Hobby Lobby: the Supreme Court ruling that is dividing the US

Jul 1, 2014

As corporations are given the right to religious freedom, Obama argues it 'jeopardises' women's health

The US Supreme Court has ruled that companies can be legally exempt from providing insurance coverage for contraception and other healthcare if they possess a 'moral and/or religious objection' to it.  

The ruling, which grants corporations the right to religious freedom for the first time, resulted from a dispute between arts-and-crafts store Hobby Lobby, owned by a multi-billionaire evangelical Christian family, and a former employee.

The Supreme Court ruled in favour of Hobby Lobby by a majority of 5 to 4, with all of the female justices dissenting.

Conservatives have hailed the case as a victory for religious freedom and against Obamacare, but liberal critics of the decision argue that it sets a "terrifying precedent" in which the country's highest court has "chosen religion over science".

Why did the owners have a problem providing insurance on contraception?

Evangelical Christians believe human life begins at the moment of fertilisation and consider devices and medication – such as the 'morning-after-pill' and intra-uterine devices – that take effect after this point tantamount to an abortion.  

How have conservatives responded to the ruling?

Rush Limbaugh said the Supreme Court had "defended [the] liberty" of all Christians, while Fox radio host Todd Starnes tweeted: "Obama's plan to force Christians to fund abortions is thwarted".

Hobby Lobby co-founder Barbara Green told the Christian Broadcasting Network she was "overjoyed" by the decision. She called it "a victory, not just for our family business, but for all who seek to live out their faith."

Why is there such strong criticism of it?
  • It's too broad: Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who voted against the ruling, described it as a "decision of startling breadth" and said "the court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield". It applies to companies where no more than five people own at least half of the company' stock share, but as Mother Jones points out, that is "90 per cent of all American businesses and 52 per cent of American workforce."
  • It only affects women: Insurance for contraception (which can cost up to a month's salary for a worker on minimum wage) will not be available on a company's health plan. The White House issued a statement saying "today's decision jeopardises the health of women employed by these companies". Procedures and medication targeted at men, such as Viagra and vasectomies, will still be made available, the Huffington Post reports. The ruling does not affect other medical procedures where potential religious objections exist, such as blood transfusions or vaccinations.
  • It priorities religion over basic medical care: Campaigners argue that birth control is a human right and decisions around personal health should not be made by the heads of corporations. The argument spawned the global hashtag  #notmybossbussiness.

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