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4 Ways Supreme Court Ruling on Idea of Religious Freedom for Corporations Could Be Disastrous for Americans

A dangerous precedent could be in the making.

Photo Credit: United States Mission Geneva; Creative Commons / Wikimedia Commons


Yesterday, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in Sebelius vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., on whether for-profit companies can use their religious beliefs to to deny their employees coverage of contraceptives, which they are currently entitled to by federal law.

Over 100 lawsuits challenging the Affordable Care Act’s birth control coverage benefit have been filed in federal court so far. Under the ACA, health plans are required to include coverage for the full range of FDA-approved methods of birth control, sterilization and related education and counseling at no cost-sharing. So far, 48 cases against this benefit have been filed by for-profit companies, 46 of which are pending. Some of the for-profit companies which have filed cases include Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood, Autocam and Eden Foods. Non-profit organizations with religious objections to birth control have also challenged the benefit. Group health plans of “religious employers" are currently exempted from having to provide contraceptive coverage.

Many reproductive rights experts warn that a ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby can set a harmful precedent for the healthcare of American women. The National Women’s Law Center, joined by 68 other organizations, filed an amicus brief at the Supreme Court, which explains that in providing access to contraception without cost-sharing reduces the risk of unintended pregnancy. These organizations believe that access to contraception improves the health of women and children and leads to greater social and economic opportunities for women.

Here are four ways that ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby could seriously impair the well-being of Americans.

1) License to discriminate can harm the LGBT community. The Hobby Lobby case, in conjunction with recent efforts to legalize discrimination, have caused many LGBT and women's rights groups to become particularly vigilant. Last month, the Arizona state Senate voted to pass Senate Bill 1062, which would allow businesses to reject service to any customer based on the owners’ religious beliefs. Though Gov. Janet Brewer vetoed the bill, many organizations worry that bills like this will continue to surface.

Experts believe the Hobby Lobby case can set a terrible precedent for the LGBT community. On March 3,  50 leading LGBT, HIV and women's groups, including Planned Parenthood Federation of America, issued a joint statement of opposition on recent "license to discriminate" efforts. “We value the rights of all people to exercise their religion free from discrimination or interference,” the statement reads. “However, we are deeply alarmed by a sharp increase in efforts by politicians and corporations to use religious objections to discriminate against and deny health care to large numbers of Americans.” The groups believe that these efforts are not about religious liberties, but rather letting corporations pick and choose which laws they want to obey.

These organizations believe that people all across the country would face real harm if corporations get a license to discriminate. In addition to many other forms of injustices this kind of legislation can cause, they point out that LGBT people could be turned away from businesses, single mothers could be denied bank loans and children could be prevented from getting immunizations.

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Federation of America also issued a statement warning that the Arizona legislation raises issues similar to those in the Supreme Court cases: “The nation is just getting a peek at this extreme agenda designed to give corporations a license to discriminate, and they don’t like what they see,” she writes. “Governor Brewer was right to reject this extreme measure, and we hope the U.S. Supreme Court rejects it, too, when the justices hear a case on the same principle next month.”