IT SEEMS SILLY in 2014 to still have to explain why an employee’s right to choose her contraceptive has to be protected. Yet, recent events show that this is still not an accepted and respected principle.
The Supreme Court of the United States, creatively called SCOTUS in Washington slang, ruled on June 30 that Hobby Lobby, a company with more than 500 shops across the USA owned by hardcore Christian Green family, has the right to refuse paying for certain kinds of contraception under the Affordable Care Act (ACA), to its employees if these contrast its religious beliefs. The ACA already allows an opt-out option to non-profit and religious organisations.
The sentence on the case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., was approved with a majority 5-4, with all female judges voting against it. It effectively allows for-profit companies to refuse coverage of healthcare plans on religious grounds, and could be use as a precedent to actually opt out of any other law, except tax laws, were it to interfere with religious beliefs.
This ruling carries heavy economic, political and cultural implications, and none of these are good news for those who do believe in freedom of choice. Under the ACA, contraception is seen as a necessary provision included in the healthcare plan employers have to guarantee their workers. The reasons for this seem obvious, as family planning is not only beneficial for the economy, but it also protects a woman’s health, allowing her autonomy in deciding what to do with her life, and effectively decreases the number of abortions, since contraception prevents unwanted pregnancies. Not all contraceptive are the same, however, and some people have a hard time understanding this.
The birth control pill is one of the most common form of contraceptive but it is not the only option, and it does not suit everyone. Other women prefer IUDs, which are instead inserted internally to prevent fertilisation of the egg. Those, along with the morning after pill, are part of those contraceptive opposed by Christian believers, including Hobby Lobby ‘s owners, because they are “abortifacient,” as in they expel the fertilised egg to prevent pregnancy, a fact absolutely not supported by science.
In fact, all contraceptive, including the morning after pill, work with the principle of preventing the attachment of the egg to the uterus wall, which may or may not happen even when having unprotected sex. The religious grounds to reject contraception are, from a scientific perspective, virtually non-existent, unless the real matter at hand is not abortion, but having sex for reasons other than procreation.
Let’s get one thing straight: women of all ages and relationship status use some form of contraception when they are sexually active, fertile and want to avoid pregnancy or using condoms. Providing the free contraception of choice is not about helping 18 years old sleeping around, but it means helping 40 years old women with two children working two jobs to enjoy a healthy relationship with their husbands without having to worry about putting into this world a new mouth to feed.
It is simply not acceptable for a for-profit company to refuse women their right to choose the most suitable form of contraception. The SCOTUS ruling allows a private, money-making business to dictate employees’ individual, private choices. Internet commentators on conservative websites pointed out that Hobby Lobby is not an evil company, but actually offers a minimum wage higher than the national one – a whole 14$ an hour instead of 7.25$, and suggest that the negative comments regarding the ruling are negatively affecting the image of a company that does hold its employees’ best interests as high as its religious principles.
Apparently, employee meetings start with a prayer from the Bible, and interpersonal conflict are solved by looking at the Bible, and generally speaking the Green family runs its business according to principles in the Bible. No doubt that a book written more than two thousand years ago is a great blueprint to run a business in the digital 21st century world, but it is unclear how highlighting the ways in which the Green family imposes its religious beliefs on its employees does much to defend its image.
Regardless, offering a higher minimum wage than normal is not a reason to look the other way when basic individual rights and freedoms are at stake. Workers’ rights in the US are much less protected than in Europe, but there should be at least an understanding that working for a company does not mean embracing the company’s values as your own just because they pay you at the end of the month.
You are not selling your soul, you are merely employing your skills for the profit of a business. Your job should not define who you are and what you do when you are not working there. Having your boss decide whether you have access to healthcare plan is pretty much the farthest thing there is to ensure human dignity and justice.
Written by Sofia Lotto Persio
Image credit: American Life League