Late last month, the Supreme Court heard arguments on Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby. In late June, the court will issue a ruling on the case, deciding whether or not companies “run on religious principles” like Hobby Lobby can be required to offer their employees health plans that cover contraceptives.
It’s an intriguing case for a number of reasons, not the least of which will be its implications for female employees of companies like Hobby Lobby, who overwhelmingly oppose allowing corporations to exempt themselves from the birth control mandate. In fact, according to a public opinion poll done by Hart Research Associates, 68 percent of women voters ages 18–55 (including 79 percent of Democrats, 72 percent of independents, and 50 percent of Republicans) oppose such exemptions. But more on that in a minute. Let’s say a bit more about the case itself.
First, bear in mind that Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby pertains only to large, private, for-profit companies. Religious employers like churches and businesses with fewer than 50 full-time employees have been exempt from the get-go, and were more recently joined by “religiously affiliated groups”—church-run hospitals, parochial schools, charities, and the like—following the Supreme Court’s issuing of a “temporary” but potentially permanent injunction earlier this year.
It’s also worth noting that even though contraceptives for women have been repeatedly raised as an issue at both the state and federal level, most insurers—including Medicaid, and even Hobby Lobby’s own employee insurance plan—have quietly covered more than half of all Viagra prescriptions since they first hit the market in 1998. Fun fact: Penis pumps are also covered by all three.
Though the issue of religious exemptions has a myriad of intriguing and at times inconsistent precedents, perhaps the only thing that has stayed consistent in the court’s opinion since Sherbert v. Verner (1963) has been the requirement that the government show a “compelling interest” in order to deny an individual or entity a legal exemption on religious grounds. Paying taxes, for instance, is not something you can gain exemption from, even if you’re a Quaker woman who just doesn’t want her money being used to help fund the U.S. military.
That’s what’s really at stake here: Can a woman’s boss deny her coverage for medically necessary health care on the grounds of his own religious beliefs? Is women’s healthcare “compelling” enough of an “interest”?
Though the Affordable Care Act does a lot of things—mandate health insurance, provide a marketplace for its purchase, prevent insurers from denying or terminating coverage on the basis of preexisting conditions, etc.—one of its more publicly unappreciated yet truly significant contributions is to women’s health care, which the law makes more comprehensive, affordable, and fair. For about 27 million women, that means life-saving preventive health care measures without the barrier of outrageous—or any—co-pays.
But the Supreme Court’s ruling on Hobby Lobby has the potential to change all that. For current and future employees of companies like Hobby Lobby, In-N-Out, Forever 21, and their families, that can be a very scary thought.
Beyond its potential implications for millions of women across the country, the Hobby Lobby case exemplifies an alarming trend in conservative thought and Republican rhetoric about the Affordable Care Act and nearly every other issue—immigration reform, gun violence prevention, equal pay—that the president has attempted to implement policy on throughout his tenure.
Because, for Republicans, this isn’t really about the Affordable Care Act—or about contraceptives, or even women’s health care—at all. In light of their practically negative approval ratings, it almost doesn’t even seem to be about winning the public’s support.
It’s about making the president look bad.
That’s why, despite themselves admitting that defunding Obamacare is unrealistic, House Republicans have wasted hundreds of hours holding no fewer than 54 failed votes to defund some or all of the law. Based on CBS’s estimate of a cost of about $1.45 million per vote, that’s more than $78 million—and counting.
That’s also why, despite being inspired by the Massachusetts health reform plan implemented under Republican Governor Mitt Romney, Republican strategists urged Romney to disavow Obamacare—and why, despite being nearly indistinguishable from the policies proposed by the Republican caucus as an alternative to single-payer in the early 1990s, even those Republicans who took part in that earlier initiative have done the same.
Not surprisingly, Congressional Republicans recently filed an amicus brief in support of Hobby Lobby, “ask[ing] the court to reverse the district court’s denial of preliminary injunctive relief.” Among those nine Senators and two Representatives was Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who, back in 2010, declared that the Republican Party’s “top political priority” was to “deny President Barack Obama a second term.”
And Hobby Lobby?
Prior to filing its lawsuit in 2012, the company’s employee insurance plan already covered 16 of the 20 contraceptive methods mandated by the Affordable Care Act, including Ella and Plan B, the latter of which Hobby Lobby CEO David Green now wrongly but emphatically condemns as an “abortifacient.”
Though it’s those final four contraceptive methods that bring Hobby Lobby to court, financial records show the craft chain holding investments totaling $73 million—three-quarters of its total retirement plan assets—across nine mutual funds, each of which contain holdings in companies that produce and distribute an intriguing array of health care services: drugs commonly used in abortions, insurance companies that cover surgical abortions, those same “abortion-causing” contraceptive pills, and hormonal intrauterine devices—the last one being one of precisely those four methods it now claims so dreadfully violate its religious freedoms, and are the heart and soul of this whole lawsuit.
It wasn’t until Republican criticism of the law entered the picture that Hobby Lobby decided to “re-examine its insurance policies.”
Point being: If your “hobby” happens to be hypocritically discriminating against women for vaguely religious, likely very political motives, then boy…do I know the “lobby” for you!