PAnews.com, Port Arthur, Texas

July 7, 2014

Supreme Court ruling highlights political disparity

Chelsea Henderson
The Port Arthur News

PORT ARTHUR — The U.S. Supreme Court’s Hobby Lobby ruling has been making headlines since its announcement Monday. In the aftermath of the court's controversial decision, Americans are left searching for answers to a fundamental question: “How do I protect my rights while still respecting those of everyone else?”

The Hobby Lobby ruling has dropped us into new, unexplored territory — an America where corporations can hold religious beliefs, a school of thought doesn't have to be true in order to be “sincerely held,” and an employer or small group of company shareholders can make healthcare decisions concerning female employees' access to contraception.

“The Supreme Court’s ruling was a victory for religious freedom, allowing family-owned businesses to make their own decisions without government interference,” U.S. Rep. Randy Weber said in a release.

As defined by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, contraception is one of many “preventative services that have strong evidence of their health benefits.” The Affordable Care Act requires health plans to not only provide preventative care, but to offer such services at no cost to the patient when delivered by a network provider.

However, the Supreme Court ruled that closely-held corporations like Hobby Lobby — the Oklahoma-based chain of arts-and-craft stores that challenged the preventative services mandate — can opt out of providing such services.

The justices determined certain corporations could decline contraception coverage because the Affordable Care Act preventative services mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act — which requires the government to show a “compelling reason for any law that substantially burdens” a person's religious beliefs, as well as to provide proof that the law is the least restrictive way of achieving its goals.

Expanding the RFRA to include closely-held corporations isn’t as irrational as some have presented it, Jennifer Bard, a School of Law professor and School of Medicine adjunct associate professor at Texas Tech University, said in a phone interview.

“Things are not always how you hear them in a sound bite,” she said. “This isn't out of nowhere — but the RFRA had never been interpreted to religious beliefs before. In this case, the court found that requiring Hobby Lobby to provide insurance that included forms of contraception went against their religious beliefs.”

How the Supreme Court's decision will affect similar pending litigation remains to be determined. There are 100 cases filed by 315 plaintiffs awaiting verdicts across the country, according to The Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Of those cases, 51 involve non-profit entities including universities, religious charities and dioceses. The remaining 49 involve for-profit corporations. Some object to the same four contraceptive methods as Hobby Lobby — “morning after” pills and intrauterine devices, or IUDs — but others object to all 20 mandated forms of birth control.

As Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said in her dissent against the Hobby Lobby ruling, “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”





REPUBLICANS APPLAUD RELIGIOUS VICTORY

Texas Republicans say the court’s 5-4 decision is a “victory for religious freedom” — and as a victory against “Obamacare,” a slur for the Affordable Care Act.

“As a conservative leader, I applaud this ruling as yet another indication of the failings of Obamacare and as an affirmation of essential freedoms we enjoy under the U.S. Constitution,” Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst said in a release.

Attorney General Greg Abbott said in a release that the ruling was a “another blow to the heavy-handed way the Obama Administration has tried to force” the Affordable Care Act on Americans.

“Once again, the Supreme Court has stricken down an overreaching regulation by the Obama Administration — and once again Obamacare has proven to be an illegal intrusion into the lives of so many Americans across the country,” Abbott said.

U.S. Rep. Steve Stockman said in a release that the Hobby Lobby ruling was a common sense decision.

“Clearly, no religious owners of a for-profit, closely-held corporation should be forced by the government to violate their religious beliefs and provide contraceptives to their employees,” he said. “The First Amendment forbids government from adopting laws that force citizens to betray their conscience.

“You cannot force people to buy you something that violates their beliefs, in this case birth control, simply because you want it. The belief people can be forced to buy you something that violates their beliefs is the height of arrogance, greed, selfishness and brute force.

“The Court rejected that tribal belief and upheld the ideas upon which this nation was founded. You are an individual and no one owns your mind or conscience.”





DEMOCRATS, WOMEN'S RIGHTS ACTIVISTS CONDEMN RULING

While Republicans claim victory for individual religious freedom, Texas Democrats and women's rights activists say the Supreme Court cannot grant freedom to company owners without stripping it away from employees.

Rep. Joe Deshotel said that the conservative justices — and more importantly, the companies that don't want to provide birth control options — did not think of the long-term consequences of their decision.

“These people who are against the preventative services mandate and providing insurance coverage that offers female contraceptives are stereotypically pro-life,” Deshotel said in a phone interview. “I'm pro-life too, meaning that I do not believe abortions should be used as birth control.

“However, by saying that they are uncomfortable providing birth control because they believe it causes abortion, these people will make the abortion rate increase. These companies aren’t realizing that their decision will have the opposite effect of what they want — by not providing birth control, abortions will rise.”

Melaney Linton, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast, Inc. — which provides family planning services for women in Texas and Louisiana — issued a statement, Monday, condemning the Supreme Court ruling.

“It’s unbelievable that in 2014, we’re still fighting about whether women should have access to birth control,” she said. “To the majority of Americans, birth control is not a controversial issue. Birth control is basic health care — and it’s only a ‘social issue’ if you’ve never had to pay for it.

“We hope most businesses will do the right thing and let women make their own health care decisions. We urge Congress to act and protect women’s access to birth control, regardless of the personal views of their employer.”

Email: chenderson@panews.com

Twitter: crhenderson90