of those corporate persons would one day accept Angry Jesus as their personal savior. Angry Jesus is pretty happy right now, I bet.

A June Public Religion Research Institute study said roughly 6 in 10 Americans believe contraceptives should be covered at publicly-held organizations, provided the organization is not an overtly religious one. Despite the support of the rank and file, the rightwing nonsense machine did a masterful job of quelling discussions about the very real health consequences of this decision.

Oddly, Hobby Lobby didn’t disdain contraceptives entirely. Mother Jones reported that the company’s 401(k) retirement plan had some $73 million “in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions.” This is a fund to which Hobby Lobby makes some pretty substantial matching contributions.

Ah, me. The world keeps turning but I have just one more question: Who’s going to tell these closely-held corporations that not covering contraceptives just may lead to more abortions?

You do it. I haven’t the heart.


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