“The Profound Depth Of Religious And Male Norms”: The Supreme Court Ruled In Favor Of Patriarchy, Not Democracy
On Monday morning, the Supreme Court delivered a severe blow to women in the United States when it ruled that “closely-held” corporations, such as Hobby Lobby, can refuse to provide insurance coverage for birth control based on owners’ religious beliefs. Liberal Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan and Sonia Sotomayor partially joined Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in a 35-page dissent against the majority decision of the five conservative, male justices.
That the Court ruled this way should surprise no one. What should surprise, however, is the continued expectation that we overlook patriarchal religious fundamentalism, its collusion with constitutional “originalism” and its discriminatory expression in our political system.
Most analyses of this case will parse the law and, in doing so, make no challenges to two fundamental assumptions: 1) that the law and the Court are both “neutral” to begin with and 2) that we should not question the closely held religious beliefs of judges and politicians, even when those beliefs discriminate openly against women. This is a judgment. And judgments come from norms. And norms are based on people’s preferences. The Court is made up of people who have beliefs, implicitly or explicitly expressed.
In the practice of many religions, girls’ and women’s relationship to the divine are mediated, in strictly binary terms, by men: their speech, their ways of being and their judgments. Women’s behavior, especially sexual, is policed in ways that consolidate male power. It is impossible to be, in this particular case, a conservative Christian, without accepting and perpetuating the subordination of women to male rule. It is also blatant in “official” Catholicism, Mormonism, Evangelical Protestantism, Orthodox Judaism and Islam.
The fundamental psychology of these ideas, of religious male governance, does not exist in a silo, isolated from family structures, public life or political organization. It certainly does not exist separately from our Supreme Court. Antonin Scalia, for example, makes no bones about his conscientious commitment to conservative Catholic ideals in his personal life and the seriousness of their impact on his work as a judge. There are many Catholics who reject these views, but he is not among them. These beliefs include those having to do with non-procreational sex, women’s roles, reproduction, sexuality, birth control and abortion. The fact that Scalia may be brilliant, and may have convinced himself that his opinions are a matter of reason and not faith, is irrelevant.
What is not irrelevant is that we are supposed to hold in abeyance any substantive concerns about the role that these beliefs, and their expression in our law, play in the distribution of justice and rights. They are centrally and critically important to women’s freedom, and we ignore this fact at our continued peril.
Ninety-nine percent of sexually active women will use birth control at some point in their lives. The Court’s decision displays the profound depth of patriarchal norms that deny women autonomy and the right to control our own reproduction—norms that privilege people’s “religious consciences” over women’s choices about our own bodies, the welfare of our families, our financial security and our equal right to freedom from the imposition of our employers’ religious beliefs. What this court just did was, once again, make women’s bodies, needs and experiences “exceptions” to normatively male ones. This religious qualifier was narrowly construed to address just this belief and not others, such as prohibitions on vaccines or transfusions. It is not a coincidence that all three female members of the Court and only one man of six dissented from this opinion.
While there are hundreds of bills and laws regulating women’s rights to control their own reproduction, I’m not aware, after much looking, of any that similarly constrain men or tax them unduly for their decisions. As a matter of fact, we live in a country where more than half of our states give rapists the right to sue for custody of children born of their raping and forcible insemination of women. Insurance coverage continues to include medical services and products that help men control their reproduction and enhance their sexual lives.
As Ginsburg outlined in her dissent, the costs that this decision will accrue to women are substantive. The argument that employers shouldn’t pay for things they don’t believe in is vacuous. Insurance benefits are part of compensation. Even if you reject that notion, it is clear that we all pay for things we don’t like or believe in through our taxes and, for employers, through insurance. That’s how insurance and taxes work—except when it comes to women and their bodies. That’s sexism.
