Oh what a wonderland Facebook becomes in the aftermath of a Supreme Court decision!
There have been a lot of angry reactions (and a few elated ones) to the Court’s 5-4 decision overruling the government mandate that companies must provide contraceptive healthcare to their employees. While many of these reactions are knee-jerk in nature, there are legitimate grievances on both sides.
From what I’ve read and heard about the case – and now in the post-decision mayhem – it’s not as clear cut as some have made it out to be. But, of course, this should come as no surprise. Rarely should we think we are 100 percent right and “they” are 100 percent wrong. Most things are grayer than that.
So, let’s not believe “The answer is obvious and to think differently is sheer stupidity!” Supporters should not think the national ship has suddenly been righted, nor should dissenters lose all faith in humanity. It’s perfectly fine to be disappointed – even angry – or pleased – even vindicated – but it’s unwise to view this as an end-all be-all decision, landmark that it is.
Because most of what I’ve come across is far down the spectrum one way or the other, I want to summarize what’s happened and raise a few reasonable points for both sides.
What’s going on?
Basically, the 2010-passed Affordable Healthcare Act (better known to some as Obamacare) requires that companies provide a certain level of healthcare to their employees. Included in that required healthcare is FDA-approved contraception.
Some companies — especially family-run companies that claim religious loyalties in their business charters (i.e. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties) — are opposed to these specific requirements. They don’t want to pay for forms of contraception that they view as tantamount to abortion. Also, if they refused to pay for the methods of birth control with which they disagree, they’d be fined hundreds of millions of dollars per year, likely shutting them down.
A few of these companies banded together to bring forth their case, which reached the Supreme Court of the United States. Ultimately, SCOTUS ruled in favor of the companies, appealing to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) to argue that the government is prohibited from:
substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability… [unless the government] demonstrates that application of the burden to the person – (1) is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and (2) is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.
This strikes down regulations of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) under the ACA that required employers’ healthcare plans to provide contraceptive care without “any cost sharing requirements.” (That is, HHS had mandated companies to provide free preventative care and screenings for employees.)
At the end of the day, the court ruled that companies don’t need to provide some specific forms of contraception to their employees when those forms of contraception violate their “sincerely held” religious beliefs, in light of the fact that the HHS did not prove that such a requirement was the “least restrictive means” of furthering a “compelling governmental interest.”
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That’s what’s happened. Here are a few things to think about on both sides.
For the supporters
1. A slippery slope to the Right
If for-profit companies can use the religious persuasions of their owners to exempt themselves from federal laws, where will it end? As dissenting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg points out:
Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.
And even though the current position is that tax laws are off-limits, what about down the road when pacifist Americans refuse to pay taxes that fund the American military? These are reasonable questions, and we need to be careful to not favor some of the more conservative values of some Christians at the expense of other Americans, or else we have indeed ventured into Ginsburg’s “minefield.”
2. The will of the people
In a democracy like ours, for good or bad, the will of the majority usually determines the national perception of right and wrong. In fact, we get upset when politicians override the majority (e.g. gun control). In the current case with companies and contraception, the SCOTUS ruling doesn’t align with the majority of Americans. An April poll found that Americans support the contraception mandate 2-to-1. Also, 55 percent of those polled said businesses should still adhere to the regulation regarding birth control “even if it violates their owners’ personal religious beliefs.”
One of the great things about this country is that the majority doesn’t get to trample the minority, but when 60 or 70 or 90 percent of Americans think one way about an issue, we need to think hard about the government’s failure to represent that view.
3. Betraying one morality or another
The Religious Right sometimes thinks it is the only bastion of morality left. In reality, it may very well be the last bastion, but only of its own morality. Those who supported the HHS mandate for companies to provide contraception “sincerely believe” all women everywhere should have access to the morning after pill, in the same way that Hobby Lobby “sincerely believes” they shouldn’t (or, at least, Hobby Lobby shouldn’t have to pay for it). Whatever happened in this case, the result would be an example of medical opinions and personal values being “imposed” on other people. Obviously, the disagreement is over whose values are better, but never think yours are the only ones. In a case like this, having your values upheld sometimes means having the other person’s values betrayed.
