In what has become a sadly commonplace, 5/4 split decision, the Supreme Court has ruled that for profit corporations have the right to refuse to cover hormonal birth control, long acting reversible birth control and sterilization in their insurance plans. As usual, Justice Anthony Kennedy joined with the conservative justices to form a majority, with the ruling announced by Justice Antonin Scalia.
The case revolves around a number of misconceptions, such as the idea that hormonal birth control, IUDs or emergency contraception prevent fertilized eggs from implanting (they don’t) and that, even if they did, that such a thing is an abortion, since a pregnancy can’t technically begin until an egg is implanted and begins releasing the hormone that can be detected by blood work or a test (ask any person undergoing IVF if their fertilized eggs waiting to be implanted means they are “pregnant” and they will give you a resounding and heartbreaking “no.”)
If there is any doubt that the decision is codifying gender based discrimination, that doubt is dismissed by the court’s ruling that the “religious freedom” extended to for profit businesses does not allow them to pick what other health care elements they don’t want to cover due to “sincerely held religious beliefs,” but only contraception. They specifically note that, “This decision concerns only the contraception mandate and should not be understood to mean that all insurance mandates, that is for blood transfusions or vaccinations, necessarily fail if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs.”
There are a few small silver linings in the decision. The ruling only applies to those companies that have “more than 50% of the value of its outstanding stock owned (directly or indirectly) by 5 or fewer individuals at any time during the last half of the tax year; and Is not a personal service corporation.” Of course, as Vox also notes, that’s 90 percent of all companies.
The ruling on its own is alarming, of course. It’s even more alarming when it is coupled with the fact that those outside resources for birth control that employees will have to turn to because they will not have it in their insurance plan are also being shut down, and by the same people pushing for this “religious freedom.” AUL, Susan B. Anthony List and National Right to Life Committee all supported and pushed the Hobby Lobby suit, declaring that no person should be forced to compromise their religious beliefs to provide health care coverage they disagreed with morally. These are also the groups that have written and lobbied for numerous bills across the country stripping Planned Parenthood, the largest source for free or low co-pay birth control for the uninsured, of their funding, even in states where the reproductive health care entity doesn’t actually offer abortion services.
Also disturbing is the breakdown of justices in this decision, which entirely and exclusively effects women. Not one female justice sided with the majority. Not one of the court’s three non-Catholic justices sided with the majority. The entirety of the five justice, slim majority, was a male, Catholic block, with only one Catholic, a woman, not joining them.
It’s quite clear who’s religious beliefs we are protecting here, and it’s a very scary precedent. Is this the start of the right for “religious” corporations to discriminate on other issues, like who they employ or who they provide services to?
“This is a deeply troubling decision. For the first time, the highest court in the country has said that business owners can use their religious beliefs to deny their employees a benefit that they are guaranteed by law,” said Louise Melling, deputy legal director of the ACLU, via statement. “Religious freedom is a fundamental right, but that freedom does not include the right to impose beliefs on others. In its ruling today, the Court simply got it wrong.”
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