What Does the Hobby Lobby Decision Mean?
According to the Supreme Court, an employee’s contraception is her boss’s business after all.
In a disappointing 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court sided with two for-profit companies that had challenged the Affordable Care Act’s contraceptive coverage requirement, which says that certain preventive health care services like contraception must be covered without copay or cost-sharing. Both Hobby Lobby, a family-owned chain of arts and crafts stores, and Conestoga Wood, a family-owned cabinetry business, claimed that providing certain services in their insurance plans violates their religious freedoms and that they shouldn’t have to provide this kind of health coverage for their employees. In return, health advocates argued that corporations don’t have religious freedom — and that bosses have no business controlling their employees’ access to any contraception.
The court sided with the businesses, saying that “closely held” corporations cannot be required to provide contraceptive coverage of any kind for their employees. Not only did the Supreme Court get it wrong again, but they also singled out a huge portion of the population — women — for discrimination.
Although the majority in the Hobby Lobby case claims that its decision is narrow, the truth is we won’t know the full reach of the decision for some time. Hobby Lobby challenged four forms of contraception, but Justice Samuel Alito did not limit the court’s ruling to those forms of contraception only. Thus, companies can refuse to cover ALL forms of birth control if they choose to do so — we’ll see how it plays out. Already 82 companies have stepped forward to say they will embrace the decision, but they have not confirmed how far they will take it.
In addition, the reasoning behind the court’s decision creates a slippery slope by which corporations can challenge other medical procedures or medicines in the future. As the New York Times noted, the Hobby Lobby ruling may extend beyond health care, “open[ing] the door to many challenges from corporations over laws that they claim violate their religious liberty.” Imagine if an owner of a closely held corporation is against equal pay for women because he believes that disrupts men’s superiority in their homes?
What we do know is this: In today’s status quo, where health care coverage is overwhelmingly tied to employment status, allowing an employer to refuse to cover certain forms of contraception will reduce women’s access to these health services. With nine out of 10 corporations classified as closely held, this decision has the potential to affect millions of women employees.
Women already have less disposable income to spend on health care services because of the gender pay gap, and college-educated women are especially burdened by high levels of student loan debt. Moreover, the impact of the Hobby Lobby decision is expected to fall more heavily on low-income women — whose access to health care is typically limited to begin with — and black women, who make up almost 16 percent of minimum-wage women workers. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg observed in her dissent, “The cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month’s full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage” (two of the forms of contraception Hobby Lobby objected to are intrauterine devices). There are many reasons why some women cannot use hormonal forms of birth control, and their doctors may recommend IUDs as the safest option. For many workers, not covering the cost of that contraception can amount to not allowing employees to use this basic health care service as they and their doctors see fit.
Regardless of whether you agree or disagree with the Supreme Court’s ruling, we can all agree that this decision and other Supreme Court decisions issued throughout our nation’s history can have a great effect on our lives. Nominating and confirming Supreme Court justices is just one important example of the responsibilities that our elected officials have, and we urge everyone to cast an informed vote. Make sure you’re registered to vote at www.aauwaction.org and that you get to the polls in November.