Hobby Lobby Is a Person, but You? Not So Much: That Happened


ColumnThe Supreme Court decides that Hobby Lobby is a person with values that matter. Women? Meh.

This week, the Supreme Court took a big step toward preventing women from easily accessing and paying for birth control.

In case you missed it, here’s what happened: Hobby Lobby and its cronies argued that having to cover the cost of specific forms of contraception, like the morning after pill, as part of its employee health insurance was the same as paying for abortion, which goes against the owners’ Christian beliefs.

On Monday, the Supreme Court ruled in Burwell V. Hobby Lobby. According to The New York Times, 5 of the 9 Justices decided “Requiring family-owned corporations to pay for insurance coverage for contraception under the Affordable Care Act violated a federal law protecting religious freedom.”

This decision, while a direct attack on abortion and access, is more than a right wing assault on Obamacare. It’s another move toward prioritizing corporations over humans—specifically lady humans.

What the ruling means is that corporations are being granted the same rights as people, which makes no sense at all. But, the precedent was set back in 2010 with the Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission case which promised free speech rights to  corporations—a case that was actually about campaign contribution limits, not free speech, but I digress.

To date, in addition to Hobby Lobby, there are 71 companies with owners that have said they don’t want to pay for birth control either. And not that it’s anyone’s business—especially an employer’s—why a woman might choose to take the pill, but for many, the decision has nothing to do with pregnancy prevention. About 1.5 million women use birth control to help with medical issues such as ovarian cancer, ovarian cysts, endometriosis and endometrial cancer, according to a 2011 study.

But, with the Hobby Lobby case, contraception coverage is just the tip of a giant discrimination iceberg.

Why the Hobby Lobby Case Is a HUGE Deal

This ruling is an extreme attack on women’s health coverage here in the U.S., and it will impact women in developing nations as well. And while the Hobby Lobby case is about access to healthcare and contraception, like the Citizens United Case before it, the language in the ruling represents a massive shift in how we value corporate responsibility versus individual freedom.

This week’s ruling has sweeping consequences, according to Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (who wrote a dissent chock full of staggeringly awesome quotes that earned her the social media title The Notorious RBG almost instantly). One consequence is that any company can declare a religion for itself and have at it.

How might that go? Justice Ginsburg has an idea. She wrote, “”Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.”

Okay, so don’t work for a company with a religious affiliation, and you won’t have these problems, right? In her dissent, Justice Ginsburg warned that the ruling would have wide repercussions and “untoward effects.” She wrote, “Although the court attempts to cabin its language to closely held corporations, its logic extends to corporations of any size, public or private.”

Can. Of. Worms. Or, as Ginsburg put it: “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

Oh, By the Way, Hobby Lobby Invests In the Abortion Pill

In case it’s not clear that, in reality, this is a financial issue and a power grab couched in morality, it turns out that Hobby Lobby (which does still cover Viagra and vasectomies) invests in the abortion pill, according to Mother Jones.

Oh, fancy that! Hypocrisy. Sweet, sweet hypocrisy.

Here’s what Mother Jones uncovered: “Documents filed with the Department of Labor and dated December 2012—three months after the company’s owners filed their lawsuit—show that the Hobby Lobby 401(k) employee retirement plan held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions. Hobby Lobby makes large matching contributions to this company-sponsored 401(k).”

So Now What?

I would love to wrap this up with something positive, but this ruling is a shitshow. The best thing we can do is to keep supporting candidates that value women and basic human freedom. We also need to continue supporting Planned Parenthood (because as our insurance stops covering reproductive care we need a place to go) and supporting Mother Jones, a publication that consistently offers up spectacular reporting.

Most importantly, four months from now, we have to vote in the midterm elections. The candidates we elect have approval over Supreme Court Justice appointments, people that arguably have more power than the President and much longer shelf lives. Each Representative and each Senator has a vote that can help us or hurt us, so pay attention to local elections.

Donating is a great start (and donor numbers do send messages), but dollars don’t count as people—yet. So get offline and vote, unless you want the company you work for to do it for you.

That Happened is Libby Lowe’s weekly column for EcoSalon analyzing media, news and pop culture through a feminist lens. Keep in touch with Libby @LibbyLowe.

Image: Nicholas Eckhart

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