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Corporations Can Dictate Contraception? My Thoughts on the Hobby Lobby Decision

hlI confess that I was totally blindsided. I never expected the Supreme Court would rule the way it did, five justices – all male, by the way — agreeing that requiring family-owned corporations to provide insurance coverage for contraception somehow violated a federal law protecting the corporation’s religious freedom.

A corporation’s religious freedom? I guess that’s what really stunned me. It was outrageous enough that, writing earlier in the infamous Citizens United decision, the court had declared that corporations have First Amendment rights to free speech. Now the court’s majority has decided that corporations – at least those owned mainly by families — are also entitled to freedom of religion.

If one follows this convoluted line of reasoning, corporations apparently are allowed to believe and worship gods of their choosing. These profit-oriented corporations apparently need not comply with federal or state laws should those laws conflict with their “free exercise of religion.”

That leaves family-owned corporations perhaps subject only to certain religious tenets; say the 10 commandments or Sharia law or the Koran or Talmud or the teachings of Joseph Smith and Mary Baker Eddy or Pope Francis.

The plaintiff in this case, an outfit known as Hobby Lobby, apparently got the verdict that the owners were praying for.  Kentucky Sen. Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader, responded that the decision ”makes clear that the Obama administration cannot trample on the religious freedoms that Americans hold dear.”  Oklahoma Rep. Jim Bridenstine, another Republican, said that, “It’s a great day for religious liberty. Americans don’t surrender their freedom when they open a business.”

Ah, but women who toil for these corporations apparently give up something else:  access to reproductive health care. This personhood fixation leaves the women employees who, under federal law, ought to have been able to obtain insurance coverage for contraception unable to access needed coverage. They are left to pay for contraception outside their employee health coverage.

rbgIn her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, writing for the court’s four-member liberal wing held that the contraception requirement was vital to women’s health and to their reproductive freedom. She rightly said that the decision is “bound to have untoward effects in other settings.” She went on to say that the court’s expansive notion of corporate personhood “invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations that they deem offensive to their faith.”

It’s hard to disagree with Justice Ginsberg’s concern that the Hobby Lobby finding will have wide implications. The pathway ahead is scary. One can see that there could be corporations that will adopt religious objections to vaccines; others that may refuse to provide coverage for heart surgery that relies on animal valves; and still others that may object to blood transfusion.

One can even fear that there may be corporations that, adopting strict Biblical precepts, might refuse to pay women equal pay for equal work, based on religious objections.

It seems fairly clear that the main concern behind this misbegotten decision is a rebuke to the totality of the Affordable Care Act with those who would seek adequate reproductive care second-hand victims.

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