All the Women on the Supreme Court Understand that Religion Shouldn't Control Our Birth Control Policy

ruth bader ginsburg

The Hobby Lobby birth control case decided at the Supreme Court today hinges on a debate over freedom of religion. Five out of nine Supreme Court justices (all male) say that the religious beliefs of people who run companies trump the rights of workers to access reproductive healthcare. The rest of the Supreme Court justices—including all three women on the court—agree that freedom of religion shouldn’t impinge on employees’ access to contraception.

Since the passage of the Affordable Healthcare Act, the CEOs of Hobby Lobby and other companies run by religious evangelists have been advocating to exempt themselves from the portion that requires them to cover employees’ birth control.The ruling says that requiring “closely held” companies to cover birth control options violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Since the CEOs sincerely believe that life begins at conception and that it “violates their religion to facilitate access to contraceptive drugs or devices that operate after that point,” they cannot be compelled to provide insurance coverage for birth control. In addition to the companies that filed the suit, numerous other “closely held” companies run by evangelical Christians are also likely to cut off birth control coverage after today’s ruling. It seems important to point out that their objections are based on bunk science—throughout the case, they referred to several birth control options as “abortifacients” and outlets like the Wall Street Journal used the term, too. These forms of contraception don’t cause abortions. But that fact seems beside the point, since this case clearly isn’t about science. Based on today’s ruling, the CEOs of these companies could, conceivably, “sincerely believe” that using birth control will turn women into Pokemon and their beliefs would be protected. 

Refusing to cover birth control for your employees is NOT protected under our First Amendment right to freedom of religion, says Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her epic dissent on this ruling. The right to exercise your religion is protected in the United States up to the point where it impinges on someone else’s freedom—or, as Ginsburg quotes in her opinion: “Your right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.” In this case, Hobby Lobby’s CEO is flinging his religious beliefs into the faces of 16,000 employees.

Ginsburg points out that this ruling values the religious beliefs of the people at the top of a corporation “no matter the impact” that enforcing those beliefs will have on other citizens—in this case, the thousands of women who rely on Hobby Lobby for a job. This is a “radical” interpretation of the law, says Ginsburg. It’s especially troubling given that the people at the top of companies are not representative of most Americans: 92 percent of Fortune 100 CEOs are men and 94 percent are white. As attorney Andrew Daar wrote last winter on this issue:

A decision in favor of corporate free exercise would have far-reaching consequences.  Will the notoriously homophobic Chick-Fil-A be able to request an exemption because Employement Non-Discrimination Act infringes its free exercise right?  Could a corporation come forward and argue that its owners are religiously opposed to Title IX?  Or, to turn the tables a bit, could a for-profit corporation owned by Buddhists or Quakers request that their corporate taxes not be allocated to fund the military, as Buddhism and Quakerism mandate pacifism?

It seems like the five justices who issued this ruling think that not covering birth control options for employees is not such a “radical” deviation from American law. The ruling is supposed to be narrow—only applying to contraceptives and not other healthcare practices that could run afoul of religion. But access to birth control should be considered a crucial right for women. In her dissent, Ginsburg quotes the decision in a landmark 1992 case involving Planned Parenthood: “The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.”

Congress understood that concept when they passed Obamacare. The small part of the Affordable Care Act that required covering birth control and reproductive health screenings is a huge step forward for women—Planned Parenthood President Cecile Richards called it the “big story” of Obamacare that didn’t grab headlines because it’s “steady, historic progress for women” rather than a splashy change. But the impact of mandating insurance coverage for birth control options is real: more than half of women say they have struggled with the cost of birth control. The expansion of preventive care options opened up contraceptive access and a range of reproductive healthcare options to 27 million women. Justice Ginsburg notes in her dissent that the financial burden of contraception and reproductive health typically falls unfairly on women, quoting the stat that women of childbearing age spend 68 percent more in out-of-pocket for health care costs than men.

