The opinion handed down on the Hobby Lobby trial this past Monday has been repeated decried as a new wave of sexism and a major set-back to women’s rights. Unfortunately, in addition to being incorrect, that sentiment misses the entire point of the Hobby Lobby Case.
For any of you who somehow missed the raging social media firestorm, here’s the short version: Popular craft store chain, Hobby Lobby recently won their case before the Supreme Court, allowing them to opt out of providing abortive contraceptives in their employees’ healthcare plans. The issue at hand was whether or not a government mandate supersedes a business’s firm religious beliefs, and in this case, the court found that it did not.
Almost immediately, the internet lit up with angry blog posts and commentaries decrying the decision as a national shame, with feminist writers announcing it to be the greatest set-back to women’s rights in a generation, if not an all out attack on their liberty.
Closely-held corporations and businesses could not be forced to provide free abortive contraceptives for employees if that violated their religious beliefs…. and apparently that is not only a travesty, but somehow tantamount to denying people access to contraceptives altogether. (It’s not.)
Twitter saw columnists like Jessica Valenti cynically call for opponents of the decision to start having sex inside of Hobby Lobby stores out of protest, as well as advocating other, more practical ways to harass the store:
The decision has been considered sexist opening salvo in a new War on Women, a travesty to the movement for reproductive rights, an advocacy to unfair healthcare standards, an affirmation that corporation have more human rights than women, and, of course, Salon couldn’t resist writing SEVERAL pieces about how this is all actually a byproduct of a vast, fundamentalist, right-wing conspiracy to take over the nation.
Essentially, they’re saying that this decision is tantamount to denying women the status of full person-hood; that women have a right to demand employer-provided contraceptives.
In short, the issue of whether or not the government can force private enterprises to comply with something they disagree with on a religious basis has been replaced with the total red-herring argument that the SCOTUS and Christian companies hate women, leading to pictures and comparisons like these making their way around the internet:
I don’t know whether the “refocused” argument is intentional, or just a byproduct of the charged emotion surrounding abortive contraceptives, but I think we need to set some things straight about the Hobby Lobby Case.
1: This is not a new onslaught in the “War on Women,” or some kind of subversive, backsliding, sexist conspiracy.
Both Justice Ginsburg’s dissent and “media” outlets like Salon have been quick to decry the court’s opinion as a remarkably sexist, sweeping blow against women’s rights, and the Transgender Law Center calls it “a massive step backwards,” all claiming that this is being done in order to keep women suppressed, Ginsburg in particular claiming that a woman can only protect her future if she can control her reproductive health.
First of all… stepping backwards to WHAT? It’s not stepping back to ANYTHING. The case is establishing the bounds and limits of a literally BRAND NEW law. Employers were never required to provide health plans that covered abortive contraceptives before, and some would rather not start. You can’t “step backwards” to something that never existed.
Second, this case is not specifically targeting women, or even contraceptives. It’s about how far the government can go to mandate compliance with something that violates personal religious beliefs. Contraception’s just the first issue that came up. No one is stopping people from purchasing contraceptives on their own, or drastically altering their lifestyles. How do we know this? Because, like I just said, the government had not mandated that employers provide these services before. Those, and many other totally dissimilar services varied greatly from company to company, and the Freedom of Association that we enjoy in America meant that people could choose to work for places that best suited their needs. (For the record, Hobby Lobby insurance plans STILL cover 16 out of the 20 leading contraceptive medications.)
No one is telling you what you can and can’t do with your paycheck.
2: This is not a conspiracy to only give men good healthcare.
People have been quick to cry foul that many healthcare plans provided by companies that deny women abortive contraceptives still provide for other such “luxury” items like Viagra for men, pointing out that at least birth control medication has numerous legitimate medical uses beyond just birth control.
They then opine that contraceptives are absolutely integral to the upward mobility of women in modern society, and to deny them easy access to such medication is unacceptable.
I feel obligated to point out a couple things regarding the medical uses of birth control: Contraceptives do have medical uses, alleviating symptoms of painful menstruation, combating endometriosis, and even possibly reducing the chances of ovarian cancer. Guess what? Viagra totally does too. It was used to treat pulmonary hypertension before it become an erectile dysfunction medication.
However, only about 14% of women use birth control for strictly medical purposes, and it is estimated that half of regular contraceptive users use them for STRICTLY birth control purposes. As much as the “legitimate medication” argument has been touted as grounds for why employers should be forced to provide it, much like Viagra, it is still overwhelmingly used for recreation.
(That, and comparing fertility/virility medication, something that is rarely as religiously controversial, to medication that works to the complete opposite end is a bit like comparing apples to oranges.)
But if you’re going to compare them, then look at it this way instead: Should the government be able to FORCE businesses to provide Viagra in their insurance plans?
Short answer: No.
3: Even if you believe access to contraceptives is a basic human right, no one says it’s your employer’s job to provide them.
Personally, I find the fact that birth control is rapidly becoming considered a basic human RIGHT and NECESSITY to be ridiculous, but that’s another discussion for another day.
However, even if it was, since when does that make it our bosses’ job to provide it? They aren’t universally required to provide food, clothing, or shelter either. USUALLY, that’s left up to the individual, who uses their paycheck to provide those things for themselves.
Heck, technically, according to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), thelaw passed by the Clinton administration that has played a major role in this debate, the government itself should be picking up the tab on these sorts of things, especially if it’s something that businesses do not wish to do out of religious obligation. Not saying that’s a good idea, but currently, that’s how it’s supposed to work.
