By Diana Bianchini, West Hollywood, California
The GOP’s War on Women today won a battle…
The Supreme Court ruled today in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case in favor of a for-profit corporation’s right to deny employees insurance coverage for birth control based on the “strongly held” religious beliefs of the business stakeholders.
The vote came in at 5-4 ruling against one component of President Obama’s health care reform law.
Just two years ago, Chief Justice John Roberts cast the majority vote that saved the Affordable Care Act, of part of which was addressed today.
Justice Roberts today cast the majority vote that conservatives hailed and progressives said was a sharp blow to women.
The court stressed that its ruling applies only to closely-held corporations under the control of a handful of people in a business culture free from dissenting religious views.
Justice Alito also said the decision is limited to contraceptives under the healthcare law.
“Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance-coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs,” he wrote.
Not everyone believes that the limit would hold.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, speaking for the minority when reading the dissent from the bench, “Would the exemption the Court holds RFRA demands for employers with religiously grounded objections to the use of certain contraceptives 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 (Christian Scientists, among others)?”
The Obama administration has said a defeat in this case would present special difficulties and will strip women who work for the companies that deny contraceptive care of a set of tools designed to improve their health and replaces it with the question of whether or not they can afford it.
The government’s supporters pointed to research showing that the intrauterine device can cost up to $1,000; the contraceptives at issue before the court were the emergency contraceptives Plan B and ella, and two IUDs.
A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation recently found 85 percent of large American employers already had offered such coverage before the healthcare law required it.
In fact, Hobby Lobby had paid for their employees’ contraceptives for years before challenging the Obama Administration’s policy achievement.
This decision represents a setback to low-income families, single mother families and women’s and human rights.
Democrats are calling it a blatant attack in the Republican Party’s “War on Women” while determining how to respond legislatively.
The ruling allows for for-profit businesses (with at least 50 percent of stock held by five or fewer people, such as family-owned businesses) to dictate health care access for their employees.
This ruling represents what social justice advocates say is a huge setback in women’s rights with potentially harmful effect on other minority populations;
LGBT people stand at the front of that line, since the ENDA (LGBT anti-discrimination in employment) law has stalled in Congress.
Lambda Legal, the nation’s largest LGBT legal advocacy group, said in a statement:
“Today’s majority ruling disregards decades of case law that drew a protective line between free religious expression and religious dominance of others. It is a radically dangerous decision that invites more misguided actions contrary to essential protections for employees, customers and the public.
“Today’s ruling is about the ACA and women’s reproductive health and rights, but some may mistake this narrow ruling as a wide open door for religious liberty exemptions from other statutes that protect employees and the public.
The statement pointed out that “recent mistreatment of LGBT people in employment and other commercial settings still makes this extremely troubling.
“A business owner’s religious objection to a worker’s same-sex spouse or a customer’s LGBT identity is not acceptable grounds for discrimination.
“It is more important than ever that states and Congress enact strong, clear nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people.”
NARAL Pro-Choice America said:
“Today’s decision from five male justices is a direct attack on women and our fundamental rights. This ruling goes out of its way to declare that discrimination against women isn’t discrimination.
“Allowing bosses this much control over the health-care decisions of their employees is a slippery slope with no end. Every American could potentially be affected by this far-reaching and shocking decision that allows bosses to reach beyond the boardroom and into their employees’ bedrooms.
“The majority claims that its ruling is limited, but that logic doesn’t hold up. Today it’s birth control; tomorrow it could be any personal medical decision, from starting a family to getting life-saving vaccinations or blood transfusions.
“Ninety-nine percent of women use birth control at some point in our lives, and none of those stories made it into the arguments. It’s outrageous that these five male justices chose to single out birth control for special discrimination.
“NARAL’s message has always been clear: bosses who want control over their employees’ personal medical decisions are offensive, out of touch, and out of bounds, and so is this ruling.
“We call upon Congress to right this wrong, and we will work tirelessly with our allies and member activists to make sure that the people who would stand between a woman and her doctor are held accountable.”
Conservatives, on the other hand, are far more sanguine about the potential effects on society if small employers can determine only contraceptive care coverage.
The court made every effort to limit the scope of the decision to avoid setting a precedent for other religions and medical treatment such as dyalisys, or mental health treatment.
Said Justice Alito in his majority ruling, “This decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to hold that all insurance-coverage mandates, e.g., for vaccinations or blood transfusions, must necessarily fall if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs.
“Nor does it provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice.”
Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, applauded the court’s decision. “The Supreme Court has delivered one of the most significant victories for religious freedom in our generation,” he said in a statement.
“We are thankful the Supreme Court agreed that the government went too far by mandating that family businesses owners must violate their consciences under threat of crippling fines.”
Local WeHo civic leaders and those in Los Angeles stood united in shared outrage to this ruling today.
“With this decision, the US Supreme Court has ventured into an active minefield,” said West Hollywood Mayor John D’Amico.
“Any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under a for-profit company should be her autonomous choice, not subject to the religious beliefs of her employer or impeded by the United States government,” he said.
“There is no question that the Supreme Court did a disservice to all women and all Americans with this ruling.”
The newly-branded Los Angeles LGBT Center said in a statement, on Burwell, Secretary of Health and Human Services, et al v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., with the Center’s CEO Lorri L. Jean saying, “This decision is an alarming victory for fundamentalist religious forces who want to be able to use their private beliefs to harm and restrict the freedom of others who believe differently.
“For the first time, the U.S. Supreme Court is allowing companies that do business with the public to evade the application of federal laws because of individual belief.
She agreed that the precedent could harm the effort to banish anti-gay discrimination from the workplace. “This flies in the face of decades of civil rights jurisprudence. It’s a dangerous precedent that, in addition to harming women, puts the rights and freedoms of LGBT people at risk.”
The Center held out Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissenting opinion that calls this a “decision of startling breadth” in which the “court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, can opt out of any law, saving only tax laws, they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs,” as did many other activist groups, as evidence of the slippery slope.
Those religious beliefs and the believers’ right to act on them, though, was at issue in the case – and conservatives could not be happier.
Sean Davis writing for The Federalist wrote, “Corporations aren’t people, but they are owned by people, and the religious beliefs of those people must be protected regardless of how those people choose to incorporate their businesses.
“The court ruled today that the accommodations provided to non-profit religious organizations by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act also apply to for-profit companies.
“It’s a big win for religious liberty and against the belief that your faith no longer matters once you decide to open a business,” he says.
The most visible women’s group in and around West Hollywood officially took the decision personally.
“Unbelievable and unacceptable that the Supreme Court issued a ruling that takes birth control out of the hands of women who need it,” said WeHo’s Ruth Williams, acting in her role as Director of Advocacy for the National Council of Jewish Women, (NCJWLA).
“My employer does not have the right to decide what to do with my body and deny me or any woman birth control benefits allowed under the Affordable Care Act. It makes me sick that we are still fighting about a woman’s access to basic health care.”
She felt betrayed by the newest Justice on the Court. “And even worse that Justice Sotomayor didn’t support us! Thank goodness for Justice Ginsburg when she stated, “this would deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage.”
She posed a central question surrounding women’s rights 40 years after Roe V Wade: “How do we reach the younger generation to make them realize they cannot continue to take reproductive rights for granted or Roe v Wade guaranteeing choice?? They must wake up and realize our rights are at stake.
“Here we are again in 2014 fighting for the right to make decisions about our own bodies – and now our employers will do that? I think not,” she said indignantly.
Read the ruling: