Monday’s decision by the U.S. Supreme Court in favor of Hobby Lobby was met by howls of disbelief and disappointment by some, and shrieks of delight by others. And, the 5-4 ruling also showed not merely the judicial tightrope that the justices walked, but also reflects the widespread effect that the ruling has on women’s health, first, and foremost, but secondly, and not incidentally, on the key legislation and legacy of the Obama administration: the Affordable Care Act, known as Obamacare.
As CNN noted, “The 5-4 ruling says the health care act cannot force a ‘closely held company’ to cover certain types of contraceptives for its employees because the government could not show that the requirement was the "least burdensome" way to avoid interfering with religious convictions. The court emphasized that this decision does not mean that companies could refuse to cover other things, such as blood transfusions.”
Dissenting was Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg who noted that the Court’s decision resulted in what could be termed a “minefield,” and that the consequences for the redefinition of religious protection to organizations that are not formed as a religious organization.
And, the Internal Revenue Service notes that its definition of a closely held corporation “is generally one in which the majority of stock is owned by no more than five people and ‘is not a personal service corporation,’” as also reported by CNN.
With no more than this ruling the slippery slope begins and the effects will be widespread, especially on women’s health.
For many of those who see the ruling as an affirmation of their religious beliefs the ruling was a victory of conscience, but the reality behind the ruling may not be as well known to some who claim religious objections.
Perhaps what is not as well known is that contraceptives can address a variety of women’s health issues, among them: lowering cancer risks, acne and other dermatological problems, less painful menstruation, PMS relief, and to treat endometriosis issues; not to mention relief from Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome (PCOS) relief.
Reaction from women’s groups has been visceral and pointed, “"What we saw today was five male justices essentially rule that discrimination against women is not discrimination at all," said Ilyse Hogue, President of NARAL Pro-Choice America.
And, in a telephone interview with Chitra Panjabi, Vice President Membership at National Organization for Women told me, “The ramifications for women’s health are both disappointing and sad. Affordable access is needed to address a wide variety of issues, from endometriosis, and beyond, and [this decision] reflects a lack of understanding of what birth control is, and can do to help women, beyond contraception.”
The back story, so to speak, behind the decision also gives those opposed to the decision continued concerns, as to what a “closely held company,” can do for others.
When asked for her reaction, State Rep. Kelly Cassidy (D), from Illinois, told me that one of her many concerns with this ruling was “In this post Citizens United world, the chilling effect that it can have on all manners of freedom, [and] how much further can it go, and the real impact it can have on many people, and where this conversation can lead to; for example if those that suffer from diabetes or mental illness face the religious objections of a company”.
Earlier, on Monday, Cassidy had released a statement where she said, “This decision is both unprecedented and unprincipled and it allows companies to use religious beliefs to discriminate against women by denying access to fundamental health coverage.”
Panjabi’s comments on the wide variety of issues that affect women’s health and the use of birth control to treat them also gives truth to the lives of women, and that the sheer misinformation about science, medical health and the reality of women’s health, is issue not well-publicized by the rulings supporters, who often point to licentiousness to support their efforts to restrict access to birth control.
The New York Times pointedly referred to what is now the style of the Court under Chief Justice Roberts whom it says has “an inclination toward nominally incremental rulings with vast potential for great change.”
Understatement aside, the ruling does, as Cassidy and Panjabi note have implications for the future, despite the supposedly limited scope that the Court projected in its majority decision as Justice Samuel A. Alito, Jr., noted.
Ginsburg’s dissent however is closer to the mark as she strips away Alito’s defense and its clear path to corporate rights, as Cassidy noted in her reference to the Citizens Untied decision.
“The court’s expansive notion of corporate personhood,” Justice Ginsburg wrote, “invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faiths,” the Times reported.
Local Chicago attorney, and former aldermanic candidate, Betty Tsamis, commented in an emailed statement, stated: "A company not organized for a specific religious purpose should not be allowed to assert religious beliefs. To hold otherwise is to open the door to businesses taking a plethora of actions in violation of human rights laws in the name of religious freedom."
Panjabi also stressed in our interview that affordable access for low-income women is also at stake, and that these women face significant loss of health care, and that the issue “affects the entire family, not just the woman herself.” She also objected to the sporadic nature of what Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties was not opposed to, a list that included, “some forms of contraception, including condoms, diaphragms, sponges, several kinds of birth control pills and sterilization surgery,” but as she noted this “trial and error approach” implies that all women are the same, without allowing for the many variations “from woman to woman.”
The Hobby Lobby decision also comes close on the heels of what the Court did in McCulley v. Coakely where it reduced the safety barrier that women who enter women’s health facilities, and were often yelled at screamed, for prayed for, and had rosaries said on their behalf, especially if they sought abortion counseling, or an abortion.
Massachusetts had established a buffer zone of 35 feet, and one which ws challenged by anti-abortionists as a violation of their free speech, and access to the public roadway.
While the decision was 9-0 the support came from the right to not prevent free speech but the access in an open street forum.
Or, was it?
When I asked Panjabi if she thought that there was a link between the two she said, “Yes, this is the beginning of a roll back of rights, and that the absence of a buffer zone restricts access for women to, once again, live normal lives.”
Predicting a political future has always been a risky activity, but Monday’s rulings show that changing the definition of a for-profit company to have religious rights has begun a slippery slope that has the very real effect of discrimination, access and family life at a time when such protection is certainly needed, especially in the still fragile U.S. economy.