Supreme Court Rules Against Women in Hobby Lobby and Buffer Zone Cases

Five out of six male Supreme Court justices voted in favor of Hobby Lobby's right to deny full contraceptive benefits. Their opinion does not represent the entire male population. Photo: NARAL

Five out of six male Supreme Court justices voted in favor of Hobby Lobby’s right to deny full contraceptive benefits. Their opinion does not represent the entire male population. Photo: NARAL

On the morning of June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court (or should I say the men of the Supreme Court) ruled in favor of two corporations, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, who argued that they should not have to provide insurance coverage for their employees’ birth control, as required by the Affordable Care Act, because of the business owners’ personal religious beliefs.

The court stated that when corporations are “closely held” and it can be shown that the owners operate the business consistently with certain religious beliefs, then these corporations can be exempted from federal laws that burden those religious beliefs.

Emergency contraception and IUDs work primarily by preventing fertilization, and won’t interfere with existing pregnancies.

The “beliefs” in question held by these two corporations concern two forms of birth control — emergency contraception and IUDs (intrauterine devices). But their “beliefs,” that emergency contraception and IUDs are abortifacients, aren’t rooted in actual science.

Here are the details.

Hobby Lobby believes that “life begins at conception.” They define “conception” as the time at which a sperm and egg combine to create a zygote.

The medical community, including the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), defines conception as the point at which a fertilized egg implants in the uterus. According to ACOG, the term “conception” properly means implantation.

So, does emergency contraception or an IUD interfere with fertilization or conception? ACOG indicates that emergency contraception pills (aka the “morning-after pill”) work primarily by suppressing or delaying ovulation. Without ovulation, there is no egg to fertilize. IUDs work primarily by preventing an egg from being fertilized by sperm. Hormonal IUDs also can have a secondary mode of action by keeping the lining of the uterus thin, which will then prevent the egg from implanting, and therefore preventing a pregnancy from being established.

Hobby Lobby’s unscientific beliefs about when conception happens, and these contraceptive methods’ primary mechanisms of action, are what inform their also misinformed belief about emergency contraception and IUDs being abortifacients.

Emergency contraception and IUDs don’t interfere with existing pregnancies. Medical science affirms that these methods do not cause abortions.

Therefore, it’s alarming and baffling that in its decision in favor of Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court states, “It is not for the court to say that the religious beliefs of the plaintiffs are mistaken or unreasonable.”

Excuse me? It certainly should be the court’s place to take into account the scientific consensus of our country’s most relied-upon medical scientists when arguing about “beliefs” regarding the mechanism of action for drugs in a case like this.

Holding scientifically incorrect beliefs is Hobby Lobby’s right. This is America, after all. But allowing them to use those beliefs in order to take away their employees’ rights to federally mandated insurance coverage should not be an option. Especially not when our country’s premier medical institutions widely and wholly disagree with those beliefs.

While this ruling did not strike down the birth control benefit for most of us, it’s troubling because the court decided that their decision applies to all forms of birth control, not just the ones that were contested by Hobby Lobby. Additionally, closely held corporations are many in this country, and this opens the door for other zealots to try to tout their scientifically incorrect beliefs to strip their employees of insurance coverage for crucial medication that we know reduces the rate of abortion.

Any woman who is affected by that is being unfairly punished.

The decision on which birth control method is most appropriate for a woman should be decided upon between her and her doctor — with no input whatsoever from her boss.

We know firsthand that access to birth control is both a health and economic concern for women. We believe that women must have access to basic, preventive care no matter where they live, who they work for, or how much money they make.

To add insult to injury, shortly after the Hobby Lobby ruling, the Supreme Court granted an injunction to Wheaton College, a religious institution that objected to the accommodation Health and Human Services previously afforded to religious nonprofits. The accommodation allowed such institutions to “self-certify” that they oppose (on religious grounds) providing coverage for all or certain contraceptives. This would then allow the government and the institution’s insurer to provide direct contraception coverage to the employees of these companies, without involving their employer.

Seems fair, right? Offended institutions can avoid covering contraception, but the employees could still obtain the coverage they need without their employer’s involvement.

Well, Wheaton College (and they’re not the only ones) isn’t content to allow their employees such a workaround. They don’t want to fill out the self-certification form at all if it means their employees are just going to circumvent their beliefs and get birth control anyway. They think this “substantially” violates their religious rights.

The court agreed.

If only the bad news ended there.

On Thursday, June 26, in McCullen v. Coakley, the Supreme Court unanimously decided in favor of abortion clinic protesters (namely Eleanor McCullen, a 77-year-old woman who volunteered to serve as the plaintiff), who argued that the 35-foot buffer zone around clinics in Massachusetts violated their free speech in “counseling” unsuspecting women.

Planned Parenthood championed the Massachusetts buffer zone law, because after more than three decades of exhausting multiple approaches to address harassment, intimidation, and violence from protesters, buffer zones were found to be an effective and balanced solution. It should go without saying that we care immensely about the safety and privacy of our patients and staff. Protecting them is the first priority.

But the Supreme Court fell for the old “Nice, Sweet Granny Just Wants to Help You” trick and threw clinic patients, who are pretty much always desperate for privacy and peace when seeking health care, under the bus.

In their ruling, they failed to acknowledge that opposition to abortion, in Massachusetts alone, has led to eight murders, 17 attempted murders, 550 incidents of stalking, plus harassment and other violations of individual privacy of abortion clinic doctors, patients, staff and advocates.

The #NotCounseling hashtag was used to draw attention to tactics used by abortion protesters to harass patients under the guise of "counseling."

The #NotCounseling hashtag was used to draw attention to tactics used by abortion protesters to harass patients under the guise of “counseling.”

I’ve spoken about my experience as a clinic escort and the aggressive nature of clinic protesters, and the #NotCounseling hashtag on Twitter has also been effective in shedding light on the depraved, vicious nature of the many people who protest at clinics.

According to the National Abortion Federation, nearly 90 percent of abortion providers have recently reported a patient entering their facility expressing concerns about their personal safety, and more than 80 percent of clinics have called law enforcement because of safety, access, or criminal activity concerns.

We’ve seen firsthand how obstruction, harassment, and intimidation outside reproductive health centers can threaten public safety and interfere with women’s access to care.
And, needless to say, we are extremely disappointed that the Supreme Court has failed to uphold this essential public safety measure.

Our very real experiences, which include heinous instances of violence, vandalism, and harassment, were trumped by a smiling senior citizen who isn’t content to simply give patients at clinics basic space and courtesy.

The Supreme Court has shown a startling disregard for women with these rulings. They favor your boss’ beliefs over your health-care needs when it comes to what medications are covered by the insurance you earn and pay for through your hard labor. They favor the “free speech” of a random stranger who wants to scream directly in your face (instead of 35 feet away from your face, like before) when you visit a women’s clinic.

It’s frightening to imagine what horrific repercussions will result from the Hobby Lobby and McCullen decisions, but the fact that any individual woman will be negatively affected should be devastating to us all.