Op-ed: Hobby Lobby and the Constitutional Right to Be Stupid

By Michelle Garcia

Originally published on Advocate.com July 01 2014 1:04 PM ET

Monday's Supreme Court ruling in the Hobby Lobby case honestly makes me sick.

As a woman, some guy who pays me can now also tell me that my hard-earned company health insurance can't cover my no-baby-candies because he thinks it might have some sort of voodoo power that kills phantom babies. Fortunately, I work at a company where that wouldn't be the case. (Uh, right?)

As a queer woman, it makes me want to shake every LGBT person who doesn't see the broader implications of this. What if a company could tell employees that they won't pay for insurance that covers HIV treatment or health care to transgender people because of owners' "sincerely held religious beliefs"? Justice Samuel Alito, in writing the majority opinion, promised its scope was "very specific." Still, some of us side with Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg and foresee a potential onslaught of legal challenges testing the limits.

Remember Arizona's hideous religious exemptions law and how ridiculously long it took for Gov. Jan Brewer to veto it? It would have applied to much more than contraceptives. Well, now any company that is majority-owned by five or fewer people can make health care decisions for its female employees based on owners' religious beliefs. That's 90 percent of American businesses, people! Arizona was a hot, dusty, turquoise-wearing drop in the bucket compared to nine out of every 10 companies in the United States and more than half our entire workforce.

First, here's an overly simplified breakdown of how this stuff works: If you're not pregnant, the pill will keep you un-pregnant. If you're pregnant and you keep taking the pill, you're basically just swallowing bland tablets. It's not doing anything. Plan B? Basically a megadose of the pill, to keep those eggs in place. It doesn't kill sperm. It doesn't kill embryos. It doesn't kill anything. A woman can still get pregnant, even if she takes Plan B and stands on her head for an hour. And those IUDs may look a little scary, but there's no abortion happening. Those devices trick your body into thinking you're pregnant, without the side effect of babies.

The science people say these methods of birth control prevent pregnancy and don't terminate pregnancies.

Here's how The New York Times very clearly reported this misunderstanding in a 2012 story: "It turns out that the politically charged debate over morning-after pills and abortion, a divisive issue in this election year, is probably rooted in outdated or incorrect scientific guesses about how the pills work. Because they block creation of fertilized eggs, they would not meet abortion opponents’ definition of abortion-inducing drugs."

Hobby Lobby and its supporters don't care, nor do they wish to understand, that this pill has enabled generations of women to claim so many of the societal rights that we have earned. Except that we really don't have those rights in reality, because in the eyes of these five male windbags who sit on the Supreme Court and the dozens of companies that backed Hobby Lobby in this lawsuit, women are incapable of making their own medical decisions. 

This ruling says that people who are somehow smart enough to own companies now have the First Amendment right to practice stupidity. Literally, stupidity.

The decision now says people have the right to ignore science; humans can ignore facts. Science can be contested, disproven, and proven, with experimentation, and the advancement of knowledge. But Hobby Lobby just got a religious exemption from the health care law and basically all science

I'm not saying that religion is stupid or that people of faith are stupid. I know that not every religious person out there thinks it's his or her duty to flush every birth control pill in America down a toilet. I know that not every boss who owns a Bible and voted Republican twice will suddenly start firing employees who are gay or like having sex without getting pregnant. Even though I don't agree, I'm not mad at you if you're anti-abortion. And I'm definitely not going to rail against people's religious beliefs. People find strength and community and love in spirituality, so I'm not knocking that at all. This country was founded by people seeking religious freedom. But America was then built on the idea of equality, which has broadened over time to include women, people of all races, and slowly, sexual and gender minorities.

As Justice Ginsburg wrote in the dissenting opinion Monday, "Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations." But only four years ago, this court established that companies have more rights than the humans they employ. In 2010 the Citizens United case established that corporations have First Amendment rights, just like people. Hobby Lobby is more of the same from this exceedingly pro-business court, where conservative Christian beliefs are the only beliefs that matter at this company of 13,000 employees.

I can't even decribe how angry I am that women — half of the human race — still have to fight for things like simple oral contraceptives, which do far more than prevent pregnancy. Those pills, and patches, and IUDs enable women to take control of their destinies. Seriously.  

Our Constitution guarantees a right to privacy, which I'm pretty sure at least means I can do what I want with my uterus. And common sense certainly tells me that someone with hiring power should not be able to tell me what I can and can't do with my health insurance, which I earn by producing articles about the Employment Non-Discrimination Act and soccer players' Instagram photos.

But at the end of the day, these companies are going to lose. Ginsburg warned in her dissent that the highest court in this country "has ventured into a minefield."

Hobby Lobby has become synonymous with the extreme lengths a company can now go to disenfranchise the people it employs. What company wants that? This one crappy craft chain embodies the limits that companies can go to suppress female workers' right to choose what happens to their own bodies. But most importantly, this company just paved the way for most American business owners to ignore science in lieu of what they choose to believe.

Man — do you know how hard I'm hoping that we find out that one of the people who owns Hobby Lobby is on a Viagra regimen? Please let that happen. I have my torch and pitchfork standing by.


MICHELLE GARCIA is the managing editor of Advocate.com, and she thinks birth control is awesome. Follow her on Twitter @MzMichGarcia.

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