Well, shit. In a 5-4 decision, the court ruled in favor of the private companies demanding an exemption from the contraception mandate under the banner of religious freedom.
The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that business owners can object on religious grounds to a provision of President Barack Obama’s healthcare law that requires closely held companies to provide health insurance that covers birth control.
The court held on a 5-4 vote on ideological lines that such companies can seek an exemption from the so-called birth control mandate of the healthcare law. The decision means employees of those companies will have to obtain certain forms of birth control from other sources.
As you’ll recall, the argument made by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood was that since the company owners–as individuals–object to some forms of birth control on religious grounds, they–as a company–have a religious conscious that would be violated by following the law like the rest of us. Nevermind that the companies’ objection to emergency contraception and IUDs is based on the patently false claim that they are a form of abortion. And nevermind that this supposedly “deeply held” objection didn’t seem to be all that deeply held at all. Oh, and nevermind that, until today, we’ve never granted religious beliefs to companies nor have we typically accepted a conception of religious freedom that encompasses a right to impose your views on others.
All of which just goes to show how dangerous this ruling is–and not just for the millions of people in this country who rely on contraception, think it’s generally a pretty useful thing instead of the root of all evil, and reject the idea that it’s any of their bosses’ goddamn business. In their decision, the court said the ruling applies narrowly to the birth control mandate, but it’s unclear why the principle would stop there. As the dissenting Justices noted, the decision allows companies to “opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.” “Religious freedom” could become a free pass to get out of providing coverage for anything–from blood transfusions to vaccines–that their beliefs, no matter how erroneous, told them to.
Indeed, this is the first time the court has accepted the argument that companies can declare a religious belief–a decision that will likely extended far beyond the health care reform law. We’ll have more legal analysis in the coming days, but for now, I’ll leave you with this warning from Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s dissent: “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”
Maya Dusenbery is an Executive Director of Feministing.