On Monday, a sharply divided Supreme Court ruled that family-owned, for-profit corporations may hold religious convictions, and that those corporations may opt out of the federal regulations requiring employer-sponsored health insurance to cover contraceptives, based on the corporation’s religious convictions.
What does this ruling really mean, in practical terms?
Here are some of the most significant repercussions of this decision:
First, very few women will actually be denied contraceptive coverage because of this decision. The Affordable Care Act already allows religious organizations to opt out of the contraceptive mandate, and creates an alternate system for employees of these organizations to obtain the coverage at no additional cost. The Court expects that this alternate system will be available for employees of private corporations that opt out.
More importantly, we hope and expect that the vast majority of employers will recognize the benefit of contraceptive coverage, at least to their company’s bottom line. Women make up half the work force. They can’t contribute to their company’s success if they are out of work due to an unexpected pregnancy.
It is disturbing, however, that the court has once again singled out women’s reproductive health care as deserving of a level of scrutiny different from other issues.
Last week’s ruling on buffer zones singled out buffer zones around clinics, but ignored similar buffer zones for polling places, funerals and the Supreme Court itself. Today the court ruled that companies may opt out of contraceptive coverage, but cautioned that “[t]his decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to hold that all insurance-coverage mandates, e.g., for vaccinations or blood transfusions, must necessarily fall if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs.”
It’s hard to believe that, in 2014, we’re still dealing with the stigma around women’s reproductive rights and women’s sexuality in general.
Perhaps most worrisome is that the Court has stated that some corporations can hold religious beliefs, and those religious beliefs are protected by federal law.
With this decision, the Supreme Court said that a corporation’s religious beliefs can be more important than the law of the land.
As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg says in her dissent, this is a decision of startling breadth. If a corporation’s religious beliefs allow it to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage, who’s to say that a corporation’s religious beliefs wouldn’t allow it to refuse to employ or cover women at all? Or to refuse to employ or serve people who are gay, or people who don’t hold the same religious beliefs? Or to refuse to comply with any number of federal protections because they conflict with the corporation’s religious beliefs?
Just a few months ago, Maine Family Planning worked hard to defeat state legislation that would have given individuals and private entities the same ability to refuse to comply with state law based upon religious beliefs. Maine’s legislature wisely recognized the dangers inherent in such a broad exemption from the protections that exist in our laws.
It’s been a difficult few days for all of us who believe that basic health care includes reproductive health care, and that we all have a right to access that health care without judgment, intimidation or harassment. But the frustration that we feel today will only motivate us to work on new solutions, new strategies for ensuring access to care.
We hope you’ll join us in the fight for reproductive justice in Maine.
~ Kate Brogan