This is the last full week that the Supreme Court will be in session, which means that there is a major likelihood that the two biggest cases when it comes to reproductive rights could both be decided this week.
Both Hobby Lobby and the Massachusetts buffer zone cases were argued much earlier this year, and as the summer session drags to a close those on both sides of the abortion issue are getting anxious. A continuing delay over the buffer zone, a Massachusetts law that requires those who are not associated with a medical clinic, either as client, volunteer or worker to remain at least 35 feet from the building’s entrance, has some wondering if what was expected to be a fairly straightforward majority decision to strike the law as unconstitutional has evolved into something more complicated.
Early questioning in the case had legal experts believing that the court was inclined to call the zone too restrictive of freedom of speech rights, with the biggest outstanding issue being how many would sign onto the majority.
That was in January, however, and the longer we go without a ruling, the more it opens up the possibility that the merits of the case are still being weighed. Buffer zones, which have been put in place not just in Massachusetts but in other states and municipalities across the country, have been viewed as a simple way of decreasing tension outside abortion clinics, especially as crowds get rowdier and spend less time on allegedly “counseling” and more time preaching, yelling, following patients and shoving graphic posters in their paths. As clinics continue to be picked off via abortion regulation bills that require medically unnecessary and difficult to obtain hospital admitting privileges, the protesters in front of clinics may grow with less targets to concentrate on, making the approach to a reproductive health site even more cumbersome than before.
Is the court considering these other, mitigating factors when it comes to Massachusetts? Will it let the zone stand, seeing it as a proper balance of free speech versus the right to access an abortion without feeling threatened, which is a violation of the Federal Access to Clinic Entrances (FACE) Act? Are they crafting a response that they feel would better balance the two constitutional rights, such as a more limited zone? Or noting how this ruling would trickle down to other pending cases, like the 39 foot zone being challenged in Portland or the other zone challenges that are imminent?
Even more up for speculation is what the court will finally decide when it comes to Hobby Lobby’s lawsuit against the administration for requiring it to offer its employees health insurance that covers all forms of hormonal birth control and contraception, as well as sterilization, which the Hobby Lobby business owners claims violates their religious freedom.
The question that the Supreme Court will answer is inevitably whether one person’s “religious freedom” allows them not only to exempt themselves from law, but to impose their own religious beliefs on others, which is essentially what declaring oneself a religious for profit business does. Does just having religious beliefs mean that the Greens, who own the craft store chain, get to decide for their non-religious employees what health care they are allowed, especially with insurance that the employees themselves are paying for as part of their benefits package? If the Supreme Court rules that Hobby Lobby is allowed to disregard the birth control mandate in the Affordable Care Act, then that opens the flood gates for any organization, business or charity to also reject government law as an act of religious freedom.
For the Greens, that would be exactly what they are hoping for. As Politico reports in a profile on the family and their multitude of endeavors to move the United States to being a theocratic nation by undermining the line between secular and religious policy, creating museums, broadcasts and even school textbooks presenting the Bible as fact and advocate for a return to biblical principles.
“Our goal … [is to] reintroduce this book to the nation,” Steve Green, president of Hobby Lobby, said last spring before the National Bible Association according to Politico. “This nation is in danger because of its ignorance of what God has taught. We need to know it. And if we don’t know it, our future is going to be very scary.”
In one case, freedom of speech trumps the right of a person to obtain a legal medical procedure. In another, freedom of religion trumps a person’s right to access legal, preventative health care. In both cases, those who can get pregnant are the target.
This week at the Supreme Court could truly be a make or break moment for the right to decide when and if a person is ready to have a child.
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