That we live with patriarchy is evident. That this dominance is and always has been the opposite of democracy is not to most people. SCOTUS’ decision is shameful for its segregation of women’s health issues and its denial that what should be valued as “closely held” in our society is a woman’s right to make her own reproductive decisions. American women’s equality continues to be undermined by the privileging of religion in public discourse.
By: Soraya Chemaly, Time, June 30, 2014
“The Majority Has Ventured Into A Minefield”: Here Are The Highlights Of Justice Ginsburg’s Fiery Hobby Lobby Dissent
On Monday morning, the Supreme Court finally released its much-anticipated decision on the Hobby Lobby case, a decision that lived up to expectations by being split along ideological lines (the court’s five conservatives overruling its four liberals) and severely weakening Obamacare’s birth control mandate.
Also living up to expectations? Liberal Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s blistering dissent, which excoriated the court’s majority for its ruling, describing it as a “radical” decision “of startling breadth” that would have chaotic and major unintended consequences. You can read her dissent in full here (it starts at page 60) but we’ve also compiled some of its best, key parts.
Ginsburg opens with a bang, immediately describing the decision as one that will have sweeping consequences:
In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.
She frames the decision as one that denies women access to healthcare, rather than as one that upholds religious liberty:
The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would…deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage.
In a similar vein, she rejects that the birth control mandate should be seen as an act of government coercion, describing it instead as one that provides women with the ability to make their own choice:
Any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby’s or Conestoga’s plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will be the woman’s autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults.
She affirms her belief that religious organizations and for-profit corporations serve fundamentally different purposes and have fundamentally different rights (and throws some shade at the majority in the process):
Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. … The distinction between a community made up of believers in the same religion and one embracing persons of diverse beliefs, clear as it is, constantly escapes the Court’s attention. One can only wonder why the Court shuts this key difference from sight.
She claims that the majority has actually undermined the very principle, religious freedom, it claimed in its ruling to have upheld:
Approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be ‘perceived as favoring one religion over another,’ the very ‘risk the [Constitution's] Establishment Clause was designed to preclude.
She writes that the majority has pushed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act past its original intent:
In the Court’s view, RFRA demands accommodation of a for-profit corporation’s religious beliefs no matter the impact that accommodation may have on third parties who do not share the corporation owners’ religious faith—in these cases, thousands of women employed by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga or dependents of persons those corporations employ. Persuaded that Congress enacted RFRA to serve a far less radical purpose, and mindful of the havoc the Court’s judgment can introduce, I dissent.
By: Elias Isquith, Salon, June 30, 2014
You’d really think that an institution with as rich an intellectual history and educational capacity as the Roman Catholic Church could find ways to keep its national spokespeople from saying things as dumb as this:
Is the ability to buy contraceptives, that are now widely available — my Lord, all you have to do is walk into a 7-11 or any shop on any street in America and have access to them — is that right to access those and have them paid for, is that such a towering good that it would suffocate the rights of conscience?
That would be Timothy Cardinal Dolan, Archbishop of New York, on Face the Nation yesterday. It was Dolan who, as president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops from 2010 until 2013, guided the bishops into a firm alliance with conservative evangelicals (and implicitly, with the Republican Party) in a crusade for “religious liberty” defined as the right of employers to refuse their employees insurance coverage for contraceptives–typically those they regard, in defiance of standard medical profession and scientific definitions, as “abortifacients.”
Dolan’s dismissive comments about contraceptives and 7-11’s are reminiscent of those of conservative Catholic layperson Justice Antonin Scalia, who said this during oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case:
You’re talking about, what, three or four birth controls, not all of them, just those that are abortifacient. That’s not terribly expensive stuff, is it?
Well, yes, IUDs, the real crux of the “abortifacient” argument being made by Hobby Lobby’s lawyers, are quite expensive, and you cannot simply acquire them by strolling into a convenience store.
