After lauding the Supreme Court’s decision last week to protect digital privacy rights, it’s quite ironic that today they’ve dealt an insurmountable blow to individual rights while favoring corporate intransigence. From the Chicago Tribune, here’s the story…
The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled that business owners can object on religious grounds to a provision of President Obama’s healthcare law that requires companies to provide health insurance that covers birth control.
The court held on a 5-4 vote on ideological lines that such companies can seek an exemption from the so-called birth control mandate of the healthcare law. The decision means employees of those companies will have to obtain certain forms of birth control from other sources.
In a majority opinion by conservative Justice Samuel Alito, the court said the ruling applies only to the birth control mandate and does not mean companies would necessarily succeed if they made similar claims to other insurance requirements, such as vaccinations and drug transfusions.
In the majority opinion, Alito indicated that employees could still be able to obtain the birth control coverage via an accommodation to the mandate that the Obama administration has already introduced for religious-affiliated nonprofits. The accommodation allows health insurance companies to provide the coverage without the employer being involved in the process.
Under the accommodation, eligible non-profits must provide a “self certification”, described by one lower court judge as a “permission slip” authorizing insurance companies to provide the coverage. The accommodation is itself the subject of a separate legal challenge.
The Chicago Tribune also posted text of the full SCOTUS decision, which is definitely worth a read if you want a thorough understanding of the case. One of the first things to notice? This case was decided not just by a 5 to 4 majority, but 5 MEN ruling in favor of corporate rights, while all 3 of the court’s women were in dissent. The irony is striking… 5 men that will never have to endure a situation seemingly ignore the input of women that have both a legal and personal understanding of the full range of women’s health needs (i.e. the medical FACT that some “birth control pills” are taken for other uses, and not just Contraception). Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg writes the dissenting opinion here (it starts on page 60), and at the least, the way she refutes the narrow minds of her male colleagues is truly EPIC. A dissent that will go down in history for sure.
Directly from Justice Ginsburg’s dissent…
After assuming the existence of compelling government
interests, the Court holds that the contraceptive coverage
requirement fails to satisfy RFRA’s least restrictive means
test. But the Government has shown that there is no less
restrictive, equally effective means that would both (1)
religious objections to providing insurance coverage for certain contraceptives (which they believe cause abortions); and (2) carry out the objective of
the ACA’s contraceptive coverage requirement, to ensure
that women employees receive, at no cost to them, the
preventive care needed to safeguard their health and well
being. A “least restrictive means” cannot require employees to relinquish benefits accorded them by federal law in
order to ensure that their commercial employers can
adhere unreservedly to their religious tenets. See supra,
at 7–8, 27.25
Then let the government pay (rather than the employees
who do not share their employer’s faith), the Court suggests. “The most straightforward [alternative],” the Court
asserts, “would be for the Government to assume the cost
of providing . . . contraceptives . . . to any women who are
unable to obtain them under their health-insurance policies due to their employers’ religious objections.” Ante, at
As quoted from the majority opinion, the precedent set here may broaden “religious freedom” for non-people, but it also potentially broadens the reach of the Affordable Care Act. The Court essentially endorses government healthcare over that of the private employer, which sows the seeds to eliminate private insurers entirely. Can any company that suddenly “finds religion” and wants to alter or lessen their health plans just pass the buck on to Uncle Sam? In any instance where companies decide to provide “separate but unequal” care that violates the ACA, will the government then step in and quietly take on more of the healthcare system? The opinion of these Conservative justices is so short-sighted, that it leaves any and all of these possibilities on the table. As shameful as today’s decision is, it may have some very real inroads to waving corporate responsibilities for healthcare entirely, leaving government to then create a public option to get people covered. Only time will tell.