Maureen Weidman ’15 Women In Leadership
This past Tuesday was a momentous day for the Supreme Court, which heard two cases regarding the contraception mandate of the Affordable Care Act. Paul D. Clement of Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts chain, and Conestoga Wood, a cabinet making company, do not believe they should have to cover employee’s insurance for contraceptives because this violates their religious beliefs.
Under the Affordable Care Act, for-profit companies like the ones mentioned above have to fund their employee’s use of contraceptives. This leads to the question of whether or not these types of companies can protest this due to religious reasons.
“Corporations are not people. Corporations cannot have religious views,” argues Sandra Fluke, a social justice attorney who wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post on Monday. “Our laws protect individuals’ private religious beliefs, but when you cross over into the public sphere to become a corporation and make a profit off of the public, you must abide by the public’s laws.” Fluke brings up another interesting point: allowing companies to override this mandate could allow companies to refuse to provide insurance for other more basic medical conditions in the future on the grounds of religion.
However, there are women who would disagree. Kathleen Parker writes in another opinion piece for The Washington Post that “these cases are more than a debate about birth control. They have far-reaching implications and, as Obama pointed out, there is a strong correlation between religious freedom and a nation’s stability.” Parker points to what she believes to be hypocrisy in Obama’s speech at the National Prayer Breakfast where he favors religious liberty world-wide and yet he included the contraceptive mandate in his Affordable Care Act.
Many of the people who have stepped up to write opinion pieces about the Supreme Court cases have been women and yet there is no consensus. The debates over the availability and legality of contraception and abortion have long been thought to be “women’s issues” and there is little doubt that of any group, these topics affect women the most. Many women like Fluke believe the right to use oral contraceptives is directly correlated to the right to control one’s reproductive health. According to Solicitor General Donald B. Verilli, there are proven health-benefits to using birth control. However, there are conservative women who either believe that the use of birth control is immoral or, like Parker, believe that the government should not play a role in this issue of personal faith.
Looking at the actual hearings on Tuesday, March 25, it is not surprising that the Supreme Court is also divided over this issue. However, unlike in the general public, the female Justices in the Supreme Court seem to all sympathize with the government. According to an article in The Wire, Justices Kagan, Sotomayer and Ginsburg “dominated the questioning.” On the other hand, it appears that some of the male Justices were more sympathetic to the companies, including Justices Scalia, Alito and Thomas. All three of these male Justices are very conservative Roman Catholics. The three female Justices do not all share religious beliefs, but they are united by their gender.
It will be interesting to see what the Supreme Court rules in this case not only because it is another battle in the war over the Affordable Care Act and the ongoing debate about small government versus big government, but the ruling will also affect women from a variety of backgrounds who rely on oral contraceptives for medical purposes and require insurance to pay for them. Denying women this coverage may support the faiths of employers, but it will be devastating news for those who are in need of financial assistance for these medications.