Your Boss Shouldn't Be the Boss of Your Birth Control

birth control pills

At times, it can seem like the best way to get good treatment from the government is to be a corporation. Since corporations are people and have free speech thanks to the Citizens United decision, do they have any other rights normally afforded to human citizens?  Depending on what the Supreme Court decides in coming months, corporations may have the right to decide their employees’ birth control choices.

On November 26, the Supreme Court agreed to hear two cases concerning the part of the Affordable Care Act that requires for-profit employers to cover contraceptives in their health care plans.  The cases were brought by Hobby Lobby, a Christian-owned craft supply chain store, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a furniture store owned by a Mennonite family.  The majority shareholders of these companies argue that they view certain kinds of contraception as akin to an abortion, which they find morally objectionable to their religious beliefs. The companies sued the government, saying the Affordable Care Act violates the Constitution: the Constitution’s Free Exercise Clause bans the government from interfering with a person’s right to freely practice his or her own religious beliefs.

If the Supreme Court rules in the corporations’ favor, it would be nearly unprecedented.  It would give bosses control over the healthcare decisions of their employees—an especially troubling thought when you notice that 94 percent of the CEOs of Fortune 100 companies are white (and 92 percent are men).

Providing corporations a right to free speech is troubling enough; unlike regular citizens, a corporation can be made up of hundreds of people all of whom might have different political ideas, so only the beliefs of a few will be reflected in the donations that a corporation signs its name to.  For example, a Target shareholder may not wish to give money to a political candidate known for his homophobic views, but unless this shareholder has a controlling interest in Target or holds an influential board position, her desires will go unheeded as money in which she has a stake is used in a way she finds reprehensible. Her right to speech as part of the corporation is essentially worthless.

Letting corporations make healthcare decisions for all of its employees based on the religious beliefs of its bigwigs would be an even greater concentration of rights into the hands of a few. If we allow a for-profit corporation to “exercise” religious beliefs, we will be enshrining certain people’s religious beliefs as more important than others’. A ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would indicate that the beliefs of the few people in charge of the two corporations are more important than the beliefs of their many employees, because it will place in the hands of the owners the right to impose their religious beliefs upon their employees.

The Planned Parenthood Action Fund made this graphic about the bosses who will be in charge of birth control benefits if the Supreme Court decision goes their way: graphic from Planned Parenthood shows how the CEOs pushing against birth control are all white men.

U.S. Solicitor General Donald Verilli put it best in his court documents when he argued that providing a right to free exercise to corporations would transform the right from a shield, meant to protect individuals, “into a sword used to deny employees of for-profit commercial enterprises the benefits and protections of generally applicable laws.”

And a decision in favor of corporate free exercise would have far-reaching consequences.  If the Employment Non-Discrimination Act (ENDA) passes, will the notoriously homophobic Chick-Fil-A be able to request an exemption because ENDA 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? 

Assuming the Supreme Court rules in the corporations’ favor, I await the hand-wringing that will come from right-wingers when the first Muslim-run corporation tries to get an exemption for its religious beliefs.  Far from being a great victory for “religious freedom,” a ruling for the corporations would further enshrine Christianity as the state religion and give power to those who would rely on religion to dictate how women should live their lives.

Andrew Daar is an attorney and comedy writer in Chicago. He also writes pop cultural analysis for the websites This Was Television and Sexy Feminist. 

Birth control infographic is from the Planned Parenthood Action Fund. Birth control photo is via vociferous.

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4 Comments Have Been Posted

The very title turns Me off

The very title turns Me off of this article. "Your Boss Shouldn't Be the Boss of Your Birth Control" -- None of the "Bosses" in these cases are looking to "Be the Boss of Your Birth Control". Given this fundamental understanding, I am no surprised the rest of the article ignores the actual contents of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (supplemented by the Dictionary Act). For reference, the law is codified at 42 USC 2000bb thru 2000bb-4 (the Dictionary Act is 1 USC 1). You are really not helping advance the causes of easier access to preventive health services and gender equality when You make these basic mistakes in logic.

Birth control

People like the above mentioned are the reason I am so glad I live in Canada.
We have free healthcare, access to (free) contraceptives, legal rights for homosexuals- and there's not a damn thing any employer can do about it!
Given the fact Canada hasn't been struck with a thousand lightening bolts or in the financial toilet, I'd say we're doing pretty good for a Godless nation.

Canadian coverage

Oh come on Melinda -- I'm a Canadian and we're NOT all covered for birth control. Our medical covers our doctor's visit. There a bit of Rx coverage in BC if you can prove that you are low income, but even that is spotty. For those of us getting hot flashes, it doesn't, for instance, cover progesterone/Prometrium. And that's a tough cost to shoulder. Lots and lots of Rx's are not covered. Secondary insurance providers often do some fancy American-style tap dancing to refuse Rx coverage too.

Canadians are covered for the medical basics -- doctors visits and most tests. If you want more, you've got to buy secondary health insurance or hope your employer will provide it. I'm grateful to be Canadian and covered for the basics but please don't mythologize.

An employee for one of these

An employee for one of these 'bad bosses' can still use whatever contraceptives they choose. The employer just doesn't want to pay for it because of their religious beliefs. It's a denial of coverage. While you may not buy into these beliefs personally, coverage denials occur all of the time. Perhaps you feel you NEED a stress test because you just aren't feeling right. If your insurance denies it, you can reassess the need. If it is a true need, pay for it. If it isn't, don't. In this scenario the refusal of coverage is based on a number of factors: physician assessments, age, cost concerns, etc. The denial isn't based upon a religious belief, but it is still a denial. While this isn't an apples to apples comparison, the underlying issue is: people may feel they need more when someone else is footing the bill. Accordingly, the system has some road blocks when using someone else's dime. If someone has a religious belief that creates such a road block, why is that any worse than a financial reason? And, to come back to my original point, such denials of coverage don't prohibit use of certain contraceptives. It's just a question of who pays for it.

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