- March 26, 2014
Post submitted by McCleary Law Fellows Angelica Bailey and Hunter Jackson
Yesterday, we joined HRC, women’s rights advocates, and other allies in a rally against the denial of birth control to employees by for-profit employers. Outside the Supreme Court, protesters braved the snowy March morning to raise awareness and garner opposition to bosses who want to take away their employees’ birth control coverage. Demonstrators chanted and held signs saying “Birth Control; Not My Boss’s Business” and “My Birth Control. My Decision.”
Inside, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments for challenges to the Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate from two for-profit companies, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood. In enacting the ACA, Congress required large employers to provide basic preventive care for employees. That turned out to include all 20 contraceptive methods approved by the Food and Drug Administration. Under the law, religious nonprofits were exempted from this requirement, but for-profit corporations were not. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood are arguing that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 allows a for-profit corporation to deny its employees the health coverage of contraceptives to which the employees are otherwise entitled by federal law, based on the religious objections of the corporation’s owners. Without coverage as part of their insurance plan, many employees will not be able to access affordable birth control for family planning purposes, or a range of health problems such as abnormal menstrual cycles, polycystic ovary syndrome, or even rare blood diseases.
HRC’s State Legislative Director Sarah Warbelow gave a rousing speech about the importance of religious freedoms in America, but emphasized that we cannot permit a vocal minority to use religion to control personal and individual choices. “Every single person needs to have their rights protected,” she declared, “and religion cannot and should not be used to dictate our private lives.” The crowd cheered.
HRC State Director Sarah Warbelow speaking with reporters outside of the Supreme Court
The Supreme Court’s decision could dramatically broaden employers’ ability to object to laws on religious freedom grounds and potentially restrict access to contraception for thousands of women employed by companies that share Hobby Lobby’s religious objections. Such a decision could also have drastic implications for LGBT individuals. If corporations are people with a right to refuse to comply with health-care mandates based on religious beliefs, they may not only be permitted to refuse birth control coverage but types of coverage seen as “promoting homosexuality” or acknowledging the health needs of transgender individuals as well.
“What else will they be able to do?” Sarah asked to applause from the crowd. “Are they going to be able to refuse to provide HIV medication? Are they going to be able to refuse to provide hormone replacement therapy vital to transgender people? Are they going to be able to refuse a lesbian couple the basic drugs necessary to begin a family?” The crowd booed. “It doesn’t stop there.”
“We need to make sure that the small minority of individuals who want to prohibit us from living our daily lives are not able to have access to our bedrooms.”
The Supreme Court is expected to rule in late spring or early summer. In the meantime, women’s rights and progressive advocates showed today that nothing from religiously controlled corporations to a springtime snowstorm will stop the fight against discrimination and the regulation of private sexual conduct.