Hobby Lobby decision “singles out women and their health care”

July 2014

July 2, 2014 – Ibis Reproductive Health is dismayed by this week’s US Supreme Court ruling allowing “closely held for profit corporations” to deny coverage of contraception to their employees. We are particularly troubled that the Court, in a 5-4 decision, has decided to privilege the religious views of individual employers at the cost of women’s rights. Additionally, the claims that the ruling is limited to the contraception mandate are already proving unfounded as numerous scholars and media outlets are reporting on the likelihood that this opinion will open the gates for religious objections to many types of medical care and civil rights protections.

Further, as the Court remanded multiple decisions to the lower courts on Tuesday, it is clear that the ruling likely “applies to any form of birth control an employer believes is immoral, not just the four contraceptive methods Hobby Lobby didn't want covered.”

“Alito’s and Kennedy’s claims that the ‘holding is very specific’ are particularly disturbing, considering that the decision has implications for over half of the US population,” said Ibis President Kelly Blanchard. “This ruling singles out women and their health care—it is not only discriminatory but ignores the science on good preventive health care and rolls back decades of progress on women’s health and rights.”

The development of modern contraceptive technologies has been one of the greatest public health advances of the last century, allowing women and couples to space and plan their pregnancies and affording women numerous social, economic, and health benefits. Nearly all women—including 99% of sexually active women—use contraception at some point in their lives, and not only for pregnancy prevention. For example, oral contraceptives are used for a number of medically necessary reasons, including, to reduce pain and heavy bleeding during menstruation, treat acne, and manage symptoms of endometriosis. Use of oral contraceptives has also been shown to reduce risk of ovarian cancer.

Although religious liberty is an important right, women’s religious liberty and their ability to make decisions about their health care and their sexuality should not be limited by the religious beliefs of their employer. We are concerned that this ruling does much more to impede access to quality health care than protect religious freedom. As Justice Ginsberg stated in her dissent, “The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would override significant interests of the corporations’ employees and covered dependents. It would deny legions of women who do not hold their employers' beliefs access to contraceptive coverage that the ACA would otherwise secure.”

Ibis remains committed to the arguments set forth by nearly 70 reproductive rights, health and justice organizations who signed on to an amicus brief submitted earlier this year by the National Women’s Law Center in the consolidated cases Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Sebelius. We call on Congress and the Obama Administration to come up with a rigorous implementation plan and enforcement mechanism to ensure that women affected by the Court’s ruling are able to use their insurance to obtain contraception seamlessly and without cost sharing.