Post submitted by Bo Suh, HRC Digital Media Intern

In March 2014, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius. These lawsuits challenge the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that private businesses provide birth control health insurance coverage to their employees. The defendants claim that the ACA infringes upon their freedom of religion under the First Amendment.

A lawsuit ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood would not only have negative consequences for women, it could also have lasting implications for the LGBT community.

Here are the most significant potential effects: 

Restricted Access to Birth Control

Many people in the LGBT community need access to birth control under their medical insurance, including lesbians, bisexual women, and transgender men. Birth control helps prevent health problems such as abnormal menstrual cycles, polycystic ovary syndrome, and rare blood diseases. Bisexual women also need ready access to birth control, especially if they are in a relationship with an opposite-sex partner.

Opens the Door to Denying LGBT Individuals Necessary Medication

Birth control is not the only medical care that employers can potentially deny their workers. If the employers’ religious beliefs are the primary cause for the lawsuit, then they might be able discriminate against LGBT people as well – religious beliefs are already widely used to discriminate based on sexual orientation and gender identity. LGBT people are in need of many other kinds of medication in addition to birth control, such as medication for fertility treatment and hormonal supplements for transgender people.

Weights Employer’s Personal Religious Beliefs as More Important Than Employees’ Health Needs

A ruling in favor of the two businesses would send the message that a small set of people’s religious beliefs are more important or justified than another’s health needs. Yes, providing birth control when it goes against one’s religious beliefs may be upsetting to the business owner; but that pales in comparison to a worker being denied access to essential medical care.

Establishes For-Profit Businesses and Corporations as People with the Capacity to Discriminate in Violation of  Federal Law

Many businesses operate under the owner's religious beliefs, such a kosher and halal food markets owned by Orthodox Jews and Muslims. However, these businesses are not using the owners’ religious beliefs and practices to deny people access to their products; they simply determine how those products are made. In the case of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga, the employers want to use their religious beliefs to discriminate against women. A ruling in favor of these businesses could exacerbate this fact by treating the businesses like people with full ability to discriminate and resist laws on the basis of their right to religious freedoms. 

Filed under: Federal Advocacy, SCOTUS

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