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“An Unholy Trinity For Discrimination”: Far-Right Justices Warn Of ‘An Ominous Sign’

The state of Washington has a law that requires pharmacies to dispense medications, even if individual pharmacists have religious objections. One family-owned pharmacy challenged the law in court, saying it shouldn’t be required to sell emergency contraception, which the pharmacy’s owners consider immoral.

An appeals court sided with the state, and the case was appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Yesterday, the justices announced they would not hear the case, which has the effect of leaving the lower court’s ruling intact.

And while that would ordinarily be the end of the dispute, yesterday offered a bit of a twist. The Supreme Court said it wouldn’t hear the appeal out of Washington, but at the same time, Justices Samuel Alito, John Roberts, and Clarence Thomas released an angry rebuttal, saying they not only wanted to hear this case, they also consider the majority’s disinterest in the matter to be “an ominous sign.”

MSNBC’s Irin Carmon highlighted yesterday’s “unusual” statement.

“This case is an ominous sign,” Alito wrote in an unusual, 15-page response to the court refusing to hear Stormans v. Wiesman…. “If this is a sign of how religious liberty claims will be treated in the years ahead,” Alito continued, sounding a lot like a man who foresees a bleak future for his side, “those who value religious freedom have cause for great concern.”

No, actually, they almost certainly don’t.

As is always the case, especially in Supreme Court disputes, the details matter. In Washington, state law still allows individual pharmacists to raise religious objections to helping a customer, so long as some other employee can step in and provide the prescribed medication. The plaintiffs in Stormans v. Wiesman, however, wanted to go much further – refusing to stock Plan B altogether, regardless of public needs.

The state’s policy is based on the entirely reasonable idea that consumers should have access to medications that are safe and legal, and pharmacies shouldn’t have the authority to simply turn people away. The far-right trio on the high court obviously disagree, and Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern explained the broader implications of their dissent.

…Alito, Thomas, and Roberts seem to believe that, under the Free Exercise Clause of the First Amendment, states are proscribed from requiring for-profit religious businesses to treat all customers equally. If this unholy trinity ever managed to rewrite the First Amendment this way, they could effectively bar states from protecting women, gays, and other minorities from religious-based discrimination. […]

Neither [Alito], Roberts, nor Thomas thinks refusal of service is a big deal when patients can hop back in their cars (presuming they have them) and drive to the nearest pharmacy that will deign to provide them with the proper medication. (Live in rural Washington? Hope you can find another pharmacy before the Plan B window closes!)

This cavalier dismissal of women’s interest in nondiscrimination flies in the face of precedent. The court used to say that when a religious accommodation burdens other people’s rights, the accommodation itself violates the separation of church and state. Now Alito wants to push that rule through the looking glass, arguing that there’s a possibility states must give religious employers the right to burden others – a burden that will fall disproportionately on women and gays.

Keep in mind, if four justices agree to hear a case, the Supreme Court takes the case. Were it not for Antonin Scalia’s passing, it’s very likely Stormans v. Wiesman would be on its way towards oral arguments.

 

By: Steve Benen, The Maddow Blog, June 29, 2016

June 29, 2016 Posted by | Discrimination, Religious Liberty, U. S. Supreme Court | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“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

January 27, 2014 Posted by | Birth Control, Reproductive Rights, Women's Health | , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Demanding The Right To Oppress”: Is Forced Religious Belief Coming To An Employer Near You?

The Supreme Court just can’t seem to quit the Affordable Care Act.

On Tuesday, it announced it would hear challenges to the law’s “contraception mandate,” which requires employers that provide health insurance to include contraceptives in their plans, including birth control pills and emergency contraception. At stake is whether for-profit companies can be exempted from the mandate because of their owner’s religious beliefs.

This controversy centers on a lawsuit by Hobby Lobby, an arts & crafts chain whose owners—David Green and his family—are devout Christians who believe life begins at conception and that using certain kinds of birth control violates their religious beliefs.

Obamacare contains an exemption for churches and other religious nonprofits, but the Greens want it extended to for-profit companies like their own, who are otherwise required to include FDA-approved contraceptives in their health insurance plans. They claim that the requirement would “substantially burden” their ability to practice their religion.

This gets to the core of the lawsuit. Hobby Lobby isn’t just fighting for an exemption from the contraception mandate, it’s arguing that, as a business, it shares in its owners religious beliefs and has its rights as a corporate person protected under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a 1993 law mandating that strict scrutiny be used when determining if the free exercise clause of the First Amendment has been violated. By requiring companies to cover women’s contraception, Hobby Lobby argues, the federal government is violating their religious rights. In short, the Greens are asking the court to classify for-profit corporations as having religious consciences.

It should be said that the Greens aren’t Catholics; they’re evangelical Christians who don’t share Catholicism’s doctrinal opposition to birth control. Condoms and diaphragms aren’t an issue. Instead, the Greens—who see fertilized eggs as persons—object to Plan B and other forms of emergency contraception, which they believe prevent embryo implantation in a woman’s womb, and are tantamount to abortion.

