Thursday, July 3, 2014

Women will survive the Hobby Lobby decision

Women's advocates have been apoplectic about the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby decision, but they are reading more into the decision than is there. The court majority was careful to craft a narrow decision, one that applies to Hobby Lobby's highly unusual, if not unique, situation. Attorneys and judges will have a difficult time expanding this decision to apply to other, somewhat similar situations.

Much of the criticism of the decision fell into the category of religion-bashing, and that's a shame. Relatively few Americans subscribe to the Pentecostal religious beliefs of the Hobby Lobby family, but all should be able to agree that a person's sincerely held religious beliefs should be respected by others who disagree with those beliefs. Other religious beliefs, the justices said, such as prohibitions against vaccinations or blood transfusions, would not be affected by this decision. Religious conflicts have led to discrimination, violence and wars throughout history, and religious conflicts remain a powder keg within Islam and in conflicts between Islam and Christianity.

The Hobby Lobby issue would never have been raised were it not for the Affordable Care Act's retention of employer-sponsored health insurance, a system that is exceptional, if not unique, among all advanced economies. If Congress had opted for a single-payer system financed through taxes, such as Canada, France and Great Britain have, an employer's religious beliefs would never have mattered.

Critics who are claiming that women will be denied health care grossly overstate the case. The court ruled that an employer cannot be required to provide health insurance covering specific prescriptions or procedures that conflict with the employer's sincerely held religious beliefs. Female employees of Hobby Lobby can still obtain prescriptions for contraception, which was the service at issue, from any physician and can have that prescription filled. The narrowly proscribed function in the decision is that employers may not be forced to pay for types of contraception that they consider to be equivalent to murder. The government can solve the whole issue, if it so chooses, by making payments for contraception the responsibility of the federal government.

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