Yesterday, the U.S. 10th Circuit Court of Appeals heard oral arguments in the case of Hobby Lobby's challenge to the Affordable Care Act's birth control benefit. The case was heard by all the active judges on the 10th Circuit, as opposed to a typical panel of three. At the heart of this case is whether Hobby Lobby, a for-profit company, can be required to cover contraception for its over 13,000 employees. Hobby Lobby's owners contend that some forms of contraception, including the "morning-after-pill," are in violation of their religious beliefs, because they may cause abortions. This is medically inaccurate.
The main focus for the judges was whether Hobby Lobby, as a for-profit corporation, has a constitutionally protected right to religious freedom. Chief Judge Briscoe asked the lawyer for Hobby Lobby, "Do you have any authority that a for-profit corporation can exercise religion? How does that work?" Perhaps the Chief Judge was skeptical after the District Court held that "[g]eneral business corporations do not, separate and apart from the actions or belief systems of their individual owners or employees, exercise religion. They do not pray, worship, observe sacraments or take other religiously-motivated actions separate and apart from the intention and direction of their individual actors. Religious exercise is, by its nature, one of those 'purely personal' matters…which is not the province of a general business corporation."
Nonetheless, relying on the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act ("RFRA"), Hobby Lobby's attorney sought to establish that the birth control benefit would impose a substantial burden on the corporation and its owners. Read more »
Today, Hobby Lobby will try to explain to all the judges on the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals why employees of a craft store chain should be denied full insurance coverage of birth control at their bosses' discretion. Hobby Lobby is the largest of the 31 for-profit companies attempting to challenge the federal birth control benefit, with over 13,000 employees who will be affected by what the judges decide.
"[T]he particular burden of which plaintiffs complain is that funds, which plaintiffs will contribute to a group health plan, might, after a series of independent decisions by health care providers and patients covered by [the corporate] plan, subsidize someone else's participation in an activity that is condemned by plaintiff[s'] religion."
The 10th Circuit said "We agree" when it denied Hobby Lobby's request to temporarily get out of providing the benefit. Read more »
The law directly conflicted with the federal health care law’s contraceptive coverage requirement, which requires all new health insurance plans to cover contraceptives with no co-pay. In his announcement, the Attorney General aptly stated, “the attempt to deny contraceptive coverage to women in Missouri is just plain foolishness” and “cannot be supported by case law or sound policy.” Read more »
Earlier this month, we told you about a bill introduced in the Alabama House of Representatives that would let bosses use their religion to discriminate against female employees and make decisions about their reproductive health care. Unfortunately, the House passed H.B. 108 last week, and it is scheduled for a public hearing in the Senate today at 11:30 a.m. Read more »
Alabama politicians will be voting on whether to allow your boss to make your reproductive health care decisions. H.B. 108 was introduced just last week and voted out of committee yesterday without a public hearing. It’s moving to the House floor for a vote as early as today. Alabama politicians want to allow bosses to use their religion to discriminate against the 637,666 Alabama women who get health insurance through their job or their spouse’s job.
Lately, it seems that Texas lawmakers can’t pass up any opportunity to deny women health care. In 2011, they cut funding for birth control services by two-thirds, forcing 53 clinics that provided those services to close. Then, they turned down $30 million in federal money that would have provided contraception and cancer screening to low income women, rather than allow Planned Parenthood to participate in the program. And now, a representative in the Texas House has proposed a bill that would give a tax break to companies that refuse to provide contraceptive coverage to their employees. Read more »
Last week at a lunch with African advocates for women’s rights, we discussed pregnancy rates in Africa and the United States. Across the continents one thing remained constant—women have better outcomes when they are able to control their fertility. They enjoy greater freedom to pursue academic studies or careers, and to plan their lives as they see fit.
Opponents to birth control have made speeches decrying the rule, hosted conferences and brought lawsuit, after lawsuit, after lawsuit... Since the lawsuits have proved to be a publicity-gaining tool, we can anticipate many more. Read more »
Picking up where Leila left off, let’s look at how far bosses’ take their license to discriminate. Consider a world in which our boss decides whether our decisions are morally or religiously “clean” enough for him. You may think this is a thing of the past or that employers only have objections to covering birth control in health insurance. The following are real life examples of bosses exercising their “religious freedom”—can you guess the years in which they happened?
A school fired a fourth-grade teacher for asking for maternity leave based on the employer’s belief that she should not have become pregnant outside of marriage. According to court documents, the school administrator told her “there are consequences for disobeying the word of God.”
A chain of banks refused to cover health insurance for dependents of a single mother or a married woman because, according to a former employee, the boss believes it is “a man’s responsibility to provide for his family.”
In the editorial, the board dismissed a point I had made to an Oklahoman reporter, where I explained that it is a slippery slope to allow employers to opt out of generally applicable rules because of his or her own moral or religious objection to such rules. While people may balk at the requirement to cover the “oh-so-controversial” health care item known as birth control, how would people feel if an employer refused to cover children immunizations?
Well, the editorial board took my point and said it supported theirs. They theorized that because people have the right to refuse a vaccine, bosses should have the right to refuse to cover vaccines in their company’s health insurance. And here is the impasse we are facing. Read more »
Attacks on contraception have been all over the news lately — from attempts to defund federal and state family planning programs and providers like Planned Parenthood to efforts to block the health care law's coverage of contraception with no-copays or deductibles. It's shocking that more than 50 years after the birth control pill was approved, we're fighting to ensure that women don't lose access to it. Another startling front in the contraception battle? When you go to a pharmacy to get your contraception, you might be denied.