But medical science is clear: emergency contraception is not an abortifacient. As explained in an amicus brief by Physicians for Reproductive Health, pregnancy begins when a fertilized egg attaches itself to the uterine lining, a process that occurs within five to nine days of sexual intercourse, if the egg is fertilized. “Emergency contraception,” notes the organization, “refers to a drug or device that is used after intercourse, but before pregnancy, to prevent pregnancy from occurring.” Abortifacients, by contrast, are used to terminate an existing pregnancy.

According to the brief, the two FDA-approved forms of emergency contraception—Plan B and “ella”—work by preventing, disrupting, or prohibiting ovulation, which stops fertilization altogether. In the doses approved for contraceptive use, neither terminates a pregnancy.

This is important. For Catholic groups, who oppose all contraception regardless of circumstance, the science is irrelevant. The mechanism of birth control is less important than the theological commitment to all pregnancies. But evangelicals—like the Greens—are in a different boat. Their objection depends on the science of pregnancy. If what’s true—emergency contraception doesn’t cause abortion—contradicts their beliefs, then what basis do they have for the objection? It’s fine if the Greens oppose abortion out of their sincere religious convictions—they can believe whatever they want—but that doesn’t give them license to redefine abortion (or contraception) to fit those beliefs.

Indeed, allowing them the privilege opens the door to a whole host of actions that would burden the liberty—religious or otherwise—of employees or customers. In a world where corporations have First Amendment protections for their religious beliefs, can they win exemptions for any law they disagree with? If Congress passes the Employee Non-Discrimination Act, can Hobby Lobby decline to follow its dictates—and say, refuse to hire to gays and lesbians—out of its sincere religious beliefs? Could it refuse to hire blacks out of a belief that they are cursed by God?

This is all on top of the implications for employees. If you work at Hobby Lobby, could the company require you to attend Bible study? What if your employer is a Christian Scientist? Could they refuse to provide health insurance at all, citing their religious beliefs? These become real scenarios if the Court decides that belief trumps all other considerations, including actual fact.

Over the last few years, corporations have accumulated more and more power, under the guise of “freedom.” At the moment, employers can fire employees for their political views, require employees to attend political rallies, and even volunteer for candidates they disagree with. Hobby Lobby is asking the Supreme Court to extend this even further, to forcing employees to choose health insurance that matches the religious preferences of their employers.

All of this raises important questions. Is this about securing religious liberty, or expanding it for a particular group? And if it’s the latter, is Hobby Lobby fighting for “liberty,” or is it demanding the right to oppress?

 

By: Jamelle Bouie, The Daily Beast, November 27, 2013

November 30, 2013 Posted by | Contraception, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Holy Crap”: Christian Employers Claim Their Religion Puts Them Above the Law

Ready for the next court fight over Obamacare? Get to know Hobby Lobby, the chain of stores fighting the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that the health insurance employers offer their employees cover contraception, and the next Christian martyr to the unholy scourge of health coverage for employees. Hobby Lobby’s owners are conservative Christians, and though their company isn’t a church, they’d like to choose which laws they approve of and which they don’t, and follow only the laws they like. And a federal appeals court just ruled that not only can their suit go forward, but they’re likely to win. Because apparently, “This law violates my religious beliefs” is now a get-out-of-jail-free card.

The decision is simply mind-blowing, essentially finding that private businesses are just like religious institutions, and therefore they can decide which laws they have to obey:

“Hobby Lobby and Mardel have drawn a line at providing coverage for drugs or devices they consider to induce abortions, and it is not for us to question whether the line is reasonable,” the judges wrote. “The question here is not whether the reasonable observer would consider the plaintiffs complicit in an immoral act, but rather how the plaintiffs themselves measure their degree of complicity.”

Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., Mardel Inc. and their owners, the Green family, argue for-profit businesses — not just religious groups — should be allowed to seek an exception if the law violates their religious beliefs. The owners approve of most forms of artificial birth control, but not those that prevent implantation of a fertilized egg — such as an IUD or the morning-after pill.

Hobby Lobby is the largest and best-known of more than 30 businesses in several states that have challenged the contraception mandate. A number of Catholic-affiliated institutions have filed separate lawsuits, and the court suggested faith-based organizations can follow for-profit objectives in the secular world.

“A religious individual may enter the for-profit realm intending to demonstrate to the marketplace that a corporation can succeed financially while adhering to religious values. As a court, we do not see how we can distinguish this form of evangelism from any other,” they wrote.

I’m not a lawyer, so maybe there’s something I’m missing here, but my reaction upon reading this was, “Holy crap!” It’s not for the court to question whether Hobby Lobby’s interpretation of what laws it would rather follow is correct? Seriously? And they don’t see how they can distinguish selling pipe cleaners and finger paint from any other form of evangelism?

Before we get to the core question here, it’s just incredible that one of the reasons the court found in favor of Hobby Lobby was that the company didn’t want to pay for insurance that would pay for “drugs and devices that the plaintiffs believe to be abortifacients.” But what they believe is utterly irrelevant. One of the methods they object to is Plan B, the morning-after pill. But Plan B isn’t an abortifacient. The plaintiffs can choose to “believe” that it is if they want, but they’re asking that the state accept their belief as if it were true just because they believe it, and thereby exempt them from obeying the law. In effect that creates a justification for anyone who wants to ignore the law to create their own factual universe, then use that invented universe to say they’re exempt from the laws everyone else has to follow. If you get caught by a speed camera going 50 in a 35 zone, you can’t say, “Your honor, I believe that all speed cameras automatically register cars as going 15 miles per hour over their actual speeds. Therefore, I was going 35, and I am exempt from this fine.”