4. The difference between supporting contraceptives and supporting the choice
The distinction won’t matter to many, but maybe it should. Hobby Lobby doesn’t want any part in providing the four kinds of contraception to its employees, but it’s worth considering that neither the company nor the government would be supporting these methods. What they’d actually be doing is accepting the possibility and then allowing women to choose for themselves. As Ginsburg said in her dissent:
Any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby’s or Conestoga’s plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will be the woman’s autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults.
On the other hand:
For the dissenters
1. Contraceptive coverage will still be provided
Despite the ruling, it’s not as though employees of Hobby Lobby will now go without birth control. The FDA has approved 20 forms of birth control, and the companies in the case only opposed four of them – two kinds of morning after pills and two implantables. These four are opposed because they operate post-conception – that is, they prevent life after the baby/fetus/embryo/zygote has already been conceived. The companies have raised no objection to the 16 other forms of FDA-approved birth control and each of them are still covered under the Affordable Healthcare Act.
2. A slippery slope to the Left
Hobby Lobby is a private company that is openly faith-based. If the government can mandate moral judgments for private companies, will it then be able to mandate such judgments for private schools? Faith-based nonprofits? Religious institutions? No one can say, but the question of government regulation in private and religious bodies must be asked.
3. Granting religious beliefs to companies is not new. We all do it.
Already since the decision I’ve read numerous versions of the sentiment that, until this ruling, the country had “never granted religious beliefs to companies.” I don’t know enough about law or business to speak to how factual this is, but I am confident in saying that we all ascribe values, ideals, and principles — many of them religious in nature — to companies. We know, for instance, that beef farmers have certain views about animal rights and the environment, which is why vegans generally don’t sign up to work for them. We know that Fox News or MSNBC have certain persuasions, which determine not only how they operate, but the public’s perception of them and who works there. You may be able to get a job at Bass Pro Shop, but if you are against hunting, you probably shouldn’t. You can get a job at the ice cream shop down the street, but if the owner is forever putting up flyers for his next Socialist get-together and you think Marx is a monster, you shouldn’t submit your application. I know some people who would never work at World Vision or Chick-Fil-A because of the management’s views on homosexuality.
As for Hobby Lobby, anyone who has done even the slightest bit of research will find it’s a company that openly preaches its brand of Christianity — it closes on Sundays and weekdays at 8:00; it publishes Christian ads in newspapers on Christmas and Easter; its mission statement talks about serving the Lord. Every company has an agenda, and it usually goes beyond mere financials.
For better or worse, we’ve known for 200 years in this country that, yes, companies are people. And in Hobby Lobby’s case, the “person” is in many ways an open book. Employees don’t need to like or agree with the ownership’s views, but they cannot act surprised that the company doesn’t want to foot the bill for what it sees as an act of murder.
4. These companies don’t hate women
In the same way that pro-lifers are not trying to repossess women’s bodies, these companies and their supporters are not on a quest to make life hard for 50 percent of the population. It is perfectly fair to believe Hobby Lobby’s stance is bad for women, but it is not fair to say Hobby Lobby’s goal is to hurt women. This, of course, doesn’t speak to the rightness or wrongness of the SCOTUS ruling, but it’s a reminder that we need to be fair. The conservative Christians who own Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties are people just like you. Based on their philanthropy and the way they treat their employees (the current decision, perhaps, notwithstanding), I’d even venture to guess they have some compassionate, thoughtful bones in their bodies. So, just as pro-choicers wouldn’t want to be labeled as heartless baby-killers, it’s not fair or right to call the families behind these companies ignorant women-haters.
5. You can always boycott
This isn’t the most satisfying answer, but it’s definitely there. If people feel strongly enough about the issue — if they are repulsed enough by Hobby Lobby and its compatriots — they are free to not shop or work there. Hobby Lobby is fully aware of this, and felt strongly enough to go ahead with their case anyway. While our main concern here should really be justice, if you feel justice was not served, you are under no obligation to like, support, work for, buy from, or go anywhere near a Hobby Lobby ever, ever again. You can protest, write letters, buy ads, build a federal case for yourself… just like Hobby Lobby can.