The Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Hobby Lobby case demonstrates that the court, at least the five justices who voted in favor of Hobby Lobby, has little concern for, and probably little understanding of, women’s health care. By ruling that corporations, on the grounds of the alleged religious views of their owners, can deny women access to some forms of contraception, the court set a horrible precedent that if followed will endanger the health and lives of many American women.
The Hobby Lobby ruling may at first seem like a victory for the minority of Americans who think that both abortion and contraception should be illegal, and for those who believe that the US should operate more as a theocracy than a country where state and church are separate. However, the ruling not only is terrible news for women seeking a guarantee of good healthcare through their employer, but also for anybody who believes in personal freedom.
In the US, where health insurance is linked to employment, health insurance is part of the compensation package. When most Americans are about to start a new job, or choosing between two or more jobs, one of the first questions they ask is about the quality of the health insurance they will get. In most cases, health insurance varies because some companies offer plans with lower co-pays, better dental care or things like that. Firms that deny dental care are doing it because of concerns about costs, not because they have an ethical or religious problem with healthy teeth. Hobby Lobby is doing something different, denying women access to some forms of health care because of the personal beliefs of the people who run the company.
This decision raises the question of whether the Supreme Court will next rule that employers can tell workers how to spend the money they earn at their jobs. This sounds a bit extreme, but in a very real way that is precisely what the court just did. By limiting how workers can use some of their compensation, the court, despite its own assertions that it was not setting a precedent, opened the door for further limitations. If Hobby Lobby can tell people how they can or cannot use their health care benefits, why can’t they also tell people they can’t, for example, use their salaries to donate to pro-choice political candidates or pro-marriage equality causes? The answer, one would think, would be obvious, but the recent court decision makes it considerably less clear.
The Republican Party has long, if not always sincerely, repeated a mantra of individual freedom, but the Hobby Lobby decision, in which all five justices who formed the majority were appointed by Republican presidents, undermines that. A central belief of all Republican politicians is that Americans should have a right to do what they want with, and keep as much as possible of, their hard-earned money. The Supreme Court made a big move against that idea this week, but the outrage from the Republican side has been absent.
Conservative opposition to healthcare have consistently argued that decisions about health care should be made by patients and doctors, not by the government. The death panel hysteria that Sarah Palin unleashed on the American people a few years ago took that point to a nutty extreme. After last week, conservatives who support Hobby Lobby should probably change their position and argue that health care decisions should be made not by a patient’s doctor, but by a patient’s employer. Similarly, for supporters of the Hobby Lobby decision, the new mantra of individual freedom should now be that Americans should be allowed to do whatever they want with their hard earned money, as long as their boss approves, but somehow that seems an unlikely campaign slogan for Ted Cruz or Marco Rubio.
The Hobby Lobby decision is about women’s health care and individual freedom, but it also is another sign of the consolidation of power by big corporations in the US. It is now legal for corporations to deny workers important medical services, and redefine their compensation packages, simply because, religious claims aside, they want to. During a very tenuous recovery in which real wages have not recovered, unemployment remains high and economic uncertainty on the part of working Americans is an enormous problem, the Supreme Court just gave more rights to corporations while taking wealth, as health care benefits are a form of wealth, out of the hands of working Americans.
By: Lincoln Mitchell, The Huffington Post Blog, July 6, 2014
Normally it’s not a good idea to jump right into the political implications of a major Supreme Court decision like Hobby Lobby, but in this case there’s no point in waiting. This was a political decision and it is absolutely proper for Democrats to use it as a weapon in the midterm election campaign.
Minutes after the court ruled that closely held corporations have religious rights that permit them to deny contraceptive benefits to employees, Democrats made clear that they would use the case to remind women of the personal consequences of this kind of conservative ideology. An e-mail blast from the Democratic Party called the case a “wake-up call,” and urged recipients to “stand up for women’s rights” by electing Democrats to Congress.
Representative Debbie Wasserman Schultz, the party chairwoman, tied the case to other Republican policies regarding women, including blocking the Paycheck Fairness Act. “It is no surprise that Republicans have sided against women on this issue as they have consistently opposed a woman’s right to make her own health care decisions,” she said.
The Supreme Court, in other words, could become a high-profile stand-in for the offensive remarks of Tea Party candidates (remember “legitimate rape”?) that helped elect several Democrats in 2012, but have largely been quieted this year.
Of course Republican politicians are trying to portray the Hobby Lobby decision purely as a win for religious freedom, which is a more attractive spin than the loss of reproductive freedom for women who work for these companies.
