Today was the big day: the Supreme Court released their decision in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case. Unfortunately for most everyone except the owners of Hobby Lobby, the court decided that the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act could not require closely held corporations to provide health coverage that includes contraceptives. Beyond setting a horrible precedent with this case, the ruling is another horrifying blow to both women’s rights and workers’ rights.
The company at the forefront of the case is the arts and crafts store Hobby Lobby. The store was founded in Oklahoma by David Green, the son of an Assemblies of God preacher who has a history of supporting evangelical causes such as Jerry Fallwell’s Liberty University, and Oral Roberts University. He and his family objected to the fact that the Affordable Care Act mandated companies provide access to Plan B (aka the morning after pill) and intrauterine devices (IUD’s). They, like many evangelicals, believe that using emergency contraception is tantamount to getting an abortion. The idea that either Plan B or IUD’s cause an abortion is a bald-faced lie. It always has been, and I am inclined to believe evangelicals know they are lying. Plan B and other forms of emergency contraception work exactly like the other forms of contraception that Hobby lobby is apparently okay with: by preventing ovulation or trapping sperm on the way to fertilization (through changes in cervical mucus). That the court would allow belief to trump documented science in a case like this is terrifying.
The fact that the ruling is a slap in the face to women’s rights is obvious: women are once again being told what forms of contraception are acceptable for them to use instead of being able to make the choice for themselves. The Supreme Court will now allow a woman’s boss the “freedom” to choose which kind of contraception is the appropriate one for her, even if she strongly objects to that choice. Given the assault on women’s reproductive rights we have witnessed over the past several years, this is perhaps less than surprising; but that does not make it any less shameful. The choice of which contraceptive to use should be between a woman and her physician, not a woman and the Supreme Court.
What is perhaps less obvious is the way that this case once again demonstrates a sad reality for workers in the U.S: your rights as a worker are severely restricted, and your employers have more rights than you. The court’s decision in part hinges on the fact that Hobby Lobby is what is known as a “closely held corporation.” What this means in plain English is that a small group of people, in this case a family, own the corporation. In essence, it is not publicly traded. The court hints at the fact that the case may have been decided differently if this involved a publicly traded corporation. This demonstrates the extent to which the desires and choices of workers are not even considered: it hinged on the amount of stakeholders. So if you, a lowly worker, object to Hobby Lobby’ policy… well…. you are out of luck. They own the company, and at this point, they may as well own you too. That this is where our country has come to is a sad day for women’s rights and workplace democracy.
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