Yesterday, The Supreme Court heard approximately 90 minutes of arguments in the combined "contraceptive mandate" cases, Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc and Conestoga Wood Specialities Corp. vs. Sebelius. Two for-profit, private businesses, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialities, were given the chance to justify their claim that their businesses should be exempted from the ACA's mandate addressing these cases, it’s important to note that the federal government makes an allowances for religious groups and institutions – they are not asked to provide health insurance plans with no-cost contraceptive coverage. The federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), passed by Congress in 1993, made space for these exemptions. Because of RFRA, religious institutions cannot be forced to comply with federal laws that would substantially burden their religious practices. While the CEOs of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods both profess a profound attachment to their religions, neither of their businesses are religious organizations. These cases bring to light two main questions. Can a private, profit-making corporation “exercise” religion? And, if they can exercise religion, can they be protected from government interference? Several different issues are wrapped up in these questions – corporate personhood; reproductive rights; and freedom to exercise religion.
The case brings up complicated issues, but the bottom line is fairly simple: if your boss doesn’t believe in birth control, that’s his/her opinion. Bosses shouldn’t be able to discriminate by blocking employees' access to coverage that they’re entitled to under the law. Religious freedom and liberty is one thing. The ACLU has consistently fought hard to defend this fundamental value. We strongly believe that individuals have the right to their religious beliefs; we believe that we should be protected from governmental intrusion into those beliefs. However, a right to religious freedom does not give us the right to impose our beliefs on others. It does not give us the right to discriminate based on religious beliefs. The ACLU believes that religious freedom should be balanced with a freedom from religion. By refusing to comply with the law, the CEOs of these companies use their religious beliefs to discriminate against his female employees by withholding insurance coverage for health care that women need.
Women should get the health coverage they need – especially when that coverage is guaranteed by law. Employers should not erect unnecessary roadblocks to keep women from accessing contraceptives. When the cost of birth control is no longer an issue, women are able to make different decisions about their reproductive health. More women opt for methods that are more effective and, as a result, the rates of unintended pregnancies fall. But beyond this point, a woman’s employer shouldn’t be involved in her reproductive health decisions. The deicision of what kind of birth control to use should be made between a woman and her doctor – not a woman and her boss.
Yesterday’s hearing was just one step in this case’s process. The Justices won’t (most likely) issue a decision until June of this year. The decision is predicted to be split four to four, with Justice Anthony Kennedy casting the deadlock-breaking vote. You can read more about the background of the cases here on the SCOTUSblog. You can also find a recap of the hearing on the SCOTUSblog. If you're interested in a more thorough history of this issue, including timelines and information about other cases that have been filed, you can visit the ACLU's national website.