I didn’t want to write about the Supreme Court decision in Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Stores. That’s the recent case in which the Republican majority ruled that a corporation can refuse to provide health insurance for certain kinds of contraception on religious grounds. However, one way to stop thinking about something is to write about it, and this is not a subject that’s fun to think about:
1) It’s no coincidence that the five Republicans on the Supreme Court are prone to rule against and ignore the rights of women to end or prevent pregnancies. Those five Republicans are all Roman Catholics.
2) Having previously declared that corporations should be allowed to spend on political campaigns because they have the same right to free speech that people do, the Republican majority has ruled again that corporations are no different from people. The law at issue in Burwell vs. Hobby states that the government should not “substantially burden a person’s religious beliefs”. Although corporations are treated as persons in some legal contexts, and it’s proper for the government to respect people’s religion up to a point, it makes no sense to ascribe religious beliefs to a corporation.
In addition, people’s right to practice their religion as they wish does not give them the right to harm other people. According to the majority opinion, however, a corporation can not only have religious beliefs, those beliefs should be honored even though acting on those beliefs negatively affects the corporation’s employees, their families and the rest of society (one of the majority’s suggestions is that taxpayers pay for contraception if corporations won’t – as if the Republicans in Congress would agree to that).
3) Religion can be a wonderfully flexible way to justify all kinds of behavior. In this case, the corporations claimed that dropping all health insurance coverage for their employees, so that their employees could instead get insurance through the government-run exchanges, would also infringe on their (the corporations’) religious beliefs, even though allowing their employees to use the government exchanges would save the corporations money and benefit their employees. “It is our firmly-held, specific religious belief that you should get your health insurance through our company instead of a government website, but it shouldn’t cover certain kinds of care.” Right.
4) Allowing employers to dictate which health insurance their employees have, on religious or any other grounds, is yet another reason the United States should join the rest of the industrialized world and adopt taxpayer-supported, government-regulated, single-payer health insurance.
5) The idea that the owners of a business shouldn’t be forced to spend money for something they don’t like assumes that the money in question is theirs, just like the money in your checking account is yours. However, economists have found that the money a company spends on health insurance would otherwise generally be paid to employees as wages. After all, health insurance is a form of compensation and businesses tend to offer as little compensation as possible (except for senior management, of course). As Uwe Reinhardt writes:
Evidently the majority of Supreme Court justices … believe that the owners of “closely held” business firms buy health insurance for their employees out of the kindness of their hearts and with the owners’ money. On that belief, they accord these owners the right to impose some of their personal preferences – in this case their religious beliefs — on their employee’s health insurance…. [But research shows that] the premiums ostensibly paid by employers to buy health insurance coverage for their employees are actually part of the employee’s total pay package — the price of labor, in economic parlance – and that the cost of that fringe benefit is recovered from employees through commensurate reductions in take-home pay.
6) This is a case in which religion is being allowed to trump science. These corporations object to particular kinds of contraception on the grounds that they are equivalent to having an abortion. But medical researchers have shown that the methods in question (certain intrauterine devices and the “morning after” pill) don’t actually work that way, as discussed here:
The owners of Hobby Lobby told the Court that they were willing to cover some forms of contraception but believed that the so-called morning-after pills and two kinds of IUDs can cause what they believe to be a type of abortion, by preventing a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine wall or causing an already implanted egg to fail to thrive… The scientific consensus is against this idea…Most scientists believe that [these methods] interfere with the ability of sperm to get to an egg in time to fertilize it before they die….Research does not support the idea that they prevent fertilized eggs to implant.
If a religious belief is based on faulty science, that belief should be given less respect by the rest of us. It’s safe to assume, for example, that even this Supreme Court would have ruled differently if the religious belief in question had been that certain kinds of contraception cause droughts.
7) There have been a lot of dumb arguments in favor of this decision or suggesting that it’s not a big deal. The truth is that this decision could set a very bad precedent, opening the door to other claims for special treatment, especially given the Republican majority on the Court. In addition, trying to find a job with another company isn’t a great option for many people; getting pregnant is a very big deal; IUD’s are among the most effective form of birth control; it can cost some women a month’s pay to get one; the morning after pill is an important option for women; and choosing to have sex shouldn’t disqualify people from getting appropriate medical care (people also choose to smoke, spend a lot of time on their couches and eat at McDonald’s). As the saying goes, if men could get pregnant, abortion would be a sacrament.
8) It’s been clear since their decision in Bush vs. Gore, when the Republican justices decided that we didn’t need an accurate vote count in a Presidential election, that lacking proper legal justification for their decisions won’t stop them from advancing their political agenda. All Supreme Court justices issue rulings consistent with their political perspectives, but these particular justices are extremists. They may have some shame, but it’s hardly worth mentioning.