By Naomi Scheinerman
Last week, the US Supreme Court heard oral arguments from Hobby Lobby (a chain of craft stores) and Conestoga Wood (a cabinetry company) who both claim religious exemptions from the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (ACA) contraception coverage. A recent story from Mother Jones reveals that Hobby Lobby has actually “spent millions of dollars on an employee retirement plan that invested in the manufacturers of the same contraception products the firm’s owners cite in their law suit.” In addition, the company also provided insurance plans to its employees that covered the very contraception they now reject for years before the ACA mandate required it. Although this information may not be crucial for the Court in its decision making, these revealed factors call into question the veracity and legitimacy of Hobby Lobby’s religious objection alongside considerations of justice and ethics in potentially granting an exemption.
For example, one concern is whether the Court should consider arguments based on faulty scientific claims. Hobby Lobby argues that they have no moral objection to the use of the majority of the contraceptives required in the mandate and will continue to cover access to these. Rather, they object to the copper and hormonal intrauterine devices (IUDs) and Plan B and Ella, “emergency” contraception taken after intercourse. Hobby Lobby claims that because these prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus, they function as abortions. Hobby Lobby is sadly not alone in erroneously labeling Plan B and Ella as so-called “abortion pills,” when in fact they do not terminate pregnancy because they work before pregnancy begins. Even if Hobby Lobby has a valid religious objection to abortions, they are fallaciously applying it to this case.
Legally, the Court has also been asked whether corporations can even claim religious exemptions. Hobby Lobby has Christian owners, but its employees are not exclusively Christian and therefore it is hard to define it as a distinct Christian corporation. Although the Court has ruled that corporations operate as individuals in terms of campaign finance laws, it has yet to extend this argument to other realms. This brings me to one of the most pressing questions: Does claiming religious exemption actually impose a religious ruling on others? Though Hobby Lobby claims it does not want to be imposed upon, its attempts to deny coverage of IUDs, Plan B, and Ella impose on its employees because they may have no moral objection to accessing these forms of birth control.
Further, when do religious exemptions to health coverage end? At what point should we consider right of access to be absolute and religious exemptions as inferior claims because they overshadow a more pressing moral concern in society? Can Hobby Lobby claim objections to vaccinations? Cancer treatments? Kidney transplants? Some religious groups do, and the Court would be quite quick to throw out those cases as extreme and an overt denial of rights of access. Hobby Lobby’s claims against IUDs, Plan B, and Ella are not so different. Emergency contraception can be vital for a woman who was raped or just wants the freedom to live a life without a child imposed upon her. Research has shown that unintentional pregnancies are linked with delayed prenatal care, low birth weight, maternal depression, prevention of education and jobs otherwise accessible to the mother, and family violence. These are good health reasons to offer the access and claim any denial of access as an abuse of religious arguments and an imposition on others’ freedoms from religion.
Naomi Scheinerman is a Research Assistant at The Hastings Center. She graduated Phi Beta Kappa, with high honors and in distinction from the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, where she received bachelor’s degrees in philosophy, political science, and Hebrew and Jewish Cultural Studies. She contributes a bi-weekly column on reproductive health.