Looming at the Supreme Court: Your Boss May Want to Be Your Doctor

800px-HobbyLobbyStowOhioHobby Lobby is:

A) A group of Washington, D.C., lobbyists who think the government should support hobbyists with tax breaks for scrapbooking, model train building and needlepoint

B) An arts and crafts chain with more than 500 stores in 41 states

C) A company that doesn’t want to offer its employees insurance for some forms of contraception—which they’re required to do to under the Affordable Care Act—because it violates their (Christian) religious beliefs

D) One of two for-profit companies, the other being cabinet-maker Conestoga Wood Specialties, whose cases against the Affordable Care Act will be taken up by the U.S. Supreme Court

Of course the correct answers are B, C, D. The only lobbying done by Hobby Lobby is their attempt to tell women what kind of basic healthcare they should or should not be receiving.

As Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation (and publisher of Ms.) puts it,

Religion should not be used as a cover for profit-making businesses to discriminate against women, nor should women be held hostage to their bosses’ personal religious beliefs. Religious freedom does not mean using your power as an employer to impose your views on others.

If the Supreme Court accepts Hobby Lobby’s arguments, it will set a dangerous precedent—allowing your boss to determine which medicines and medical procedures you will have access to. What’s next? Will the Court allow some bosses not to cover blood transfusions, immunizations or HIV/AIDS treatment because they’re contrary to their beliefs?

Indeed, if your employer’s religion says that only prayer can cure illness, should he or she not cover any medical treatment?

Under the Affordable Care Act, all new health insurance plans must cover FDA-approved contraceptives for women without copays or deductibles. The Obama administration modified the provision somewhat to exempt certain nonprofit religious organizations from the requirement, (with insurance companies charged with providing stand-alone birth control coverage). But private employers were not part of the deal. After all, can a private corporation really have a religion? Isn’t that crossing all sorts of lines separating church and state?

But Hobby Lobby—acting as both religious leader and unlicensed doctor—only wants to provide insurance for certain contraceptive devices and pills that, it believes, don’t prevent embryos from implanting in the uterus. It objects to emergency contraceptives Plan B and ella as well as two types of IUDs because of the owners’ religious beliefs against abortion. Conestoga Wood Specialties, owned by Mennonites, just objected to Plan B and ella. Science, by the way, has not shown that emergency contraception prevents implantation, and evidence about IUDs is that they do their work before fertilization. Darn that science!

Arguments for and against Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius will likely be heard by the Supreme Court in March. Previously, the U.S. Third Circuit Court of Appeals ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby, saying it was a “person” under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, but the Third Circuit ruled against Conestoga Wood, saying that “for-profit, secular corporations cannot engage in religious exercise.” They’re not the only cases filed against the contraceptive mandate either—more than 80 others have been as well, but these two that were chosen by the Court were among the furthest along in the appeals process.

Certain to be questioned by the justices is whether businesses can hold religious beliefs and whether the Affordable Care Act infringes on such beliefs. Even if they can and it does, isn’t it more important to guarantee women employees the right to the health care of their choice?

It’s not as if birth control is some rare medical need. As many as 88 percent of American women who have ever had sexual intercourse have used birth control pills, injectables, the contraceptive patch or IUDs at some point in their lives. And that’s not even counting the 14 percent who use the Pill to help treat cramps, ovarian cysts and endometriosis.

So what will it be, Supremes? Will you extend the much-lamented Citizens United decision and see corporations not just as “persons” but as religious persons? And can those religious “persons” dictate what kind of insurance it will deign to offer its women employees?

We sure hope not.

Photo of Hobby Lobby in Stow, Ohio, from Wikimedia Commons


MichelebyMarkMichele Kort is senior editor of Ms. magazine and editor of the Ms. Blog. She is the author of four books, including Here Come the Brides: Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage and Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro.


Michele Kort is senior editor of Ms. She is the author of Soul Picnic: The Music and Passion of Laura Nyro and coeditor (with Audrey Bilger) of Here Come the Brides: Reflections on Lesbian Love and Marriage.