Religious freedom is a constitutional protection against persecution, not license to deter the wellbeing of people whose personal beliefs offend you. The Hobby Lobby decision was a blow, not only to the Affordable Care Act, but to religious freedom itself and to the security we find in the Constitution.
by Liz Richards (writer)
By now, social media has thoroughly circulated the news of last week’s Supreme Court case that struck a blow against the Affordable Care Act, which the same Supreme Court famously upheld just two years ago. The scandalous ruling in the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. came to the conclusion that, basically, some employers have the right to deny coverage of some forms of birth control to female employees. Don’t worry (sarcasm), because Hobby Lobby has no qualms covering vasectomies and Viagra, a drug that does virtually nothing to combat unsafe sex practices and unwanted pregnancy rates.
The media’s focus this week has been clear. The Hobby Lobby decision is an affront to women’s health. It puts the personal religion of employers above general health and the safety of female employees at risk, proposing that bosses instead of physicians get to decide which birth control methods their workers have access to. The hot button issue in the press this week has been what this means for women’s health rights in the future, and with good reason.
The Affordable Care Act made a huge stride in securing women’s access to healthcare and after last week’s decision, it seems that we’ve taken one step forward just to move fifty years back. The most obvious ramification of the Court’s decision is that it gives employers license to deny access to certain types of birth control to women on religious grounds, including some of the forms most effective, convenient, and doctor recommended.
But for me, the Supreme Court’s decision last week in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby did more than undermine it’s upholding of the Affordable Care Act and the steps we’ve taken to protect women’s health issues. It undermined our ability to take the Supreme Court at its word. This is an institution whose only function is to defend the Constitution at its most basic core. For more than two hundred years, the Court has been the definitive voice that keeps our favorite living document alive. The Supreme Court has protected free speech of the press, ensured defendants the right to legal council, ended segregation, defended universal healthcare, and now sort of changed its mind in an attempt to level some political playing field.
And the truth is, I have a hard time believing that this comes down to religious freedom and I believe that Hobby Lobby and five of our nine justices misappropriated that term. Religious freedom as a constitutional concept was designed to protect where and how we worship and to make sure that certain religions are never restricted here. Ultimately, freedom of religion falls under the larger umbrella that encompasses free speech and free assembly to form the liberties that keep us democratic, and just as important, secular. Religious freedoms were intended to ensure that people were never persecuted on the basis of religion so that religion never crossed over into government. Allowing Hobby Lobby to deny coverage of some medications under some (nondescript but Christian) religious grounds after maintaining that government healthcare is constitutional opens the door for religion to flood into American politics and really damage our personal liberties.
It’s already happened with birth control. The Supreme Court determined through two definitive mid-century court cases that women have the right to access birth control through their physicians (see Griswold v. Connecticut and Carey v. Population Services International). The Affordable Care Act resolved that birth control was included within basic healthcare coverage, including that provided by U.S. employers, and Congress conceded to those terms. For the Supreme Court to shy away from that now allows a few dissenting voices to stand in the way of progressive American healthcare. An article from Queerty posted on Facebook earlier today was titled “Five Nightmare Scenarios The Supreme Court Unleashed With the Hobby Lobby Decision” and discussed the startling fact that, on the grounds set up in the 5-4 decision, employers can potentially deny healthcare coverage for same-sex spouses, HIV medication, or any kind of coverage for transgendered Americans.
What’s truly awful about the Hobby Lobby decision is its vagueness. It creates a giant loophole that doesn’t define who has religious freedom or in what circumstances. Furthermore, when it comes to a system of universal healthcare (which is in fact the healthcare system in place in the U.S. for two years now) an employer who’s allowed to deny coverage based on personal religious views can be detrimental to the health of citizens nationwide. And since Hobby Lobby still covers vasectomies, birth control doesn’t seem to be the primary issue here. Hiding behind religious freedom is becoming a political strategy in the United States, one that is infringing on our right to equal access to healthcare which is grounded in life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. Religious freedom is a constitutional protection against persecution, not license to deter the wellbeing of people whose personal beliefs offend you. The Hobby Lobby decision was a blow, not only to the Affordable Care Act, but to religious freedom itself and to the security we find in the Constitution.