SCOTUS decision says religion is an OK reason to deny contraception to employees

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Some employers won’t have to provide birth control for employees through coverage in their health plans. A landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling Monday sided with the retail chain Hobby Lobby that argued they shouldn’t have to pay for contraceptives. Stetson University College of Law professor Ciara Torres-Spelliscy called the case another corporate person-hood issue.

“That’s one of the reasons that if you have a religious objection you can’t be drafted to go to war. If you have a religious objection you can’t be forced to send your children to public schools. Having a religious objection is a enormously powerful tool and classically it’s been a tool that individuals have had and after Hobby Lobby it’s going to be a power that closely held corporations will have too.”

Spelliscy was a guest on WMNF’s Radioactivity Monday. The decision was narrow. It limits the Obamacare loophole to just closely held companies; meaning companies that have incorporated but are controlled by a very small group of owners. But critics of the decision worry it will open the flood gates for other legal challenges based on religious convictions. Spelliscy said that’s not outside the realm of possibilities.

“Think blood transfusions. Some religions are not terribly fond of blood transfusions. Some religions don’t think you should have surgery. The list goes on and on. Will corporation feign a religious belief which is really motivated by the bottom line and will courts grant those religious beliefs citing to Hobby Lobby?”

Supporters of the decision say it’s a win for First Amendment rights and religious freedom. John Stemburger is the president of the conservative Florida Family Policy Council. He asks the question, why should the owner of a company be forced to pay for something they find morally reprehensible and what difference does it make anyway?

“This does not prohibit anyone from getting access to contraception. It simply means that, were a family business – this does not apply to large, publically traded corporations, just a narrow decision that just applies to family, closely held corporations – that when they have a religious objection to forcing them to pay for abortifaciants and abortions services, the court said that the religious freedom here is more important and really didn’t find any compelling interest on behalf of the state’s argument.”

The ruling doesn’t undermine the provision in the Affordable Care Act that forces certain companies to include contraceptive coverage in health plans or face fines. And it’s true, women could just go buy birth control themselves. But Kellie Dupree, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood, said that could cost women almost $1,000 a year.

“For a lot of women, that is the difference between putting food on their tables for their families, for going to school and for a lot of other things. So, what may seem like a small cost to supporters of Hobby Lobby and to people who own these corporations has a real impact on these people’s lives especially when you consider that Hobby Lobby employees are mostly hourly employees working paycheck to paycheck and now they have to consider this extra expense.”

Hobby Lobby and its supporters objected to certain kinds of birth control they liken to abortion. Dupree says that’s hogwash.

“The science that Hobby Lobby is quoting when they talk about IUDs and emergency contraception as abortion is not accredited science. It’s not true in any way and it actually shows a misunderstanding of how these contraceptive products work. What’s most troubling about it is while they, in their filing to the court, said they were only concerned about those few types of contraception, the court ruling exempts them from providing any contraception at all.”

Part of the majority opinion includes an open door to find a new way to cover birth control for employees affected by the decision. Planned Parenthood will continue to offer birth control to women with or without insurance coverage.

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