Isn’t the American dream autonomy over self in the face of the man, getting a little privacy and a little power — just enough to live well and in peace?
I’m not much of one for American idealism, but this bit has always resonated. We like the freedom to do was we please so long as it hurts no one other than ourselves.
Which is why yesterday’s SCOTUS ruling on Burnwell v. Hobby Lobby is pesky and awkward. But what’s more, it’s the result of a complex network of decisions and chess moves by the conservative Christian right set in play for more than 20 years. And I haven’t thoroughly read all the details in the ruling and the dissent by Ginsburg (bless her), but this is personal and I know enough to get myself into a little trouble talking about it, and I need to talk about it.
When I was getting divorced, I also left my job without knowing where I would end up next — depression and a detail-oriented job was an unsustainable situation, and I needed to get out of DC. But I was also having funky side effects from my hormonal oral contraception that I was using and I didn’t want to leave my job and have my insurance end without knowing what was going on and what to do to fix it. I researched options and concluded that I needed to be on something non-hormonal, and then, as I narrowed down my best choices, I learned that because the newly-enacted ACA was changing my health care coverage for the last month I was on it, I would be eligible for my birth control to be fully covered by my employer.
And I was facing rent I knew I couldn’t pay for another month, running numbers on a potential cross-country move, and generally running frightened rabbit loops in my head about money and my future. I had two weeks left, about $1,000 in my name, and a car loan and final bills and gas and groceries and no solid prospect for a job. (Aside: depression makes decision making really vile.) And I knew that a) one in three women are sexually abused and b) I was probably going to be dating again in the near future and c) generally just wanted to take no unnecessary risks with my future and d) the idea of having a child sent me into anxiety attacks.
So I looked at that $700 copper IUD covered by the ACA through my insurance, and I said “yes, please” and got it for myself as an autonomy present after my divorce. That little inch of copper says that my future is my own, my body is my own, and I decide when I’m ready for whatever comes next.
And I paid nothing for it. I swear, this has been the biggest boost in my self-confidence and general peace of mind. It was free, and it gives me my power as an adult woman.
Others aren’t so lucky. I know that my IUD isn’t going to cause abortions, because I researched it and educated myself. But the number of conservative Christian women I grew up with whose science education is so lacking that they don’t know that (for example) being on hormonal birth control actually reduces the possibility of a fertilized egg getting sloughed off in menstruation when compared with the natural risk of this occurring without being on birth control of any sort.
And I also know women who weren’t as lucky as I was, whose minimum wage employers kept their hours just below the full time mark in order to not have to pay for their heath care costs, and who couldn’t afford birth control before the ACA and ended up pregnant or unable to treat their endometriosis symptoms or their PMDD and became depressed, bedridden, suicidal, or just plain overworked and exhausted. And, this isn’t just one or two of my friends. This is a large portion of the women I know.
Contraception isn’t just an extra funtimes experimental drug that women sometimes do for kicks when they feel wicked.
Sometimes it’s the difference between freedom and reduced options, between autonomy and wage-slave exhaustion.
There’s a piece of the ruling that rests on something called the “Religious Freedom Restoration Act,” which was pushed into place by none other than Michael Farris of HSLDA, and his then-compatriot, Doug Phillips, formerly of Vision Forum. This RFRA is what (basically) enabled Wisconsin v. Yoder to be an active playing card in the religious freedom discussion today (and what keeps homeschool reform from occurring and the parental rights movement alive and well).
The piece of the ruling is the part where it rules that a private corporation is a person whose religious rights can be violated. As sussed out by my good friend, a law school graduate studying for the bar this summer:
“The majority says that the answer to the first question [Can a corporation be a “person” within the meaning of RFRA?] is “yes,” a corporation is a person who can exercise religious beliefs under RFRA. This is a statutory and not a constitutional interpretation. One interesting part of the ruling is that the majority says RFRA is not limited to restoring the Court’s pre-Smith Free Exercise jurisprudence. This opens the door for the Court to expand RFRA protection to cover even more things than the Free Exercise Clause covered prior to Smith. Additionally, the majority limited this ruling to “closely-held” corporations. This means that this ruling does not apply to corporations that are publicly traded. However, the majority did not provide any reason to make a hard division between closely held and publicly traded corporations. It just said it would be “improbable” for a publicly traded corporation to be operated according to religious beliefs. This leaves the door wide open for a clever plaintiff to get the Court to expand RFRA protection to publicly traded corporations as well. The majority also dismissed the argument that it would be difficult to determine a corporation’s religious belief when different board members have different religious beliefs. The majority just said we would turn to state law when such questions arise. ” - Carmen Green
The whole of her analysis of the ruling is intelligent, insightful, and well-worth reading.
The layers of hypocrisy and back room dealing involved in this case are just appalling. Not only does this set legal precedent for clever appeals to chip away at the ACA, and not only is it largely possible due to horrific legal engineering of Christian reconstructionists, it has detailed and sweeping ramifications that make me see red.
The appeal was designed to also prevent women from receiving contraceptive counseling from their doctors related to any of the drugs that their employers happen to object to. Why?
Hobby Lobby seems to have no problem with dealing with China, where forced abortions and sterilizations happen on the regular. Why?
Hobby Lobby’s retirement fund options involve stock in companies that manufacture the drugs they’ve asserted that they object to their employees using. They could have chosen alternative retirement plans that opted out of these investment options, but they didn’t. Why?
Hobby Lobby previously provided coverage for these contraceptives that they apparently object to, but that was before the ACA came along and required them to provide this coverage. Instead of choosing to maintain their status quo coverage, they raised the religious objection flag and started their fight. Why?
Educate yourself. I’m still shakey with how angry this ruling has made me — it’s a deep cavern of lies, money-based hypocrisy, and carefully constructed long-term plans to reinvent how religious freedom is defined.
And ultimately, this ruling is statistically likely to cause more abortions to occur in the U.S. in the future than would have occurred if these employers had agreed to provide ample coverage for reproductive health products. So much for pro-life consistency.