Rob Burgess

Rob Burgess Tribune night editor

Author’s note: As per usual for this time of year, the Supreme Court issued a slew of consequential rulings recently on a bevy of hot-button issues. This is the third in a three-part series exploring a few of them.

Whilst hacking through the dense underbrush of emotional court battles, it’s easy to miss the forest for the trees. This has proven especially true in the wake of the June 30 Supreme Court decision in the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

At issue were the religious objections of the Oklahoma City-based craft store chain’s founder David Green and his family to Affordable Care Act-mandated employee coverage of emergency contraception (including Plan B and ella) and intrauterine devices (including ParaGard, Mirena and Skyla.) They believe them to be tantamount to abortion.

For starters, this assertion is flat-out medically incorrect. These methods variously interfere with ovulation, sperm movement, fertilization and implantation. They are not abortifacients.

“Because emergency contraception helps women avoid getting pregnant when they are not ready or able to have children, it can reduce the need for abortion,” states the website of the Office of Population Research at Princeton University and the Association of Reproductive Health Professionals.

Setting aside Hobby Lobby’s willful scientific misapprehension, they aren’t even consistent with the application of their own professed principles.

“Documents filed with the Department of Labor and dated December 2012 … show that the Hobby Lobby 401(k) employee retirement plan held more than $73 million in mutual funds with investments in companies that produce emergency contraceptive pills, intrauterine devices, and drugs commonly used in abortions,” reported Molly Redden of Mother Jones on April 1. “[These] companies … manufacture the specific drugs and devices that the Green family … is fighting to keep out of Hobby Lobby’s health care policies.”

If that doesn’t sway you, walk into a Hobby Lobby and see how long it takes you to find a “Made in China” label on the available inventory. I shouldn’t have to explain why financial entanglements with the home of the so-called “one-child policy” should be troubling to true foes of abortion.

Under normal circumstances I would have little to no interest in the personal religious views of the Greens whatsoever. On this matter, I generally subscribe to Thomas Jefferson’s statement from his 1785 book, “Notes on the State of Virginia.”

“It does me no injury for my neighbor to say there are twenty gods, or no god,” he wrote. “It neither picks my pocket nor breaks my leg.”

However, because in America health coverage is still tied to employment instead of citizenship, their beliefs do impact others. If this ruling affected only Hobby Lobby, offended customers could simply choose to shop elsewhere and affected employees could find other work; and that would be that. But, with the Court’s 5-4 decision in favor of Hobby Lobby, all closely-held corporations are now not only people with freedom of speech protections, they also now, apparently, have the ability to hold religious beliefs.

This will have reverberations we can’t even yet fathom. Those employers looking to save a buck will have new-found cause to discover certain facets of their employee health coverage in violation of their own “sincerely held religious beliefs,” as Justice Samuel Alito described it in his majority opinion in the case.

Suddenly, conveniently getting religion has never been better for a company’s bottom line. What’s stopping a Muslim business from refusing to cover employees who consume swine? Or Christian Scientists from including a ban on blood transfusions? Do you really think Scientologist employers want to cover psychiatric treatment for their employees? Supporters of Hobby Lobby rejoiced at the outcome, counting it as a win for their side. What they seem to be forgetting is the inevitable future scenario in which they are the oppressed.

Rob Burgess, Tribune night editor, may be reached by calling 765-454-8577, via email at rob.burgess@kokomotribune.com or on Twitter at twitter.com/robaburg.

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