Hobby Lobby and What it Implies for Women, Corporations, and Catholics

During the past month, your newsfeed has probably been bombarded with two things: 1. soccer updates (I thought those things would never end), and 2. news articles, op-eds, and status posts regarding the Hobby Lobby court case. This year, craft store Hobby Lobby has gone from trusted brand to a polemic symbol that either stands for a victory for religious freedom or a national defeat for women’s reproductive rights.

To provide a very brief overview of the case, Hobby Lobby vs. Burwell (formerly Hobby Lobby vs. Sebelius until Kathleen Sebelius stepped down as United States Secretary of Human Health Services) centered on the lawsuit filed in September 2012 by the craft store chain’s owners David and Barbara Green. The Greens alleged that four out of the twenty contraceptives under the HHS mandate (emergency contraceptives such as Plan B and IUD’s) violated their sincerely held religious beliefs, and therefore wished to be exempt from covering them. On June 30th, 2014, the court ruled 5-4 in Hobby Lobby’s favor, thus allowing closely held for profit companies’ exemption from birth control coverage if it constituted as a burden to their religious beliefs.

Many argue that this is a landmark for religious rights, citing that the government has attempted to include alternatives for birth control coverage, should employers refuse to provide it. In an article for the Atlantic, writer Emma Green states that religious freedom and reproductive rights do not have to be at odds, and that the law ensures that  female employees will be able to have coverage. Several also indicate that the Greens only asked for exemption of four of the twenty contraceptives. In short, that the Hobby Lobby decision simply allows business owners the right to practice their religious beliefs without government interference.

Those against the supreme court’s decision, however, note that the case may imply that employers would now have the capacity to impose their religious beliefs on their employees. Justice Ruth Ginsburg, in her thirty five page dissent, argues that, “Hobby Lobby would deny legions of women who do not hold their employers beliefs access to contraceptive coverage that the [health care] law would otherwise secure.” An article in TIME magazine noted that the Hobby Lobby ruling impedes access to contraceptive coverage are actually much more difficult to obtain, and many companies are even requiring exemption to all forms of contraception. Many feminist groups have argued that this is a step backward for reproductive rights and for a woman’s right to make healthcare decisions without her boss's interference. Another article has also noted that many companies are requiring the right to discriminate against LGBT employees based on their religious beliefs, citing the landmark case. 

In regards to the Supreme Court's ruling, I believe that the problem lies not neccesarily with companies who refuse to cover birth control, so much as a lack of understandng of the reasons that cause women to use birth control. The majority of times I listen to people who express their opposition to birth control, I find that many times I don't hear an acknowledgement of  the kind of environment that women have been subjected to that practically requires them to use birth control. Women have found themselves forced to sacrifice career opportunities and monetary advancement in order to raise children. They have had to become stay at home mothers (in many cases, against their wishes) because of high childcare costs.

There are also the health problems that birth control treats, such as ovarian cysts, severe menstrual symptoms, and others. Several women have reported how birth control has benefitted their health greatly, such as the folowing case of a woman whose health greatly improved after using an IUD.

Not to mention, the reality that some women simply do not wish to have children. They may feel like they are too young, too focussed on other pursuits, or simply do not feel the desire to raise a child, which is a perfectly rational decision.

I'm also frustrated by the fact that there is more of a focus to condemn birth control, than there there is to condemn the nation's abysmal maternity leave policies, the gender wage gap, and other economic and social difficulties that cause women to use birth control. I don't doubt that many Catholics consider improvements to these issues important, but there isn't a noticeable, large-scale effort to shift the attention to treating these issues. 

If companies are going to restrict a woman's access to birth control based on religious beliefs, then doing so must also imply that they will follow the components of religious doctrines that emphasize justice, equality, and compassion for those in need. I hope that companies who ask for exemptions in birth control coverage will acknowledge the challenges women face and will be at the forefront of large scale efforts to remedy those challenges. I hope religious institutions are prepared to advocate for  better maternity leave, a reduction in the cost of childcare, alternative solutions to health problems treated by contraceptives, and an overall improvement of the quality of life for women. In short, I hope that individuals understand that opposing and restricting access to contraceptives also requires that they take upon themselves the task to come up with comprehesive solutions for women everywhere. 

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