This Tuesday, the U.S. Supreme Court will hear arguments in two consolidated cases, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius, on the government's authority to require employers to provide health care coverage that includes birth control and other pregnancy-related services under the Affordable Care Act.
The owners of two for-profit corporations, Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., claim their Christian religious beliefs justify withholding contraception coverage from their employees, never mind what their employees believe.
Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialities are not the only employers seeking the legal right to restrict their women employees' access to birth control. Some 100 companies or nonprofit organizations -- NOW calls them the Dirty 100 -- have sued the United States Government for that same power.
Two issues raised by these lawsuits are receiving a lot of attention: First, can a corporation claim religious freedom under the First Amendment? Second, can a corporation block its employees from at least some forms of contraception on the grounds they are abortifacients? I'll comment on those in a moment, but first I want to pause over a third issue: Can a corporation use its supposed Christian religion to justify discriminating against its women employees?
I want to propose that we lay to rest, once and for all, the tired old I'm-a-bigot-because-God-wants-it argument. Think about it. Proponents of discrimination have routinely used religion to justify their hurtful policies: two shameful examples are slavery in the United States and segregation in the Deep South.
More recently, religious claims were the driving force behind California's Proposition 8, which sought to prohibit same-sex marriages. But these arguments have been thoroughly discredited. We have progressed as a society to the point where the use of religion to justify excluding, demeaning or discriminating against whole groups of people is roundly condemned, and rightly so. The idea of Hobby Lobby Stores, Conestoga Wood, or any of the Dirty 100 using religion as an excuse to block women's access to birth control should be no less condemned.
As to whether Hobby Lobby Stores or Conestoga Wood can claim religious freedom SCOTUSblog summarized what's at stake.
At the level of their greatest potential, the two cases raise the profound cultural question of whether a private, profit-making business organized as a corporation can "exercise" religion and, if it can, how far that is protected from government interference. The question can arise -- and does, in these cases -- under either the First Amendment's Free Exercise Clause or under a federal law, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed by Congress in 1993.
In a manner of speaking, these issues pose the question -- a topic of energetic debate in current American political and social discourse -- of whether corporations are "people." The First Amendment protects the rights "of the people," and the 1993 law protects the religious rights of "persons." Do profit-making companies qualify as either?
As an aside, I have to wonder, if the Supreme Court decides that a corporation is a "person" with religious freedom under the First Amendment, where might that leave the status of women as "persons" with the right to equal protection of the law under the Fourteenth Amendment? In any event, Caroline Mala Corbin, a law professor at the University of Miami, succinctly rejected the idea of corporations as having the capacity for religious belief. As she said, "For-profit corporations do not and should not have religious rights. They have no soul, and they certainly don't have a relationship with God."
So, what about the claim that Hobby Lobby Stores and others in the Dirty 100 are making, that some forms of contraception are actually abortifacients? Two summaries by the National Partnership for Women & Families (here and here) are worth reading, and I'd be interested to know if you have the same reaction that I did when I read them.
These arguments would be laughable if the men running the Dirty 100 entities weren't so deadly serious about blocking women's access to life-saving health care. Because that's what contraception is: life-saving. Unintended pregnancy is highly associated with infant and maternal mortality. Unintended pregnancy is also a significant risk factor for domestic violence.
So when these guys start saying that they have to, just have to, block women's access to safe and effective contraception because they're worried about the "lives" of the zygotes, I want to say: Seriously?
You are going to claim to be pro-life but ignore infant mortality? And maternal mortality? You are going to claim to be confused and worried about the fertilized egg, and the implantation, and the uterine wall, but ignore the intimate partner violence that accompanies unintended pregnancy? What business do you have talking about women's bodies -- as if we are not in the room -- in the same way one might talk about, say, whether robots are more like androids or more like appliances? Seriously.
Let's review some facts. Some 99 percent of sexually active women, including 98 percent of sexually active Catholic women, use contraception at some point. According to the National Partnership, an estimated 17.4 million women need subsidized services and supplies because they are unable to access or purchase contraceptive services and supplies on their own. And more than half of young adult women say cost concerns have led them to not use their birth control method as directed.
The Guttmacher Institute has found that about half (51 percent) of the 6.6 million pregnancies in the United States each year (3.4 million) are unintended. What's more, the 19 percent of women at risk who use contraception inconsistently or incorrectly account for 43 percent of all unintended pregnancies.
Yet, in the face of these facts, Hobby Lobby and the others in the Dirty 100 want to restrict women's access to this essential preventive care because of the claim that "zygotes are people too."
If that's the best they can do, they should surely lose this appeal. Of course, the case is before Chief Justice John Robert's Supreme Court, which ushered in the era of corporations as people with the Citizens United case, and is widely considered the most politically active since the earliest days of our republic. So never say never. But whatever the Supreme Court does, I know what I'm not going to do: give my business or my money to Hobby Lobby or any of the other Dirty 100 that practice similar gender bigotry.
You can take action too: Click here to sign our petition telling them their bias is not acceptable.
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