Relax. This is not a slippery slope.
So Justices Samuel Alito writing for the majority and Anthony Kennedy writing in concurrence, take pains to assure us in the wake of the Supreme Court’s latest disastrous decision. The same august tribunal that gutted the Voting Rights Act and opened the doors for unlimited money from unknown sources to flood the political arena now strikes its latest blow against reason and individual rights.
By the 5-4 margin that has become an all-too-familiar hallmark of a sharply divided court in sharply divided times, justices ruled Monday that “closely held” corporations (i.e., those more than half owned by five people or fewer) may refuse, out of “sincerely held” religious beliefs, to provide certain contraceptive options to female employees as part of their health-care package. The lead plaintiff was Hobby Lobby, a chain of arts and crafts stores based in Oklahoma and owned by the Green family, whose Christian faith compels them to pay employees well above minimum wage, play religious music in their stores, close on Sundays and donate a portion of their profits to charity.
Unfortunately for their employees’ reproductive options, that faith also compels them to object to four contraceptive measures (two IUDs, two “morning-after” pills) that they equate with abortion. Most gynecologists will tell you that’s a false equation, but Alito said that wasn’t the point.
Rather, the point was whether Hobby Lobby was sincere in its mistaken belief. That it was, the court decided, meant that the Affordable Care Act provision requiring Hobby Lobby to provide the disputed contraceptive measures violated the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which prevents government from doing anything that “burdens” the free exercise of religion.
Apparently we now have greater solicitude for the feelings of corporate “persons” than for the health of actual persons. This ruling places women’s reproductive options at the discretion of their employers, which is awful enough. But it has troubling implications beyond that.