In her dissent, Ginsburg lays out how this new ruling contradicts older case law. The court decided that accommodating someone’s religious beliefs should not hinder any “third party” in a 1990 case filed by two Oregon Native Americans who had been fired from their jobs for using peyote as part of a religious ceremony. In that case, Department of Human Services of Oregon vs. Smith, the court issued essentially the opposite ruling as it did in this case: the employees’ religious practices “significantly impinged” on the interests of their employer, so they weren’t protected under the First Amendment. In this case, it the Bible-beating beliefs of Hobby Lobby’s CEO are clearly impinging on the bodies of its employees.

But it seems like the Supreme Court is happy to protect freedom of religion—as long as its the religion of the people at the top of society.

Related Reading: Your Boss Shouldn’t Be the Boss of Your Birth Control. 

Sarah Mirk is Bitch’s online editor. Her new hobby will be lobbying for conservative Supreme Court justices to retire. 

by Sarah Mirk
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Sarah Mirk is the former host of Bitch Media’s podcast Popaganda. She’s interested in gender, history, comics, and talking to strangers. You can follow her on Twitter

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27 Comments Have Been Posted

Best tagline ever, Sarah

Best tagline ever, Sarah Mirk. Also, THE HELL, Supreme Court. THE HELL.

I'm confused. As a female I

I'm confused. As a female I am aware that a male is required for a woman to become pregnant. If she requires birth control, one can assume she is participating in sexual relations with a male. So why is it that society (aka, Hobby Lobby, insurance, etc.) is expected to keep a woman from conceiving instead of the male she is having sex with? Why isn't the reason for birth control (males and their sperm) required to be responsible for preventing a pregnancy the female wants to avoid? If she's married, why is he being removed from the equation and not held accountable to pay for the birth control? Society has unwittingly allowed men to have sex with women, then walk away completely irresponsible for the outcome. Why in the world don't women hold their men accountable for their part instead of the general public??

The general public isn't

The general public isn't paying for it. The argument here was to allow part of her healthcare insurance to pay for it. Yes, men bear some responsibility in the act of preventing unwanted pregnancy, but a woman should honestly be able to do so independently as well. And if she's paying healthcare premiums (almost everyone pays some percentage of their own premium) she should be able to affordably get birth control if she so chooses. She should not be left to the mercies of another party (her employer or any man she chooses to have sex with). Insurance is meant to help defray healthcare costs. Birth control is a healthcare cost. And no one's business and ultimately no one's responsibility but the woman in question. If she pays for insurance, she should be able to get birth control. Period.

You have bought a lie

A tremendous percentage of the population is receiving government assistance for the premiums and so it is only in the sense that almost half of the eligible us population does not pay taxes that it can be said the "general public" is not paying for it.
And this ruling does nothing to stop Hobby Lobby employees from getting contraceptives from their health plan. It is only the drugs that are abortive that they don't have to cover. There are still many options and so honesty requires one to admit that Hobby Lobby does not inhibit any one from birth control.
In light of the many options how is this not reasonable.

You contradict yourself.

You contradict yourself. First you say this: "And this ruling does nothing to stop Hobby Lobby employees from getting contraceptives from their health plan. It is only the drugs that are abortive that they don't have to cover."

Then you say this: "Hobby Lobby does not inhibit any one from birth control." Except they do, because of course they inhibit so called "abortive" birth control.

So you've proved yourself wrong there but let's look at this "abortive" nonsense for a moment.

Hobby Lobby objects to emergency contraception (Plan B, Ella) and IUDs. Because HL thinks that they are abortive, despite, you know, science:
The brief filed by 10 medical groups led by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists noted that "there is a scientific distinction between a contraceptive and an abortifacient and the scientific record demonstrates that none of the FDA-approved contraceptives covered by the Mandate are abortifacients."

Hobby Lobby also does not care that IUDs are among the most effective forms of birth control, lower the number of actual abortions, and are increasingly chosen by women as safe and effective birth control. IUDs are the best choice for many many women and are not in the tiniest bit "abortive." Women should not be restricted from this option because the bible thumpers over at HL don't know how contraception works, that's how this is not reasonable.