Again, as much as I feel like I’m beating a dead horse, the concept of forcing your employer to pay for your contraceptives is a VERY recent one, if not virulent in its spread. NARAL Pro-Choice America has been pushing a campaign entitled “Not My Boss’s Business,” with accompanying Twitter hashtag, which, in spite of its gloriously contradictory message, has garnered support from writers, celebrities, and politicians, including New York Stage Senator Kirsten Gillibrand:
Except for the painfully obvious fact that they are MAKING it their boss’s business by MAKING their bosses pay for it; an obvious logical fallacy that has been latched onto by numerous other writers, including noted libertarian, Julie Borowski, who had a rather pithy rebuttal to a similar tweet by Sandra Fluke:
It really doesn’t. Honestly, an employer should not be under a universally mandatory obligation to provide health care period, let alone something the owners disagree with for deep-seated religious reasons, especially since, for the moment, religious freedom is still a constitutionally protected right, whereas access to cheap healthcare and contraceptive medication is not.
(In fact, businesses only started offering health plans during a wage freeze in WWII, and Borowski makes a compelling argument that perhaps we should be encouraging higher wages instead of mandatory health care in her own article about the Hobby Lobby Case.)
You can’t tell companies or the government to stay out of your bedroom but demand that they leave their wallet behind.
If you don’t want it to be your boss’s business, then don’t MAKE it their business, especially if it violates their religious beliefs.
“But Hobby Lobby is just a faceless corporation, so it doesn’t count!”
Except it does:
4: This is not the Supreme Court elevating a faceless corporation over women.
I think a lot of the vitriolic hate for this decision comes from the fact that people just simply dislike corporations, a fear and distrust which is perfectly understandable, if not a little unfounded. (Seriously, just do some reason on how and why corporations exists and why they are an integral part of the modern world.)
Are faceless corporations big and potentially dangerous? Yup. Is this case about them? Nope.
The other point so many people miss about this decision is Justice Alito’s clear language pertaining this to CLOSELY-HELD corporations. That means that just because it’s been incorporated, or is an LLC, the major majority is still owned by one or several specific people. In the case of Hobby Lobby, the ownership of the company is still held by Dave and Barbara Green, the original founders of the chain:
The same owners who have loudly and publicly proclaimed their Christianity and Christian business practices in such an overt manner that it would make Chik-Fil-A blush.
Even Salon acknowledges that the Green’s Christian lifestyle dictates nearly every facet of their stores, from the days that they are open (Not Sunday!) to the music played in the stores (Jesus music all day, erryday). Unsurprisingly, their beliefs also happen to be pro-life, which, according to Salon, is where the line has to be drawn.
The Supreme Court, however, disagrees, and Justice Alito, in his opinion, essentially states that in a case where the corporation is so closely held, operated, and influenced by a single person or small group of people, forcing the company to do something that violates their beliefs is the same thing as forcing THEM to do something that violates their beliefs, an act that is unconstitutional. Slate’s article “Hobby Lobby: Alito’s Argument Is Stronger Than Ginsburg’s,” is one of the only feminist news articles that acknowledges Alito’s argument as being more sound than Ginsberg’s in regards to whether or not a corporation can be protected by the RFRA:
“Alito makes the better argument. Once Ginsburg says that “the exercise of religion is characteristic of natural persons, not artificial legal entities,” she gives away the game. A church is an artificial legal entity. Interpreting “person” to encompass corporations but not for-profit corporations doesn’t pass muster”
While that article then takes the more intelligent approach of disagreeing with the standing laws themselves rather than the Court’s opinion, the PRIMARY rebuttal to this decision has largely been a lame paraphrase of “But they’re a corporation! That’s not fair!” as well as criticisms of how hands-on this supposedly “hands-off” court is being.
But that’s what you get when you demand government intervention.
You get government intervention
5: Government Intervention is a two-edged sword.
After DECADES of lobbying for equal rights (which somehow go hand in hand with abortive procedures) pro-choice activists finally received another landmark victory in the Affordable Care Act, which mandated employer funded abortion services and contraceptives. They had hoped that would be the end of it, but the Hobby Lobby case happened, and now everything is back to the regulation game.
Simply put, you cannot expect the government to pay for something (or to force someone else to pay for something) without having them regulate it. Regulation is like crack for politicians; they literally cannot pass it up. So when you fight so hard to get the government to do your dirty work, you need to expect them to take their devil’s due.
Feminist libertarian writer Laurie Rice, in her article “Contraception and the Case for Free-Market Feminism,” argues that both left AND right ideologies have provided setbacks for the women’s movement. (She also does a nice job of explaining that the outcry for “over the counter” birth control is ridiculous, since birth control is ALREADY available over the counter.)
While I might disagree with some of the points she makes, she still points out that an overly intrusive, progressive liberal government is no better for the radical feminist movement… the same movement that keeps insisting that their bedroom business is theirs and theirs alone.
Finally, liberal progressives are starting to see how a politically active judiciary, right or left, that legislates from the bench, can be troublesome.
Honestly, Gina Luttrell, the liberal “libertarian” writer who I previously critiqued, and almost never agree with, actually summed it up quite well on Facebook:
In short, remarkably little has ACTUALLY changed. Owners of closely-held corporations can still make business decisions based on their religious beliefs, and women (and men) are free to purchase as much birth control as they want for themselves. In the words of Dana Loesch:
So calm down. The Hobby Lobby Decisions is not the end of days.
(That goes for conservatives too. This is not going to magically dismantle the Affordable Care Act, and liberal pundits have noted some pretty advantageous silver linings for the progressive movement in Alito’s opinion.)
Louis Petolicchio lives and writes in Central Pennsylvania. Follow him on Twitter!