Today, the US Supreme Court handed down the long-awaited Hobby Lobby decision (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., ___ US ___ (2014). In the decision, they overturned the Obama administration’s insistence that Obamacare overrides the First Amendment.
We all know the facts of this one. Hobby Lobby, Inc., a closely held corporation, is owned by a group of persons who strongly believe on religious grounds that abortion is wrong and don’t want to pay for it through the Affordable Care Act, which covers abortions. The government said no, you don’t qualify for an exclusion, and the fight was on.
42 USC §§ 2000bb-1(A) and (B) says that the government cannot “…substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.” Today’s decision in Hobby Lobby upholds this law, and, coincidentally the freedom of religion we are all guaranteed under the First Amendment to the Constitution.
Of course, Justice Ginsburg does have a point in her dissent: “Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.”
As with any decision, the trick is to figure out how to read it. If, as Justice Ginsburg says, the decision is broad enough in application to carry over to these procedures, that will keep SCOTUS in business for many terms to come as the parameters of today’s decision get hammered out. If, though, the case is read narrowly, applying only to religious objection to terminating a pregnancy, Justice Ginsburg’s objection to the decision is defeated. However, I am not the person who will interpret the decision as time goes by; that gets left to those who sit on the judicial benches, and there are likely, until SCOTUS rules again, to be splits on this issue throughout the circuit courts. The import of the decision may well be to cause women to have to pay for contraception, but freedom of religion is guaranteed by the Constitution; freedom of contraception is not.
I don’t always agree with the High Court, but I think they got this one right — and I am by no means a radical pro-life proponent. I think that women should indeed have access to contraception, but this decision does not overturn women’s access to contraception; it merely asks women to pay for that contraception, and the government is likely to come up with a way to provide that contraception for those women who are employed by Hobby Lobby and companies with similar visions. This does not overturn the abortion rights in the United States. Abortion is still reasonably freely available for the employees of any closely held company that objects to providing funding for it on religious grounds. But don’t ask those whose religious convictions hold that the soul enters the human zygote at conception to pay for the woman carrying that zygote to terminate that life.
Feel free to agree or disagree with me in the Comments.