The US Supreme Court ruled 5-4 along rigid gender and ideological lines that “closely-held” corporations could not be required to provide health insurance coverage for methods of contraception that violate the corporation’s sincerely held religious beliefs – preventing employees who work for these companies from accessing certain FDA-approved contraceptives.
In a statement issued by the Feminist Majority Foundation, President Eleanor Smeal said the decision “not only deprives women of comprehensive healthcare, but… sets a terrifying standard in affirming the ‘personhood’ of corporations.”
Though the Court did not provide a definition of a “closely held” corporation (there are multiple state definitions), the Wall Street Journal reports that roughly 90 percent of all companies in the US are “closely held,” and according to a 2009 NYU research study, roughly half of all private sector employees work for such corporations. Most of these corporations, however, have no religious affiliation, so it remains unclear how many women will be affected by the Court’s decision yesterday. Currently, 30 million women have access to birth control without co-pays or deductibles because of the Affordable Care Act (ACA).
Even as the Court decided that closely-held corporations could have religious rights protected by the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the conservative majority minimized not only the importance of women’s health but also the goal of women’s equality.
Writing for the majority, Justice Alito suggested that “gender equality” might be too “broadly formulated” to satisfy a compelling government interest that would justify the ACA birth control benefit. This downplay of women’s equality did not go unnoticed by Justice Ginsburg, who wrote, in dissent, that the government’s interest in “women’s well-being” is “concrete, specific, and demonstrated by a wealth of empirical evidence.” Justice Ginsburg also noted that in providing for contraceptive coverage for women without co-pays or deductibles, Congress was acting on the understanding – articulated in Planned Parenthood v. Casey (1992) – that “the ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.”
White House Press Secretary Josh Earnest delivered a statement on the Hobby Lobby decision yesterday, stating that “President Obama believes that women should make personal health care decisions for themselves rather than their bosses deciding for them.” He continued, “Today’s decision jeopardizes the health of women who are employed by these companies… the owners of for-profit companies should not be allowed to assert their personal religious views to deny their employees federally mandated benefits.”
The White House is calling on Congress to take action to ensure that the women and employees affected by the Court’s decision will have coverage for contraceptive care.
MEDIA RESOURCES: Feminist Majority Foundation Press Release 6/30/14; U.S. Supreme Court; Slate.com, 6/30/14; Wall Street Journal, 6/30/14