Social conservatives can’t seem to mind their own business. Tuesday morning, the Supreme Court heard the beginning of oral arguments in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. — a challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s mandate requiring certain for-profit businesses to offer insurance plans with contraceptive coverage. Since House Republican attempts to dismantle the Affordable Care Act have failed in Congress (more than 50 times), and since the act withstood a constitutional challenge in NFIB v. Sebelius, I guess their logic (or lack thereof) told them to try, try again.
Lower federal courts have returned a mix of rulings on the constitutionality of the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act. Due to the conflicting conclusions reached by the lower courts, the Supreme Court agreed to hear Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and provide clarity on this portion of the law.
Hobby Lobby, and other companies raising religious objections to the contraception mandate, argue that the statute violates their rights under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the free exercise clause of the First Amendment. They argue that corporations managed with religious values shouldn’t be required to offer certain contraceptives to employees.
Essentially, they’re arguing that corporations are entities that can “exercise” religion — an interesting concept, to say the least.
Conversely, the government — I think correctly — argues that a corporation is so far removed from the actual individual using contraceptives that it doesn’t infringe on a corporation’s religious liberties. Never has the court afforded a for-profit corporation — such as Hobby Lobby — the far-reaching religious protections for which it is arguing.
It also begs the question: Are corporations protected by either the free exercise clause of the First Amendment or the Religious Freedom Restoration Act? The First Amendment and Religious Freedom Restoration Act protect the rights “of the people” and religious rights of “persons,” respectively. So does Hobby Lobby — or any other for-profit business, for that matter — find protection under this argument? Well, it depends on if you consider corporations, or businesses, to be people. Recently, right-wing legal scholars and the conservative branch of the Supreme Court have been leaning in that direction.
At the end of the day, I believe that the contraceptive mandate is both warranted and constitutional. Prior to the grossly irresponsible Citizens United campaign finance decision, the Supreme Court had little to no precedent giving a corporation the same rights as actual people. Corporations cannot “exercise” religion in the same manner a person can. If the court sides with Hobby Lobby, it sets a dangerous precedent. Could businesses claim religious exceptions to serving gay clients? Can they claim a religious exception to providing insurance plans that cover certain vaccinations?
The employer — in this case, Hobby Lobby — is so far removed from actually providing contraceptives to the employee. It’s not as if the government mandated corporations to have a morning-after pill dispenser in the break room. Where is the religious objection to offering insurance coverage that provides Viagra?
The contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act has already benefited an estimated 27 million women, according to the Department of Health and Human Services. Obamacare has helped prevent women from continuing to pay unreasonably more for their health care than men do, since women are no longer charged a co-pay for the wide range of preventive services they need. According to a poll by Hart Research Associates, women of all demographics support the contraceptive mandate — including 92 percent of Democrats, 83 percent of independents, 63 percent of Republicans and 79 percent of Catholics.
Social conservatives need to mind their business and choose their battles. The contraception mandate is widely supported and has many exceptions, including for businesses that have 50 or fewer employees, churches and convents and religiously affiliated nonprofits.
My favorite sign from a recent protest at the Supreme Court read, “If men could get pregnant, birth control would be from gumball machines and bacon flavored.”
I suspect there’s more than a hint of truth to that statement.
Sean Higgins is a junior political science major from Brookings, S.D.