The idiom “scratch the surface” generally means just beginning to find out about something, or only superficially examining what could be a very complex issue. The complexities of the Hobby Lobby decision are far deeper than just giving a corporation religious freedom, or allowing religious corporation to withhold contraceptives from their organization’s healthcare prescription plans. Those two issues alone will have a devastating affect on any religious business or corporation’s employees, but after doing a cursory reading of the Hobby Lobby et al complaint, the High Court decision will immediately affect more than just their employees.
Throughout the Hobby Lobby case, Americans heard ad nauseum that the artificial legal entity’s religious objection was about including contraception in their employees health insurance prescription plans. By now, most Americans are aware that the Green family insisted that their female employees, and male employees with wives, must pay separately for their own contraceptives even though they are already paying for their own contraceptives through their health insurance prescription coverage.
However, Hobby Lobby was not only objecting to prescription plans that covered contraceptives, they and their co-petitioners vehemently objected to health insurance plans that cover “related education and counseling for contraception.” In other words, the religious corporations appealed to the Supreme Court for constitutional authority to do precisely what Republicans lied about what the ACA would do; get between a doctor and their patient.
Of course the ACA does no such thing. But Hobby Lobby, other religious corporations, and private businesses can insert their corporate selves in a doctor’s examination room, right between a doctor and their patient, and prohibit physicians from giving routine reproductive medical counseling during office visits to their patients employed by Hobby Lobby or any other religious business, corporate or otherwise.
According to Hobby Lobby et al’s complaint, their religion objects to health care plans and issuers that provide education and counseling for all women beneficiaries with reproductive capacity. They also complained that a physician “counseling and educating women on reproductive health is incompatible and irreconcilable with Plaintiffs’ express messages and speech.” What that means is that Hobby Lobby will not tolerate being contradicted regarding the use, prescribing, or counseling women about their reproductive health choices and the High Court agreed. After the Hobby Lobby decision, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists issued a statement and warned “the decision allowed employers to interfere in the doctor-patient relationship by limiting what discussions and options patients would be presented with.” But that was the express intent in including the gag order in the lawsuit. It is, not only infringing on a physicians freedom of speech, it also infringes on their ability to render their professional judgment and practice medicine.
Perusing the Hobby Lobby complaint exposes another fallacy from pundits on the right who claim that if a woman or man with a wife works for Hobby Lobby and seeks a doctor’s advice, and prescription for contraceptives, all they have to do is ask for it and then pay for it out of their own pocket. That is incompatible with Hobby Lobby’s religious liberty and they won the right to disallow women from using their own health benefit compensation package to make reproductive health choices. For the religious conservatives that scream it is no burden for women to spend only $9 a month for their own birth control, the cost for a prescription not covered in a group prescription plan is closer to $390 annually (IUD’s can cost over $900). It is true employees can opt out of religious corporations’ health plans, but purchasing healthcare on the open individual market can cost over 3 times more than a group plan.
Another unreported fallacy about Hobby Lobby’s lawsuit was that they claimed emergency contraceptives like Plan B and Ella were “abortifacients; that is patently false. They said they were abortion because in their religious minds, Plan B, Ella, and certain IUDs cause the death of the embryo. Their complaint said, “The use of artificial means to prevent the implantation of a human embryo in the wall of the uterus constitutes an “abortion” as that term is used in federal law.
According to all known medical science, and an amicus brief filed by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and several other medical associations; “there is no scientific evidence that emergency contraceptives available in the United States and approved by the FDA affect an existing pregnancy. Instead, they prevent ovulation, so there is no egg to fertilize, and no egg, like no implantation, means no pregnancy and no abortion.” The High Court ruled that it does not matter what medical science says, Hobby Lobby said emergency contraceptives are abortion and because that is their ‘deeply-held religious belief,” then contraceptives are abortion, their word is law, and medical science be damned.
Essentially, because Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood were successful, they won the right to refuse coverage for doctor’s visits that include medical advice about contraception generally discussed during routine general gynecological appointments or annual checkups. Now, if a woman, or gynecologist as much as acknowledges birth control during that appointment, the doctor must render the visit ineligible for coverage by the woman’s health care plan and the employee not only pays for full cost the prescription out of pocket, they have to pay for the entire doctor visit out of pocket in addition to their cost of being enrolled in the company health plan.
The real travesty is that the conservatives on the Court did not deny that the contraception mandate, or doctor’s giving reproductive medical advice, did not meet a “compelling need for women’s healthcare;” they admitted that it did. But still ruled it was unconstitutional simple because Hobby Lobby did not like it. There have been suggestions that a viable option is a providing a religious health plan that expressly excludes contraceptive coverage, or a doctor speaking about reproductive health, without imposing “any cost-sharing requirements on the eligible organization or the group health plan.”
The attorney for Hobby Lobby has said she and the Greens have not even considered whether they would find that accommodation acceptable. It is highly likely they will not find it acceptable because other church-based organizations have already received this kind offer and are still going forward with contraception lawsuits. The reason is the idea of employees, or students in religious colleges, having access to reproductive healthcare, even if it is of no cost to the organization, is unacceptable.
The more one looks into what Hobby Lobby, and their substantial list of co-plaintiffs, demanded and won according to their religious liberty, the more it appears that there is no end to the damage they will impose on Americans. It was unfathomable they had the temerity, and the Court agreed, that their corporate religious liberty allows them to control their employees reproductive health choices, but the concept of prohibiting doctors from counseling their patients is beyond the pale. The tragedy is that the ruling affects much more than just Hobby Lobby’s employees, or physicians, because the ruling gives every “religious” business authority over their employees healthcare decisions and medical providers’ ability to do their jobs, and one just shudders at what else evangelical fanatics’ religious liberty has in the offing. One thing is clear; it is not going to end well for any American and it is just the beginning.
Audio engineer and instructor for SAE. Writes op/ed commentary supporting Secular Humanist causes, and exposing suppression of women, the poor, and minorities. An advocate for freedom of religion and particularly, freedom of NO religion.
Born in the South, raised in the Mid-West and California for a well-rounded view of America; it doesn’t look good.
Former minister, lifelong musician, Mahayana Zen-Buddhist.