I recently started a full-time job at a large, closely held company almost solely for the healthcare benefits that I knew would be provided to me. I make enough money as a freelance writer to pay the bills — all the bills except private health insurance because, DAAAANG, it’s so expensive! Between that and childcare, how is a person supposed to get their kids’ college savings on?
I figured the extra money I’m making at the full-time gig as well as the hundreds and hundreds I’ll be saving on insurance each month is worth the 40-hour work week. So how would I feel if my employers randomly decided to stop covering certain things as a part of my insurance based on some personal religious belief of theirs? Well, I’d be pretty mad.
Yet, it’s what’s happening to tens of thousands of employees across the country right now in the wake of the Supreme Court’s decision to allow for-profit employers with religious objections to opt out of providing contraception coverage under Obamacare. Now, legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs will be denied access to contraceptive coverage.
When the Affordable Care Act compelled businesses to include FDA-approved contraceptives in employee healthcare plans, Hobby Lobby, a national chain of craft stores, fought the law all the way to the Supreme Court because they claim some birth control products can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in a woman’s uterus — a process the Green family, who owns Hobby Lobby, considers abortion. The Greens, along with a Mennonite family that owns a company called Conestoga Wood, said that four of the listed contraceptives violated their religious beliefs and even if they weren’t taking the drugs themselves the family felt morally responsible for paying for their employees to take them. Although, as Mother Jones notes, “the Hobby Lobby 401(k) employee retirement plan held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions. Hobby Lobby makes large matching contributions to this company-sponsored 401(k).”
The Supreme Court’s unfortunate decision (5-4 with the 5 being men) means that thousands of the company’s female employees will not have access through their insurance to birth control options like Plan B, IUDs, and other forms of contraception to which their bosses object. If you’re familiar with IUDs you know exactly how costly they can be. As Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg noted in her dissenting opinion, “the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month’s full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage.” Ginsberg also points out that the ruling included drugs that address issues beyond pregnancy, including pelvic pain, cancers, and menstrual disorders.
The case is the first to uphold a religious freedom right of a for-profit corporation. There are some evangelicals who think ordinary contraceptive pills are “abortifacients,” or drugs that induce abortions. There are other religions that don’t believe in birth control at all. It’s a slippery slope from not covering IUDs and Plan B to companies asking to opt out of covering birth control at all based on religious beliefs. And what about company owners who are against gay marriage for religious reasons? When are they going to start requesting to muck around in the personal lives of gay people based on religion?
But the decision isn’t just a scary precedent nor is it a travesty that employers can decide what kind of healthcare women have access to — it’s a blow to religions, too. Making a for-profit corporation eligible for legal exemptions based on religious freedom puts government in charge of deciding what is or isn’t religion. There’s this little thing called separation of church and state that’s pretty important but with this precedent, anyone can use religion to claim exemption on anything.
Still, for me, and millions of women like me, the biggest tragedy is that, yet again, strangers who believe things we don’t are legislating what we can and can’t do with our bodies. My personal idol, Hillary Clinton agrees. “It’s troubling a salesclerk at Hobby Lobby who needs contraception — which is pretty expensive — is not going to get that service through her employer’s healthcare plan because her employer doesn’t think she should be using contraception,” Clinton said during a Facebook Live interview at the Aspen Ideas Festival in Colorado.
I should have control over my reproductive life, not my employer. My employer’s religious beliefs should not take precedent over my healthcare needs. Ultimately the reason a person takes a given medication is between that person — male or female — and their doctor, and it’s none of their employer’s business.
Image source: Monica BielankoMore On