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Everyone has a right to their own beliefs and everyone has a right to health benefits. When those rights clash, controversy happens. In the 2013 Supreme Court case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Green and the Hahn families are two strong Christian families with family owned businesses. They have very deep religious principals and their beliefs are very important to them. So when they were told they must provide certain methods of contraception to their employees that they believed went against their faith, they decided to fight Health and Human Services, Secretary Sylvia Burwell, on this requirement. Justice Alito’s opinion of the court states that RFRA, Religious Freedom Restoration Act, was enacted in order to provide a broad protection of religious liberty. However, Justice Ginsburg claims in her dissent that the case was read all wrong and that women’s rights should have been a factor in the Supreme Court’s 5-4 decision, taking into consideration the affects a lack of coverage could have on their health.
The Greens are a Christian family who own two Christian businesses, one being Hobby Lobby. The two businesses are for-profit corporations but they run their stores by honoring the Lord and all members of the family pledge to run the business in accordance with the family’s religious beliefs. Along with their beliefs, the Greens believe that life begins at conception. By providing the four certain methods of contraception, they believe it would violate their religion to facilitate access to contraceptive drugs that operate after that point (Alito, 14).
The Hahns are members of the Mennonite Church and they also oppose abortion. They believe the fetus in its earliest stages shared humanity with those who conceived it. Norman Hahn owns a word company, Conestoga, with 950 employees and are also a for-profit corporation. Like the Greens, their business is run in agreement with their religious beliefs and moral principles (Alito, 12). However, because of religious beliefs, the Hahns have excluded from the group health insurance certain contraceptive methods that they think are abortifacients, two methods being ‘morning after pills’ and the other two IUDs.
The Religious Freedom Restoration Act was created in order to provide a very broad protection for religious liberty (Alito, 4). Religious exemptions are vital for religious liberty. “Religious exemptions protect people in situations where legislative or executive acts might otherwise unnecessarily force them to violate their consciences” (George). However, the free exercise clause of the first amendment imposed a substantial burden on the practice of religion. An employee was fired because she refused to work on her Sabbath. RFRA ‘prohibits the ‘government form substantially burdening a person’s exercise of religious even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability’ unless the government ‘demonstrates that application of burden to the person is furtherance of a compelling governmental interest and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest’” (Alito, 16). When the rights are extended to corporations, the purpose is to protect the rights of the people.
Non profit organizations are protected by RFRA because furthering their religious autonomy often furthers individual religious freedom as well. However, “some lower court judges have suggested that RFRA does not protect for-profit corporations because the purpose of such corporations is simply to make money” (Alito, 22) although, the principle also applies to for-profit corporations. Since Conestoga and Hobby Lobby are both for-profit corporations and the principle allowed for the two businesses to assert RFRA claims which protected the religious liberty of the Greens and the Hahns. Because RFRA applies in these cases, we must next ask whether the HHS, Health and Human Services, contraceptive mandate substantially burdens the exercise of religion. Since the Hahns and the Greens believed that life begins at conception, they object on religious grounds to providing health insurance that covers methods of birth control that may result in the destruction of an embryo (Alito, 32). The issue with this case is that the Supreme Court focused more on the religious beliefs of the Greens and the Hahns and not enough on the affects that the lack of health insurance coverage would have on employees.
Although everyone has their rights to stand by their religious beliefs, while reading the Hobby Lobby case, I agreed with Justice Ginsburg. I felt that female employees’ rights to receive coverage for screenings and contraception were being overlooked and the only focus was the Greens’ and Hahns’ families’ feelings and the affect on their religious beliefs. The rights that employees might lose through the invalidation of HHS regulations were being largely ignored. As stated by Justice Ginsburg, “But ‘no individual decision by an employee and her physician—be it to use contraception, treat an infection, or have a hip replaced—is in any meaningful sense her employer’s decision or action’” (Ginsburg dissent, 23). The Affordable Care Act, ACA, requires an “employer’s health plan to furnish ‘preventative care and screenings’ for women without ‘any cost sharing requirements’” (Alito, 8) which include, methods of contraception, sterilization procedures and patient education and counseling. There are certain medical exams or treatments that are far more expensive than others and if women do not have the funds to pay for them, they go without having the exam or purchasing the medication. Not taking the proper precautions can lead to unplanned pregnancies or breast cancer, problems women could prevent if they were provided the proper medical coverage by their employers. There is more harm in withholding medical care then breaking your religious principles. The health of employees, especially women, should not be hindered because of religious beliefs.