“Today’s decision is a victory for religious freedom and another defeat for an administration that has repeatedly crossed constitutional lines in pursuit of its Big Government objectives,” Speaker John Boehner said in a statement. A more honest statement of the party’s thinking came in this tweet from Erick Erickson, the conservative blogger: “My religion trumps your ‘right’ to employer subsidized consequence free sex.”
The White House — aware that most Americans oppose letting employers choose contraception plans based on religious beliefs — wasted no time in trying to transform the public’s anger at this kind of thinking into political action. Josh Earnest, the new press secretary, urged Congress to take action to assist the women affected by the decision, implicitly reminding voters that the future of this issue is truly in their hands. And Senator Patty Murray of Washington, a leading Democrat, quickly took up the challenge.
“Since the Supreme Court decided it will not protect women’s access to health care, I will,” she said in a statement. “In the coming days I will work with my colleagues and the Administration to protect this access, regardless of who signs your paycheck.”
The court based its decision not on a Constitutional principle but on an act of Congress, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Acts of Congress can be overturned or changed if the right lawmakers are in place, and Hobby Lobby is a good reminder to voters that important policies are often not in the hands of nine justices, but in their own.
By: David Firestone, Taking Note, The Editors Blog, The New York Times, June 30, 2014
“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 most direct consequence of Thursday’s Supreme Court ruling striking down Massachusetts’ buffer zone law is that the people working and accessing care at abortion clinics will be less safe. Lawmakers in Massachusetts and municipalities across the country with similar measures in place will now have to figure out — once again — how best to ensure that the people who need to enter and exit clinics can continue to do so without being harassed, threatened, harmed or worse by antiabortion protesters. There have been nearly 7,000 incidences of clinic violence since 1977; history teaches us that safety is never a given when walking through those doors.
The second thing that the opinion in McCullen v. Coakley reminds us is how empty — how absolutely devoid of meaning — the notion of “women’s safety” has become in politics. Hardly a week passes without some measure advancing through a state legislature that will have devastating consequences for women’s health, but these bills are nonetheless cloaked in the language of women’s safety. Put those words in front of almost any piece of legislation and it seems like most lawmakers just nod their heads.
Texas comes to mind. We’re one year out from Wendy Davis’ historic filibuster, and the status of access in the state has gone from bad to utterly catastrophic. Nearly half of Texas’ abortion clinics have closed since 2011; it is estimated that come September, there will only be six abortion providers left in the second most populous state in the nation. The Rio Grande Valley has lost its last remaining abortion clinic, and now women in the region must travel 300 miles round trip to access care, including routine services like mammograms, cancer screenings and birth control. A recent study found that 7 percent of women in Texas have attempted to self-induce abortion. The number jumps to 12 percent for women who live along the Mexican border, and it is expected to grow. Women who have the luxury of crossing border checkpoints without fearing deportation or worse have been traveling to flea markets in Mexico to buy drugs from unlicensed and unregulated vendors in order to terminate their pregnancies.
But state Rep. Jodi Laubenberg called the passage of HB 2 a victory for women’s safety. In reflecting on the year that was, she commented, “Authoring and passing House Bill 2 was one of the most rewarding and challenging accomplishments of my legislative service. [...] It was worth it. I will continue to fight for both the safety of Texas women and the pre-born.” Her Republican colleagues echoed the sentiment. Republican state Rep. Jane Nelson said, “I am proud to support House Bill 2, which not only protects innocent life but also ensures that abortion facilities are safe for Texas women.” And state Rep. Patricia Harless used the same language to justify her vote. ”I proudly voted for House Bill 2 because I believe Texas women deserve more than the bare minimum, lowest level safety standards,” she said.
These talking points have been parroted by lawmakers in Louisiana, Utah, Oklahoma, Arizona, Mississippi, Virginia, North Carolina, South Carolina and virtually everywhere else that laws like these are being enacted. It’s never about abortion. It’s always about safety — women’s safety.
Now the Massachusetts law was also about women’s safety. The kind of safety that 35 feet of distance between yourself and someone willing to spend their Saturdays outside an abortion clinic calling women murderers will provide you. The kind of safety that state lawmakers recognized was urgently needed after an antiabortion activist opened fire on a clinic near Boston and killed two people and injured five others.
The violence isn’t unique to Massachusetts; the threat is national. As Robin Marty wrote this week, if you want to understand why buffer zones matter, spend some time at an abortion clinic without one:
In my time working with abortion providers and abortion rights advocates over the last few years, I’ve seen first hand what is considered “counseling” by abortion opponents at unprotected clinics. In Louisville, Kentucky, one of only two clinics left in the Bluegrass state, I witnessed over 100 abortion opponents lining the sidewalk leading up to the clinic, stopping just at the property line in front of the door, chanting rosaries, calling to patients, preaching sin and eternal damnation through a microphone just a few feet from the waiting room window. I watched a woman shout through the window that the patients inside would die on the exam room table, that they would bleed to death inside, and no one would help them because the money was already paid up front. I saw protesters with bloody, graphic signs swarm patients just trying to get out of the car door and cross the mere 10 feet from curb to clinic property.
