In yet another decision that proves it thinks the values of corporations are more important than those of their employees, the Supreme Court ruled today that closely-held corporations with religious owners cannot be required to provide contraceptive coverage for their employees as required for other business under the Affordable Care Act.
The Obama administration had already made accommodations or provided exemptions for churches, religious hospitals, schools, and nonprofits, but said that since for-profit corporations do not exercise religious beliefs as individuals, they would not be exempt.
In the 5-4 decision, with the majority opinion authored by Justice Samuel Alito, SCOTUS determined that the government’s contraception mandate is not “the least restrictive means of advancing its interest in guaranteeing cost-free access to birth control.”
The case arrived at the Supreme Court after two corporations, Hobby Lobby, an arts-and-craft retail chain owned by evangelical Christians, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a cabinet manufacturing company owned by Mennonites, argued that the contraception requirement violated the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act and infringed upon their First Amendment rights.
The companies argued that certain forms of birth control, specifically emergency contraceptives (the “morning after” pill) and intrauterine devices (IUDs), actually cause abortions because they could prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.
The “morning after” pill, however, primarily works by delaying or preventing ovulation, or it can interfere with the fertilization of an egg, both of which prevent pregnancy from occurring. Scientist had previously stated that studies “provide strong evidence that [an emergency contraception pill] does not prevent implantation,” according to the New York Times.
IUDs, small t-shaped devices made of flexible plastic and inserted into the uterus by a healthcare provider, affect the motility of sperm. One type releases the progestin hormone, which causes the cervical mucus to become so thick that sperm cannot reach the egg, or prevents the egg from leaving the ovary at all. The other type releases copper, which has spermicidal effects directly into the uterus, preventing fertilization. Family Health International, a nonprofit human development organization, reported that studies found no cases of fertilized eggs in women using copper IUDs and that “IUDs prevention of implantation is very rare.”
Although the decision does not extend to other insurance mandates like vaccinations and blood transfusions, it is likely that this case will be used as a statute for other cases in the future.
In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asked, “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 (Christian Scientists, among others)?”
Ginsburg also said that, “Approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be ‘perceived as favoring one religion over another,’ the very ‘risk the [Constitution’s] Establishment Clause was designed to preclude,” and that she feared the court “has ventured into a minefield.”
This decision has essentially ruled that employees’ rights are now able to be dictated by the religious beliefs of their employers, rather than the religious beliefs of the employees themselves. There is no law requiring women to use contraception if they feel it is against their religious beliefs.
Taking that right away from them, especially when considering the sheer cost of contraceptives when not covered by insurance (an IUD can cost nearly a month’s salary for a minimum wage worker), proves how little the conservative-dominated court values the reproductive rights and health of more than half of the US population.