Women's health rights received a big blow as the Supreme Court ruled 5-4 today that health insurance coverage for birth control will be not be required of "closely held corporations" whose religious beliefs conflict with contraception.
"Providing the option of contraceptive coverage is part of serving the healthcare needs of women, it is just that simple," said Lt. Governor Nancy Wyman in a statement. "Carving out exemptions to medicines or treatment is tantamount to restricting access—it puts women at risk and that is unacceptable. This Supreme Court decision reminds us that we have a lot left to do in our fight for equity for women."
The court ruling supports Hobby Lobby, Inc., a for-profit Christian family-owned corporation that proclaims it is based on biblical principles. The company closes on Sundays, the company's staff meetings open with Bible readings, and employee disputes are reportedly settled by religious-based meditation. Additionally, citing biblical teaching on respect and fairness to workers, full-time Hobby Lobby employees have a starting wage that is 90 percent above the federal minimum wage.
Arguing that covering emergency contraception violates Hobby Lobby's religious beliefs, the company owners, the Greens, sued the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in September 2012 over the Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirement that health insurance plans are required to cover Plan B, the "morning-after" pill, and Ella, the "week after" pill. Additionally, the Greens are opposed to intrauterine devices (IUDs), incorrectly believing that they are also abortive.
Although Hobby Lobby covered emergency contraception prior to the suit, the Greens now argue that being forced to cover these medications and IUDs that potentially terminate life violates their beliefs, threatening religious freedom.
Gretchen Borchelt, senior counsel and director of state reproductive health policy at the National Women's Law Center, argues in Mother Jones that this change of position is proof of a broader agenda to undermine the Affordable Care act, which could "result in businesses being allowed to break the law and harm others under the guise of religious freedom."
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg—who voted against the decision, along with Sonia Sotomayer, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan—wrote in her dissent that this decision will open the doors for corporations to opt out of any law "incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs."
After the Supreme Court ruled that legally "corporations are people," in the Citizens United case, the Hobby Lobby suit found footing arguing in favor of corporations having religious freedom rights as well. This gets particularly sticky, as Hobby Lobby is a for-profit company, not a non-profit, which already has the right to claim a religious exemption to the ACA requirement.
Ginsberg states that today's decision "demands accommodation for a for-profit corporation's religious beliefs no matter that impact that accommodation may have on third parties who do not share the corporation owners' religious faith..." Read additional key points from Ginberg's dissent on Mother Jones.
Gov. Dannel P. Malloy also voiced his opinion on the Supreme Court ruling. "In our diverse society, it is unconscionable that the religious beliefs of a private, for-profit employer can dictate the kind of medical care that is available to an employee," he said in a statement.
According to Jezebel, Ginsberg wrote that for-profit companies exist to make money, not to further any other agenda; thus they cannot be said to have religious beliefs. She also pointed out that the cost of purchasing and installing an IUD without insurance costs as much as a month's pay for a woman earning minimum wage.
"While we should all respect each other's right to hold different positions based on religious beliefs, women should not be denied access to reproductive healthcare benefits due to the personal beliefs of their employer," Malloy added. "Today's decision from the Supreme Court is an affront to that very basic and fundamental idea. We will review this decision and assess the impact it may have in Connecticut."
One should note that the ruling states that the government may provide alternative ways for employees of these corporations to obtain or access contraception coverage. And the other alternative for women—don't work for companies like Hobby Lobby.
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