That’s what it is like at a clinic with no buffer zone.
And that will be the scene at more clinics in the wake of the Supreme Court’s unanimous finding that while it sees no problem with the buffer zone around its own building, it believes that a 35-foot barrier — the length of a school bus, a walk that will last approximately 7 seconds — is an undue burden on the First Amendment rights of the “peaceful sidewalk counselors” stationed outside. Not being able to follow women to the doors of the clinic apparently limits their ability to “persuade.”
But the burden that removing that buffer will place on women’s safety? Well, what do those words even mean anymore?
By: Katie McDonough, Politics Writer, Salon, June 27, 2014
“How The Right Wing Is Killing Women”: Far Right Ideology Is Trumping The Health Needs Of Millions Of Americans
According to a report released last week in the widely-respected health research journal, The Lancet, the United States now ranks 60th out of 180 countries on maternal deaths occurring during pregnancy and childbirth.
To put it bluntly, for every 100,000 births in America last year, 18.5 women died. That’s compared to 8.2 women who died during pregnancy and birth in Canada, 6.1 in Britain, and only 2.4 in Iceland.
A woman giving birth in America is more than twice as likely to die as a woman in Saudi Arabia or China.
You might say international comparisons should be taken with a grain of salt because of difficulties of getting accurate measurements across nations. Maybe China hides the true extent of its maternal deaths. But Canada and Britain?
Even if you’re still skeptical, consider that our rate of maternal death is heading in the wrong direction. It’s risen over the past decade and is now nearly the highest in a quarter century.
In 1990, the maternal mortality rate in America was 12.4 women per 100,000 births. In 2003, it was 17.6. Now it’s 18.5.
That’s not a measurement error because we’ve been measuring the rate of maternal death in the United States the same way for decades.
By contrast, the rate has been dropping in most other nations. In fact, we’re one of just eight nations in which it’s been rising. The others that are heading in the wrong direction with us are not exactly a league we should be proud to be a member of. They include Afghanistan, El Salvador, Belize, and South Sudan.
China was ranked 116 in 1990. Now it’s moved up to 57. Even if China’s way of measuring maternal mortality isn’t to be trusted, China is going in the right direction. We ranked 22 in 1990. Now, as I’ve said, we’re down to 60th place.
Something’s clearly wrong.
Some say more American women are dying in pregnancy and childbirth because American girls are becoming pregnant at younger and younger ages, where pregnancy and birth can pose greater dangers.
This theory might be convincing if it had data to support it. But contrary to the stereotype of the pregnant young teenager, the biggest rise in pregnancy-related deaths in America has occurred in women 20-24 years old.
Consider that in 1990, 7.2 women in this age group died for every 100,000 live births. By 2013, the rate was 14 deaths in this same age group – almost double the earlier rate.
Researchers aren’t sure what’s happening but they’re almost unanimous in pointing to a lack of access to health care, coupled with rising levels of poverty.
Some American women are dying during pregnancy and childbirth from health problems they had before they became pregnant but worsened because of the pregnancies — such as diabetes, kidney disease, and heart disease.
The real problem, in other words, was they didn’t get adequate health care before they became pregnant.
Other women are dying because they didn’t have the means to prevent a pregnancy they shouldn’t have had, or they didn’t get the prenatal care they needed during their pregnancies. In other words, a different sort of inadequate health care.
One clue: African-American mothers are more than three times as likely to die as a result of pregnancy and childbirth than their white counterparts.
The data tell the story: A study by the Roosevelt Institute shows that U.S. states with high poverty rates have maternal death rates 77 percent higher than states with lower levels of poverty. Women with no health insurance are four times more likely to die during pregnancy or in childbirth than women who are insured.
What do we do about this? Yes, of course, poor women (and the men who made them pregnant) have to take more personal responsibility for their behavior.
But this tragic trend is also a clear matter of public choice.
Many of these high-poverty states are among the twenty-one that have so far refused to expand Medicaid, even though the federal government will cover 100 percent of the cost for the first three years and at least 90 percent thereafter.
So as the sputtering economy casts more and more women into near poverty, they can’t get the health care they need.
Several of these same states have also cut family planning, restricted abortions, and shuttered women’s health clinics.
Right-wing ideology is trumping the health needs of millions of Americans.
Let’s be perfectly clear: These policies are literally killing women.
By: Robert Reich, The Robert Reich Blog, May 12, 2014