And that's before we get into these question: why do HL execs "firmly held religious beliefs" trump all of their employees' rights? Why do they get to inflict their free exercise onto others, specifically women's uteri? Since when did we all agree that corporations have the right to free exercise of their religion? Since when do corporations have religions? In these and in so many other ways this decision is not reasonable. And neither is Hobby Lobby.

your comment seems to assume

your comment seems to assume that a) all heterosexually active women are "married" and only have sex with one guy, and b) that all women have interpersonal control over "their men" -- allowing them to force them to, what -- use condoms or get vasectomies?, and c) that no women have a preference for condom free sex. All of these assumptions both underestimates the role of sexism in interpersonal dynamics, and underestimates women's sexual pleasure. Not to mention, disregards the principle of health care as a human right, not something to be morally doled out according to specific old man CEO morality...

1) Don't assume, because I

1) Don't assume, because I used the example of a married woman since in that situation there's no argument that the other half is accountable.
2) If the man I was having sex with didn't care enough about our relationship to contribute to condom-free sex, I wouldn't be with that man.
3) I am a young female, not an old male CEO, and I don't need my boss to fund my decision not to conceive a child.
4) Men get to sit back and watch America argue over this, and leave the burden of contraception squarely on a woman's shoulders instead of being equally responsible to avoid pregnancy.

Male involvement in

Male involvement in childbearing/parenting and being in control of your reproductive health as a woman are two separate issues. Why should women have to rely on men to make sure they don't conceive? Why shouldn't women be given the power to make the decision of conception on their own terms?

In an effort to have "power"

In an effort to have "power" woman have allowed the very men they sleep with to put the burden of contraception squarely on the woman's shoulders. What a great deal for men! And that's equality?

The problem is faulty logic

Okay, you are talking about two different things.

First point: men need to actively contribute to not making babies they do not want. This is absolutely true, men do have responsibilities to contribute to contraception costs and efforts.

Second point: hormonal birth control is prescription medicine provided to women to avoid unwanted pregnancy and, as prescription medicine, can and should be covered by health insurance, Meanwhile Hobby Lobby and others are trying to deny their employees access to health insurance that covers birth control.

These are two separate issues.

I don't think too may people would argue that employers should be allowed to deny their employees access to health insurance that covers pain killers that contain opiates because of their firmly held religious beliefs. People would instead see that pain killers are sometimes necessary to aid in surgery recovery, are sometimes necessary for pain management after accidents, etc. And if an employer tried to deny this medical care to an employee based on religious beliefs people would cry foul. But birth control, which is also a prescription medication is fair game?

It is also worth pointing out that "society (aka, Hobby Lobby, insurance, etc.)"as you identified in another comment isn't paying directly for the birth control. When you have health insurance you pay a monthly premium - often a very high one which is in essence a gamble that you will need medical care of equal or greater value than what you pay in insurance in a year - and then when you go to the doctor and/or pay for a prescription you pay a portion and the insurance company pays a portion. When an employer pays for health insurance they cover all or some of the monthly fee, and the employee pays the deductibles. So Hobby Lobby is essentially saying to their female employees, you can have health insurance, but you can't have health insurance that will pay for a portion of your birth control because we don't think you should be taking birth control. Which is wrong: your employer should not be able to select the medicine that you have access to.

Now to get back to your first point. I am all for men contributing to the deductibles women pay for birth control in partnered relationships. And I am all for splitting the cost of other forms of birth control. In fact, my current partner and I split the cost of his vasectomy because it benefits us both equally. But saying employers and health insurance companies shouldn't have to pay for medical care (i.e. contraception in its many forms) because men should step up and be responsible is not the answer. And it is a slippery slope. Should employer paid health insurance not have to cover medical care for type two diabetes because if that person's spouse really loved and respected them they would help pay to keep them alive and in good health?

