As the deadline for coverage under the Affordable Care Act looms on March 31, the U.S. Supreme Court gets set to hear 2 cases next week on March 25 which set to deny women birth control coverage by their employer health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. The cases represent another chapter in history to deny women their reproductive rights using religion as the basis.
One of the cases to be heard on March 25, 2014 is Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. which asked for an exemption to the Affordable Care Act’s (“ACA”) requirement that certain for profit corporations provide contraception to their employees. Hobby Lobby has stores nationwide and was started by a religious family who states the ACA requirement violates their strict religious beliefs. Hobby Lobby is a secular private for profit corporation. They are not exempt under the law. And the government argues that the ACA does not place any burdens to individuals such as the Green family. The government further asserts that Hobby Lobby is not a person exercising religious beliefs but a for profit corporate employer. The government argues the Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not apply to Hobby Lobby, a corporation for profit.
And while there are exemptions for churches and houses of worship under this specific mandate, other non-profit affiliate groups like church run hospitals and parochial schools are not exempt. Another joint case is Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic charity providing services to the elderly that contends it should not be required to provide contraceptives even through a third party’s insurer, even without the employer’s involvement. Somehow, Little Sisters of the Poor claims that it still violates their religious rights even if they are not involved in the process.
In advance of the Supreme Court’s hearing, national religious leaders consisting of Christian, Jewish, Unitarian, Universalist and Muslim leaders released and signed a joint statement affirming that equal access to contraceptives through insurance coverage is a moral good. The leaders who support religious freedom under which the Hobby Lobby cases argue is against their religious freedom, stated:
“We support religious freedom. Religious freedom means that each individual has the right to exercise their own beliefs and the right not to have others’ beliefs forced upon them. We believe no employer has the right to deny the women who work for them basic health care. Individuals must have the right to accept or reject the principles of their own faith without restrictions.”
The group of religious leaders called on the Supreme Court to respect the beliefs and values of everyone’s faith by safeguarding equal access to contraception for those whose conscience leads them to use it. These religious leaders are evidence that major religious leaders of differing theological approaches support birth control for those who choose to use it. It’s a matter of choice.
The full text of the statement can be found on www.religiousinstitute.org/faithleaders4bc
And one of the most compelling supporters of contraceptive rights under the Affordable Care Act is the National Coalition of American Nuns who have filed a petition with the Supreme Court supporting a woman’s freedom to use birth control and not be hampered by her employer in her choice to do so. Sister Donna Quinn head of the National Coalition of American Nuns says it isn’t religious freedom when a woman can beheld hostage by the owner of a business. Sister Donna Quinn adds:
“We know that religious freedom means that each person has the right to exercise their own religious beliefs; religious freedom cannot mean that an individual or a corporation gets to impose their religious beliefs on their employees.”
There are approximately 50 other cases pending on the same issue as the Hobby Lobby case, filed by other for profit corporations. And the outcome of the cases being heard on March 25 will have far reaching impact if the government loses. The case could jeopardize access to affordable birth control for millions of women. And it could also prove dangerous for freedoms of other groups. First, it will likely cause more laws and lawsuits by businesses and other to deny employees and customers health benefits and other services they are entitled to under the law, all based on the business owner’s belief. And other religious parties of based for profits corporations who are not exempt may claim religious preference to forbid providing HIV/AIDS medication through health insurance coverage on their religious beliefs against gays and lesbians as well as coverage of blood transfusions for religious reasons.
And as usual with the Supreme Court, it is no way to predict how the court will rule. A ruling will not likely occur before June, 2014. Following the oral arguments on March 25, an update will be provided.
Updated: March 23, 2014