The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby. In doing so, they’ve ruled against women. There is a lot more that should be said about this, but after many attempts to gather my thoughts, I’ve found that I’m unable to wade through my overwhelming feelings of utter shock and disappointment.
In a 5-4 decision, the US Supreme court ruled on Monday that “closely-held corporations” (those ruled by a few) are legally entitled to refuse to cover contraception for religious reasons in the health plans they offer employees.
The ruling was on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Burwell. The Burwell named in these cases refers to Sylvia Mathews Burwell, the newly confirmed Secretary of Health and Human Services. These cases challenged the provision in the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that requires for-profit companies to cover contraception in their health plans. The for-profit companies previously argued that this provision imposes a substantial burden on their ability to exercise religious freedom. The Greens, a Christian family that owns Hobby Lobby, and the Hahns, a Mennonite family that owns Conestoga Wood Specialties, claim that certain kinds of birth control—types that the Affordable Care Act would cover—are the same as abortion. Of note is that they only objected to 4 of the 20 FDA-approved contraceptives. Yet the Court’s decision lets them off the hook for all contraception.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg vehemently disagreed with the decision of the five Justices who voted against mandatory contraception coverage and delivered a 35-page dissent regarding that decision. Throughout her dissent, Ginsburg refers to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which she believed had been enacted by Congress "to serve a far less radical purpose" than the court had interpreted it to. "And mindful of the havoc the Court’s judgment can introduce," she wrote, "I dissent."
She does so spectacularly. What follows are quotes or paraphrases from Justice Ginsburg’s dissent, which can be found among these pages of the Court’s syllabus for these cases (look for it around page 60):
"The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.”
“The exemption … would deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage that the ACA would otherwise secure.”
“Again, the Court forgets that religious organizations exist to serve a community of believers. For-profit corporations do not fit that bill. ... To reiterate, ‘for-profit corporations are different from religious non-profits in that they use labor to make a profit, rather than to perpetuate [the] religious value[s] [shared by a community of believers].’”
“The distinction between a community made up of believers in the same religion and one embracing persons of diverse beliefs, clear as it is, constantly escapes the Court’s attention. One can only wonder why the Court shuts this key difference from sight.”
“The Court barely pauses to inquire whether any burden imposed by the contraceptive coverage requirement is substantial. Instead, it rests on the Greens’ and Hahns’ ‘belie[f] that providing the coverage demanded by the HHS regulations is connected to the destruction of an embryo in a way that is sufficient to make it immoral for them to provide the coverage.’ … But those beliefs, however deeply held, do not suffice to sustain a RFRA claim. RFRA, properly understood, distinguishes between ‘factual allegations that [plaintiffs’] beliefs are sincere and of a religious nature,’ which a court must accept as true, and the ‘legal conclusion ... that [plaintiffs’] religious exercise is substantially burdened,’ an inquiry the court must undertake.”
“Importantly, the decisions whether to claim benefits under the plans are made not by Hobby Lobby or Conestoga, but by the covered employees and dependents, in consultation with their health care providers. Should an employee of Hobby Lobby or Conestoga share the religious beliefs of the Greens and Hahns, she is of course under no compulsion to use the contraceptives in question. But ‘[n]o individual decision by an employee and her physician—be it to use contraception, treat an infection, or have a hip replaced—is in any meaningful sense [her employer’s] decision or action.’”