And finally: society hasn't tripped down the hill into the valley of men being able to have sex with women and walking away without "consequences" if they so choose. We done been there. And because of birth control pills.


and not because of birth control pills.

You nailed it!!!!

You nailed it!!!!

"If she requires birth

"If she requires birth control, one can assume she is participating in sexual relations with a male."

I've been on the pill since I was 17 and only got sexually active at 21. I am on it for medical reasons, with two doctors notes saying that I need the pill. It isn't safe nor right to assume that just because she's on the pill means that she's sexually active.

All of you need to read the actual ruling

Everyone here is completely misinformed.
First of all Hobby Lobby only fought for the right to not have to pay for 4 out of 20 different birth control methods. These 4 methods are indeed scientifically classified as abortifacients. Therefore the owners Hobby Lobby does have the right to not be forced to pay for these, as it directly conflicts with their religious beliefs. Employees of Hobby Lobby still have insurance coverage for 16 out of the 20 different birth control methods.
Second of all these 4 methods are still covered for strictly medical reasons. They are not covered for those who are using these medications and devices for their own sexual active decisions.
Third, women still have access to reasonably priced or even free birth control through the tax funded Planned Parenthood organization.
Hobby Lobby has been providing insurance coverage for various birth control methods long before the Affordable Care Act came into effect.
Lastly it is not a woman's right to have their birth control paid for. If you make the choice to be sexually active then you should pay for your own damn birth control.

more informed than you are dude

Maybe you should read the briefs. Here's a quote for you from NPR:

A brief filed by 10 medical groups led by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists noted "there is a scientific distinction between a contraceptive and an abortifacient and the scientific record demonstrates that none of the FDA-approved contraceptives covered by the Mandate are abortifacients."

So since you're wrong about the science, what else do you think you are wrong about?

The brief, it's a PDF:

Far More Complex

It seems to me that you assume all parties are consenting and that this issue only effects sexually active women. In fact, birth control is used as a medication for female disease and even for cosmetic reasons. Many of my friends use birth control solely to help them control their PCOS, acne, etc. Do you think their medications should be treated differently bc of the original intended use? This debate is far more complex than women seeking recreational sex, which I think shouldn't be an issue at all, especially since no one wants to pay to feed a poor woman's babies either and she has just as much right to recreational sex as a man.

I'm sure a birth control pill

I'm sure a birth control pill for men would be quite popular. Unfortunately it does not yet exist. Perhaps until then you could convince your boyfriend to pay the $10 a month on your behalf rather than demanding that strangers pay it?

You know that birth control

You know that birth control is more expensive than that without health insurance right? And that different birth control methods have different costs? IUDs for example are highly effective but expensive: they can cost hundreds of dollars. Of course, IUDs are not available to Hobby Lobby employees because their wackadoo bosses erroneously think that they cause abortions. Also, and I know this is shocking, but not all women who use birth control have boyfriends And not all of them use birth control for the purposes of preventing pregnancy And until super recently (p.s. Obama, thanks for the health care coverage, I haven't had it for like ten years, it is a real relief to know that I can now afford to break my leg) "strangers" didn't pay for our birth control. I'm too annoyed to type out how health insurance works, but you should really look it up. Also, even now, taxes are paid into a pool, and then Congress decides how that pool is allocated. A whole lot of it goes into killin (whoops, I mean defense) but every once in a while some of it gets allocated to social services, you know like education, health care, etc. That's how the ACA works, some of the tax money that gets paid into the pool every year gets paid out as subsidies for health care coverage that is otherwise not affordable for many of us. Do you complain about having to pay for the education of strangers? Not unless you are a total asshole. Cause that's how taxes work.

Now if you'll excuse me, my employer doesn't believe in removing body parts that GOD put there, so I have to go panhandle for my tonsillectomy. And just so you know, I totally tried to cajole my boyfriend into paying for it, but he can only afford to give me like $50.

Turnaround is fair play

I wish I ran a corporation so I could refuse to cover treatment of "erectile disfunction".