Arrogance and ignorance often go together, but you’d figure men as accomplished as Dolan and Scalia would have the wherewithal to avoid sounding like yahoos. Men–especially celibate men like Dolan–should go to the trouble of becoming at least marginally expert on reproductive science and economics before devoting so much of their time and attention to denying women reproductive rights.
By: Ed Kilgore, Contributing Writer, Washington Monthly Political Animal, April 21, 2014
The National Coalition of American Nuns has announced their support for women’s right to access contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act as the Supreme Court prepares to hear the historic Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood cases. While the plaintiffs in these cases are Mennonites and evangelical Christians, opposition to the contraceptive mandate was largely spearheaded by the Catholic bishops. Several key cases of Catholic non-profits, such as the Little Sisters of the Poor, are making their way through the lower courts and may well end up in the Supreme Court themselves.
“NCAN is dismayed that the Little Sisters of the Poor, the University of Notre Dame and other Catholic organizations are challenging the Affordable Care Act. Spurred on by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops these organizations are attempting to hold hostage all women by refusing insurance to them for contraceptives,” said the 2,000-member group in a statement.
“This has gotten out of hand,” Sister Donna Quinn, head of NCAN, told RD. “It isn’t ‘faith and freedom’ when reproductive autonomy isn’t extended by the Catholic Church to women. Now we have other Christian religions seeing what the bishops are doing and saying we will do likewise. It isn’t freedom when a woman can be held hostage by the owner of a business.”
The nuns are seeking support for their stand through an online petition. The Rev. Debra Haffner of the Religious Institute is helping NCAN coordinate the effort. “When I saw the brave stand these nuns were taking on the mandate, I started to think about what we could do to amplify their voices. So we launched a social media campaign asking people to ‘Stand with the Nuns’,” she said.
“We really need to counter the idea that faith is opposed to family planning,” said Haffner, who’s also helping to coordinate a Faith Rally at the Supreme Court on March 25, the day of the oral arguments for the mandate challenges. “All too often the media only shows a Catholic bishop to offer the faith perspective. More than 14 major religious denominations have statements supporting birth control and birth control access. People need to understand that this is not only an affront to women’s moral agency but opens the door to denying a whole range of services, from other kinds of reproductive health care to services to LGBT people,” she said.
NCAN has a long history of reproductive justice and Catholic reform activism. Quinn has volunteered as an abortion clinic escort and was one of the leaders of a delegation of women religious to Rome 1994 to hold a parallel discussion about the role of women religious during the bishops’ synod on religious life, which largely excluded women.
By: Patricia Miller, Religion Dispatches, March 14, 2014
“Sending A Strong Message”: Oklahoma Judge Permanently Strikes Down State Restrictions On Emergency Contraception
An Oklahoma district court judge ruled late Wednesday to permanently strike down an unconstitutional state law restricting women and girls’ access to emergency contraception. Judge Lisa Davis found that the law violated the state’s “single-subject rule,” which prohibits legislators from addressing unrelated issues in one law.
Oklahoma politicians added a provision restricting women and girls’ access to a law focused on regulating health insurance benefit forms. The measure required women to provide proof of age in order to obtain emergency contraception, and required anyone under the age of 17 to have a prescription to access emergency contraception. Prior to the ruling striking down the measure, Oklahoma was one of nine states with laws restricting women’s access to Plan B One-Step and other generic emergency contraceptives.
“This unconstitutional provision was nothing more than an attempt by hostile politicians to stand in the way of science and cast aside their state’s constitution to block women’s access to safe and effective birth control,” said David Brown, staff attorney at the Center for Reproductive Rights, the group behind the legal challenge.
“We hope the court’s ruling sends yet another strong message to politicians in Oklahoma that these underhanded tactics are as unconstitutional and deceptive as they are harmful to women in their state.”
In November, the United States Supreme Court declined to hear Oklahoma’s appeal seeking to reinstate its law banning medication abortions, which was also found to be unconstitutional by a lower court.
By: Katie McDonough, Salon, January 24, 2014