This is not the last challenge we’re going to see to this part of the ACA; there are going to be many other companies coming forward to say, “We’re Christian, so therefore the law doesn’t apply to us.” But just think for a moment about the principle they’re using to justify that position. There isn’t any question about the constitutionality of this provision of the ACA. It was passed by Congress and signed by the President. It’s the law of the land. But these private companies are saying that they have the right to choose which laws they obey, simply by saying “It’s my religion.”

To put this in context, the law doesn’t distinguish between “real” religions and fake religions, and properly so. One of the reasons we have the religious freedom we do in America is that the founders didn’t want to set up a system like the one that existed in Europe, where there was a single state religion and none others had protection. So if you want to get married by a clergyman from the Church of Holy Toenail, you might have to fill out some extra paperwork, but you’ll be able to do it.

And that means that if we apply this rationale more broadly, anyone, whatever religion they claim to believe in, should be able to declare themselves exempt from any law they don’t like. And what’s more, they don’t even need any evidence from their religious tradition or texts to justify it. You know what the Bible says about contraception? Absolutely nothing. Not a word. But along the way, some Christians decided that God disapproves of contraception, even though most Christians use it. So now anyone can declare that their religion, i.e. their personal interpretation of their religion, has a greater legal force than actual laws.

I have to pay taxes? Sorry, I’m a Hindu, so I think taxes are an abomination unto the Lord. Sure, there’s no justification for that position in any Hindu text, but the Bible says nothing about contraception either, and Christians are getting an exemption for that, so I decided that Hinduism forbids tax paying. You caught me breaking into my neighbor’s garage and stealing his nice new 18-volt cordless drill? Well, I’m a Buddhist, and I believe that private property is an impediment to enlightenment, so what’s his is mine. The zoning laws in my neighborhood forbid retail establishments? Sorry, I’m a member of the Church of the Homemade Energy Bar, which mandates that all adherents sell energy bars out of their homes, so the zoning rules don’t apply to me.

I only skimmed the decision in this case, so maybe there’s something there I missed that makes this seem less appalling. But religious organizations get all kinds of special treatment from the government as things stand today, and what the plaintiffs in this case (along with their supporters) seem to be arguing is that religious people ought to enjoy a special privileged status that puts them above the law.

 

By: Paul Waldman, Contributing Editor, The American Prospect, June 28, 2013

June 29, 2013 Posted by | Corporations, Religion | , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

“Safe And Effective”: All Women Should Have Quick, Confidential Access To Emergency Contraception

Earlier this week, the Food and Drug Administration took an important step for millions of women by moving emergency contraception out from behind the pharmacy counter and making it available to people ages 15 and older with valid identification.

As a doctor, I know that this is good news and a great first step. Emergency contraception is a safe and effective form of birth control that can prevent pregnancy if taken within five days of unprotected sex. By reducing barriers, this announcement will help more women prevent unintended pregnancy.

At the same time, the Obama administration said this week that it is appealing last month’s federal ruling that would have eliminated the age restriction completely. Citing scientific research and evidence, the judge removed the age and point of sale restrictions that made it harder for all women to access emergency contraception. That ruling should stand.

Unprotected sex sometimes happens – a condom breaks or non-consensual sex occurs. When it does, all women, regardless of their age, need access to emergency contraception quickly and confidentially.

Remember, emergency contraception prevents pregnancy. The sooner it is taken, the more effective it is (but if you are already pregnant, it won’t work). That’s why removing unnecessary barriers that delay access can help a woman prevent an unintended pregnancy.

The research shows that emergency contraception is safe for women of all ages, including young people. Research also indicates that teens understand how to use emergency contraception and understand it is not intended for ongoing, regular use. It doesn’t increase risky behavior either.

A recent study published in the medical journal Pediatrics found that sexual activity is exceedingly rare among the youngest adolescents. However, when sex does occur among teens under 14, it is often non-consensual and contraceptives are not used.

So despite some of the myths out there, emergency contraception is a safe, effective way to prevent pregnancy for all women, regardless of age (though, as someone who talks to parents everyday about health care, I also know it’s crucial that parents have conversations with their children about these issues).

The good news is that this week’s decision makes it a whole lot easier for women to get access to emergency contraception. More should be done to remove all barriers and unnecessary hurdles. While the teen birth rates have declined significantly in the last two decades, they are still high, including in states that lack access to medical providers and preventive health care.

That’s why, as a doctor, I know it makes good scientific and medical sense to expand access to emergency contraception to all women.

 

By: Deborah Nucatola, MD, Senior Director of Medical Services for Planned Parenthood Federation of America, Debate Club, U. S. News and World Report, May 3, 2013

May 6, 2013 Posted by | Birth Control, Women's Health | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

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