Sunday, July 13, 2014

Katha Pollitt: Where Will The Slippery Slope Of "Hobby Lobby" End?

Writing in The Nation, Katha Pollitt agrees with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's scathing dissent to the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling. Considering the decision that "for-profit corporations controlled by religious families" have the right not to provide insurance coverage for birth control and emergency contraception, Pollitt warns about a future that could hold more restrictions on coverage that offends an employer's religious beliefs:

Justice Alito’s opinion is canny. Slippery slope? No problem: “our decision in these cases is concerned solely with the contraceptive mandate. Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance-coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs.” He specifically mentions vaccines, blood transfusions and protection from racial discrimination as being in no danger, but he gives no argument about why Hobby Lobby’s logic would never apply. In other words, birth control is just different. Of course, it’s about women. Anyone could need a blood transfusion, after all, even Alito himself. And it’s about powerful Christian denominations, too, to which this Court slavishly defers—for example, in the recent decision finding no discrimination in the Christian prayers that routinely open town council meetings in Greece, New York.

As Ruth Bader Ginsburg argues in her stirring dissent, there’s “little doubt that RFRA
[Religious Freedom Restoration Act] claims will proliferate, for the Court’s expansive notion of corporate personhood—combined with its other errors in construing RFRA—invites for-profit entities to seek religion-based exemptions from regulations they deem offensive to their faith.” The reason it’s unlikely the Supreme Court would uphold a religious exemption for vaccinations or blood transfusions is not something intrinsic to those claims; it’s simply that Alito finds them weird. Birth control is banned by the Bible? Sure. Blood transfusions are banned by the Bible? Don’t be silly. For now. We have no idea, really, how far the Court might be willing to extend RFRA. Could a CEO refuse to pay childbirth costs for unmarried women? Could he pay married men more because that’s what the Lord wants? (Actually, he’s probably already doing that.) But here’s my prediction: the day a religious exemption burdens by so much as a mouse’s whisker the right of men to protect their own bodies from unwanted, well, anything, is the day the Supreme Court Five discover that religion is not so deserving of deference after all.

It would be nice to think this ruling, which applies only to “closely held corporations,” will affect few women. Unfortunately, these are not just sweet little family businesses. As Ginsburg noted, some are huge—Dell, Cargill, Mars. Altogether, they employ some 52 percent of the workforce. True, most either offer contraception coverage already or are exempt because they employ fewer than fifty workers, but who’s to say what the future holds? Companies change hands, CEOs find Jesus—or Allah or Thoth or L. Ron Hubbard. It’s not reassuring that a CEO’s views of a fertilized egg get deference today, but workers’ contraceptive coverage is left to the fates.

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