Monday, June 30, 2014

Dissapointing Decision From SCOTUS...

Today marks an important day in America’s history, as the Supreme Court ruled against protecting women’s rights, and in favor of corporations. Today, decades of work toward equality in the workforce was pushed aside. In two cases, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Burwell, the Supreme Court ruled that closely-held corporations could refrain from providing contraceptive coverage for their female employees due to religious freedom under the RFRA.

There is a long history behind the debate of religious freedom in both the Supreme Court and Congress. In 1990, the Supreme Court ruled against recognizing religious exceptions under the First Amendment’s free exercise clause, which outraged many Americans. Eventually, Congress reversed the decision. In 1993, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, or RFRA, became federal law. In fact, it was passed by an almost unanimous Congress. Its goal was to protect religious freedom under the law, and it is a major component of the Hobby Lobby case. The RFRA has brought a great deal of conflict in the past two decades. In 1997, the Supreme Court ruled that the law was not applicable to individual states. Many states have since enacted their own RFRA laws. In fact, in February 2014, Arizona was embroiled in the RFRA conflict when its conservative politicians hoped to pass a state RFRA. When it came out that this law would legalize discrimination against the LGBTQ community within the state, Governor Jan Brewer vetoed it. The Supreme Court decision made today, which ruled in favor of the RFRA, may cause the greatest outbreak of anger yet.

There has been a continuous battle over birth control in past Supreme Court cases. One case that came to the court in 1965 in Griswold v. Connecticut, struck down state laws that prohibited the use of birth control by married couples. After that ruling, ten more states allowed for accessible birth control and family planning services. Roe v. Wade, an extremely well-known case, was decided in 1973 and the Supreme Court finally recognized women’s right to choose abortion as a right to privacy under the due process clause of the 14th Amendment. In 1976, the court struck down state laws that required the consent of parents and spouses in order for women to have an abortion. The successes did not continue, though: in 1989, the Webster v. Reproductive Health Services allowed states to have more freedom in restricting abortion. The Court continued to make more conservative rulings, such as the 1992 case of Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey where the court mandated a 24-hour waiting period and a parental-consent provision for minors.

 Clearly, the issues of religious freedom and birth control and abortion have been controversial issues leading up to the decision today. In this case, the two issues intersect and pose a constitutional, legal, and moral question in the United States.

In a 5-4 ruling today, Monday June 30th, the Supreme Court decided that for-profit companies that hold strong religious views can opt out of providing contraceptives for their employees. Under The Affordable Care Act, companies are required to cover contraceptives such as Plan B and birth control pills. Hobby Lobby, a furniture company run by Christians, fought against this provision, stating that it violates the first amendment and other laws protecting freedom of religion.

The Supreme Court specified that only closely held for-profit corporations could have religious rights, a description that perfectly fits Hobby Lobby. The Christian owners claim that their beliefs inform their whole company: they play Christian music in their stores and are closed on Sundays. In the owners' eyes, Plan B equates to abortion, and therefore goes against their strongly held morals. Paying for Plan B would be endorsing abortion, an act they could never endorse, given their faith. While Hobby Lobby sees this ruling as a victory for religious freedom, others see it as a defeat.

Those in dissent look at it from an employee’s perspective, and believe that it is unfair that an employer's religious beliefs could be forced on them. Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, stated in a CNN interview that she was disappointed the Supreme Court ruled that "it's absolutely OK for bosses to make personal decisions for women about our health care which we pay for with our's unacceptable” The court opted to protect the religious entitlement of employers over the religious freedom of employees, not to mention women's rights.

The Supreme Court's decision left many questions: which companies are considered "closely held"? How religious does a company need to be in order to be excused from covering contraceptives? What if religious owners refuse to cover vaccinations, an action that many people believe is against their faith? Furthermore, has anyone noticed that it was 5 male justices who just enacted a law that impacts the lives of millions of women?

Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a dissent noting that "the exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would…deny legions of women who do not hold their employers' beliefs access to contraceptive coverage." It is also important to understand that “the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month's full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage." Her comments reveal the sad implications that are sure to come as a result of this decision. She also poses questions about what this means for our future in terms of using religious freedom as an argument: "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[?]” Ginsburg’s comments reveal that this decision was not unanimous by any means, and necessitates further conversations. There will certainly be an ongoing dialogue surrounding today’s decision.