Employers’ Opposition to Birth Control Is Just the Tip of the Iceberg

2014.8.26.Marty.mainAdvocates rally outside the US Supreme Court while waiting for the court’s decision in the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case. (Photo: American Life League / Flickr)

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When the Supreme Court ruled this summer that Hobby Lobby and other similar “closely held” for-profit businesses could refuse to allow birth control coverage in their insurance plans due to religious objections, and then similarly decided the same for non-profit religious organizations as well, the administration scrambled to once more find a way to allow employees of those groups the same no co-pay birth control options that those who had insurance elsewhere were allowed.

The original accommodation (having the business or organization sign a form that would simply tell the insurer they refused, and then the insurer provide the coverage anyway with federal assistance) was seen as still being an infringement on the liberty of the employer, and a new workaround had to be developed.

Now such another accommodation has been offered. And, unsurprisingly, the employers still aren’t happy about it. Why? Because this was never about birth control, but about trying to break down the Affordable Care Act all together.

Previously, those who objected to birth control coverage were asked to sign a form stating their objection and provide it to a third party who would then arrange for the coverage for the employees who wanted birth control.

Now, the employer simply notifies the Department of Health and Humans Services, and the HHS will contact the third party and arrange that coverage. By expressing their desire not to cover birth control, the logic goes, that allows the employers to wash their hands of the whole affair, and forced the administration to take on the additional responsibility of getting that no copay medical care to the people who require it.

That’s not good enough for the legal representatives who are behind the lawsuits, who have essentially decided that anything less than their employees being denied birth control (or at least being forced to pay for it while others don’t) means that their rights have been violated. “Wait, religious nonprofits can opt out, but their insurance provider, that they have contracted with, and who they are paying to provide health insurance is required to give their employees free abortion pills? Precisely. Nothing changes,” writes Matthew Clark of the American Center for Law and Justice. “You can dress it up. You can call it what you like, but the Obama Administration is still forcing religious non-profits to provide abortion pills for their employees.”

The ACLJ isn’t the only group to say that the administration still isn’t allowing them their “religious freedom” to block employees from easily accessing affordable birth control. “Archbishop Joseph E. Kurtz of Louisville, Kentucky, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, said, in a statement posted on the USCCB Facebook page, the bishops would study the rules in depth but were disappointed at first look,” reports Christian Century. “Kurtz said ‘the regulations would not broaden the ‘religious employer’ exemption to encompass all employers with sincerely held religious objections to the mandate. Instead, the regulations would only modify the ‘accommodation,’ under which the mandate still applies and still requires provision of the objectionable coverage.’”

What the religious right response to this accommodation makes clear is that when it comes to the court fight, birth control itself is just the facade they are using to pursue their case. In reality, these non-profits and businesses are really using their lawsuits to set a precedent for what the definition is of a “religious” employer, and what that “religious” entity gets to do to opt out of federal law.

The religious right is fighting to allow any business or non-profit that has a religious person at the helm to be declared a religious employer exempt from governmental mandates. This isn’t just about opting out of birth control coverage. This is about being able to discriminate in your hiring practices and refuse to offer a job to a person of a different sexual orientation, or a religion you don’t approve of, or no religion at all. It is about being allowed to choose who you serve as a client or a customer. It is about being allowed to fire an employee who becomes pregnant and is unmarried. It is about being able to refuse to offer maternity leave, or keep a job open for someone who takes it.

Fighting the birth control mandate was always about religious freedom, but they have now made it clear that contraception was simply the tip of the iceberg. The demands that will come from classifying any business or organization with an allegedly devout leadership at the helm as a “religious” employer will continue to grow, and as one governmental mandate is opted out of, all other legal protections will fall by the wayside as well.

They want the autonomy of the churches, but with the ability to earn massive profits at the same time. Sadly, if the courts continue on this path, they are going to get it.