My bf, who is in his 20s, has

My bf, who is in his 20s, has ED and his drugs are NOT covered by his insurance (and he works for a huge company). It's caused great strain on our relationship for years. He had to buy his drugs from a sketchy foreign website. They would have been $4k/year without insurance.

ED is already stigmatized as an old white guy problem, but it affects a lot of people.

Obviously, birth control should be covered by insurance. Hell, birth control should be FREE for everyone. Even abortions. But can we please stop comparing it to ED drugs? It further stigmatizes ED and does nothing to help the cause of getting people affordable birth control.

Yes, totally, this. While I

Yes, totally, this.

While I understand the frustration that fuels tit for tat responses like the one you respond to, I agree with you that they are not appropriate and do nothing to further reproductive freedom for women and healthy joyful sex positivity for all of us.

DIY abortion, birth control, et cetera

This should go to show women in the United States that "choice" doesn't matter to legislators or the courts when it comes to women--just corporations. The PDF at this website, which I published today in "honor" of this decision, gives information on how to do your own contraception, abortion, and emergency contraception. Share it widely.

Or hold men in a sexual

Or hold men in a sexual relationship to be equally responsible to prevent a pregnancy, rather than dumping it on the woman. Then again, woman could argue and fight about it and say it's the responsibility of an insurance policy. Laugh on men, laugh on!

Logical Flaws

Your logic is so flawed! You seem to be under the very false assumption that condoms are 100% effective? Or maybe you believe that all people having sex should want a baby? I'm not quite sure...
Any way the logic is flawed. Some women would like to take responsibility for their own reproductive organs, and not have to rely on their partner. Condoms break, even vasectomies can be ineffective... not to mention that is a very long term procedure. Personally, I get a UTI every time a condom is used, so that's not an option! Plus, birth control provides other benefits, other than pregnancy prevention. One such example, is that for many women it can help dull down the sometimes intense symptoms of PMS. I had a friend on birth control at the age of 14, because every time PMS hit she had to stay home from school with vomiting and SEVERE cramps. She didn't have sex until her 20's. Another friend who was hospitalized with anemia as a result of a non-stop period. I was put on birth control to regulate my period at one time, which actually aided in getting pregnant.
Another problem with your logic, is that condoms are expensive too! Maybe even more so than other forms of female birth control. So, having these prescriptions covered can help women avoid pregnancies, that may happen otherwise due to lack of funding.... and don't even argue that if you can't afford it you shouldn't have sex, because that's just wrong! Women's access to birth control, and level of sex education have been strongly linked to poverty rates throughout the world. Allowing women the right to use birth control IF THEY CHOOSE, seems like a pretty logical option... and helps reduce the poverty rates all at the same time!

Corporate Religious Beliefs.

I guess now that that opinion is out...
Since I my religion doesn't believe in Doctors or Hospitals, I don't have to provide Heath Insurance at all.
Sounds like a logical conclusion.
Or my religion doesn't believe in women working, so I don't have to hire them.

I think a lot of us with

I think a lot of us with strongly held religious beliefs that conflict with paying income tax are breathing a collective, lucrative sigh of relief.

Is this really so surprising?

The American health care system has always seemed like a remnant from the 1800's, the days of institutionalized slavery. Americans must opt out of so many things people in the rest of the privileged world take for granted, like state-provided health care, protection from discrimination, maternity leave, child care, high quality education and are isolated from very basic scientific arguments like the metric system, the theory of evolution and human-led climate change.

The US health care "system" is a leftover of slave-owner mentality also because Americans are so trusting that their employers will take care of them and if they lose their job (and health care), there's another one down the street waiting for them. For a country that doesn't believe in the theory of evolution, it's much more socially Darwinian than those that reject creationism.

The elephant in the room is how Americans can't get their own heads out of their butts about basic human rights they are owed. This wouldn't even be an issue if Americans didn't depend on their employer at a wage-slave job to provide health care.

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