After the 5-4 decision was made, the case lead to a lot of controversy. Those who supported religious values were in favor of the ruling, however those pro-choice advocates were critical about it. After the case was over, “many closely held corporations now do not have to pay for birth control of employees if offering it violate the owners’ religious beliefs” (Silverstein). However, the majority opinion stated “federal government could still ensure women had a broad access to contraception without forcing religiously owned businesses to violate their beliefs” (Radnofsky). Religious based companies/corporations and institutions were able to avoid providing contraception coverage under Obamacare. The avoidance from Obamacare could dismantle it in future years. Although the Hobby Lobby decision does not allow for other religious objections, other objections about Obamacare may be forthcoming because of this case decision.
Since there was so much controversy, two justices decided to come up with a compromise arrangement to religiously affiliated non profit institutions in which those institutions turn over responsibility for contraception coverage to an insurance company instead of the religiously owned company (Radnofsky). But the compromise arrangement is considered unacceptable to religious groups because it still requires employers to authorize something they consider immoral. Non profit corporations and even some for profit corporations are so keen on getting ride of providing certain coverages for women that they do not consider how the women feel about this change or the lack of coverage they may get. All employees need some health insurance coverage from their employers but the cost of women’s health care needs exceeds men’s. Solely because of the cost, they should have been a significant factor in the case decision and they should be a bigger focal point when it comes to deciding what to do about their much needed health coverage.
Every since the compromise arrangement came into play, those in favor of contraception are backing away from their initial support (Radnofsky). They think it is unclear which employers have authorized their insurers to provide contraception in their place. Employees, themselves, are now confused about what their rights are because the courts are more concerned with giving the religious non-profit corporations what they want so the companies will stop fighting them. Now that they have tried to do that, female employees are confused about which contraceptives and medical exams are covered. This, along with taking away certain contraceptives, puts women in a tough spot because they are not aware of the contraceptive they are provided without cost sharing. Being confused could lead women to not purchase any contraception in fear of it not being covered, leading to, once again, unplanned pregnancies or certain cancers. Catholic leaders claim that the only acceptable way to fix the contraception problem is to allow an ‘opt-out’ for any employer with more objections to it (Silverstein). I do agree that providing an opt-out option would provide female employees with the coverage they need while protecting the rights and beliefs of non-profit corporations or religious based companies like Conestoga and Hobby Lobby.
Female employees deserve all the health benefits the FDA has approved through their employers. No contraceptive or screening should be withheld from them because it could hinder their health in the long run due to not being able to afford certain medical exams and medications. The ACA requires that covered employers provide preventative care and screenings for women without cost sharing with the employee and the Obama administration has specifically included in health insurance coverages requirements that contraception and sterilization be covered as preventative care (Smith). Through the HHS, they developed regulations to specify what health care benefits covered employers must provide. Four of those benefits became an issue with the Green and the Hahn families because of their religious backgrounds. What upsets me with this case it that the court did not believe that it needed to analyze the employee’s rights to contraception. They believed such rights were unaffected by ruling. Ginsburg’s dissent argued that the court’s analysis improperly ignored the decision’s potential effects on employees. Ginsburg stated, “If the issue came about with respect to a refusal to provide different medical care and the employer objected, the religious beliefs of the employer would trump the rights of the employee without serious discussion of either the employer’s objections or the employee’s interest” (Colorado Review).
My disagreement with the Opinion of the Court is that the health of employees, especially women, should not be hindered because of religious beliefs. All decisions about the Hobby Lobby case were made through RFRA and not the first amendment because the first amendment was separated from RFRA at that point. The rights of RFRA protects a persons exercise of religion, although it does not define the term ‘person’. It is to ensure that interest in religious freedom are protected. Plaintiffs were for-profit organizations, they do not provide service for true believers, but claimed that providing the four methods of contraception required would violate their strongly held religious beliefs. But the rights that employees might lose through the invalidation of HHS regulations were being largely ignored. Ginsburg agrees that the Green and the Hahn families’ religious convictions regarding contraception are sincerely held but their beliefs do not suffice to sustain a RFRA claim (Ginsburg dissent, 21).
While living your life through strong religious beliefs is a personal choice, that should not impact the life, more importantly the health, of others around you. The Greens and the Hahns do not want to hinder their religious principles and morals by providing certain contraceptives to their employees although those specific contraceptives could prevent problems in the future. Their beliefs are so important to them that they focus only on making sure they are not required to provide them, not thinking about their employee’s feelings. The Hobby Lobby Case was a case that caused mixed feelings about whether all factors were taken into account when the decision was made. There were many, along with Justice Ginsburg, who felt that the employee’s rights were overlooked, only worrying about affecting religious based businesses. Now that the 5-4 decision has been made, religious exemptions have become a bigger concern then ever before. The decision should have had both factors considered equally before it was made.
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