Hobby Lobby makes the choices for women

March 27, 2014

Elizabeth Schulte explains what's at stake in the Supreme Court case concerning Hobby Lobby and contraception coverage.

"I DON'T have to provide my employees with access to birth control--even if it is the law--because I am expressing my religious freedom."

That's a simplified version of the argument being made by the Christian owners of Hobby Lobby, who are arguing to the Supreme Court that they shouldn't have to comply with the portion of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that calls for employers' health care plans to cover contraception.

The Green family, which owns Hobby Lobby, is specifically targeting Plan B and Ella and intrauterine devices (IUDs), which they claim are abortifacients--causing "abortions." Hobby Lobby is wrong, but that hasn't stopped their case.

On March 25, the Supreme Court began hearing Hobby Lobby's appeal after it lost its suit against the Department of Health and Human Services in September 2012, arguing that a company has the same rights to religious freedom as a person. The Court has until June to rule.

The reality is that employers like the Hobby Lobby--including the furniture company Conestoga Wood Specialties, whose case is also being heard by the Court--have plenty of freedom of choice. The ACA stipulates that employers can choose to drop their health care plans, but they'd have to pay a fine to help subsidize their employees' coverage through the health care exchange or Medicaid.

Defending birth control outside the Supreme Court as the justices heard arguments in the Hobby Lobby case
Defending birth control outside the Supreme Court as the justices heard arguments in the Hobby Lobby case

And Obama's health care act does in fact already exempt religious institutions, such as places of worship, after the administration bowed to pressure from religious institutions to do so.

HOBBY LOBBY'S owners seem to know very little about how these forms of contraception work, or at least, they are pretending to. They claim that Plan B and Ella are "abortion-causing drugs," when Plan B actually prevents the fertilization of an egg. Right-wingers like the Green family purposely confuse Plan B, and the newer Ella, with the drug RU-486, or mifepristone, which induces abortion and isn't covered by the Obama health plan.

In other words, despite what the Hobby Lobby thinks, the ACA doesn't cover abortions (although it should, in the opinion of SocialistWorker.org).

Until now, the Hobby Lobby also hasn't seemed to know much about what's been covered in the past under its employee health coverage, either. According to Mother Jones, the company actually covered Plan B and Ella (though not IUDs) in its health care plan prior to its suit in 2012.

So while religious bosses like the owners of Hobby Lobby have many choices when it comes to their own health care coverage, their employees have precious few.

Hiding behind the ruse that they're the victims of some kind of religious persecution, employers like Hobby Lobby are actually trying to steal the benefits that their employees--women employees--have earned.

As Adam Sonfield, a senior public policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute, told Think Progress:

It's an incredible devaluing of the insurance that you as an employee work for. This is telling you that you can't use your compensation--your own benefits that you have earned--in a way that your boss objects to. And that is a frightening road for us to be going down, as a society.

And somehow it's seen as okay because it's women's reproductive health choices that are being restricted. It's an upside-down health care system in which birth control and access to abortion are not seen as key to a woman's health--but instead are classified as "extras" that a religious fanatic can simply write out of an employee's coverage.

This attitude goes beyond the religious right, who of course oppose women controlling their own bodies, and is expressed in a health care system that generally refuses to prioritize women's right to affordable reproductive health choices. If that wasn't the case, the Obama administration and the congressional Democrats would have fought for abortion coverage to be part of the ACA.

TODAY, THE expense of birth control means that many women simply do not have access to it, because like most health care--and everything else in U.S. society--there is one set of choices for the rich and another significantly more limited for the rest of us.

The cost of emergency contraceptives like Plan B, for instance--as much as $70--can be a serious barrier to women's access. According to a 2013 Guttmacher Institute report, women with incomes below the federal poverty level have five times the unintended pregnancy rate of women at 200 percent of poverty or greater. The report's author Adam Sonfield concludes:

The uncertainty around key components of the ACA is in sharp contrast to the clarity of the evidence about the benefits of contraception. If U.S. policymakers were to heed this evidence, their decisions would be simple. They would halt the archaic and harmful attacks on family planning and on the programs and providers that make these services accessible and affordable for all Americans, especially those most disadvantaged. They would embrace the opportunity provided by the ACA to reduce inequality in health coverage. And they would make every effort to help women and couples, regardless of their background, make their own choices about whether and when to have children--choices that can, in turn, help them achieve the American dream.

This article began with the statement: "I don't have to provide my employees with access to birth control--even if it is the law--because I am expressing my religious freedom."

Let's say we expand on that argument a little. How about we replace the words "access to birth control" with "a minimum wage," or maybe "freedom from racial discrimination on the job." (Who knows, there's is a lot of odd stuff tucked away in the Bible.)

What then? The answer of course, is that this is a silly argument--a silly argument because decades of working-class and civil rights struggle have ensured the fact that rules against discrimination and unfair wages are taken seriously.

Maybe that's what the reproductive rights movement needs--an outspoken opposition to any cut to women's right to choose and demands to expand, not compromise, on women's reproductive health.

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