As the United States Supreme Court contemplates a nationally decisive argument in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius, workers and employers alike are considering the consequences. The courts heard the arguments that a private employer should not be held responsible in covering services for employees that go strictly the company’s religious beliefs. At risk is health care coverage mandates in the Affordable Care Act signed into law by President Barack Obama. Some ask if employers are requesting unreasonable consideration from the Supreme Court.
In arguments held on March 25 with the United States Supreme Court attorney, Paul Clement for the consolidated cases of Sebelius v Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v Sebelius, argued a company’s right to their religious beliefs. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood are private for-profit corporations who have strong religious and moral beliefs that are contrary to articles within the Affordable Care Act. Specifically affecting women’s health services, the Christian fundamentalists and Mennonite companies follow strict guidelines against birth control. This includes any form of care that has been deemed pregnancy ending by religious communities such as Plan B and IUDs. Both methods of birth control act as barriers preventing an egg from being fertilized. This method goes against many medical professional’s ideas of abortion. The religious sect believes that such medical advancements end pregnancies and the scientific community believe it only acts as a preventative to any fertilization, which in turn, means there never was a pregnancy. This would not be the first time that the religious and medical community differ scientific on findings.
Hobby Lobby, a Oklahoma based crafts store, has always been clear in their moral beliefs that they follow very strict religious followings. For years anyone who had any objections were free to take their business elsewhere. In the case of Chick-Fil-A, who is not part of this case but is following the case closely, have also been very vocal in their beliefs. The American public has had many opportunities to protest by patronizing their establishment or not. It is clear that neither business has suffered financially from their stances and therefore one might assume the public agrees in their rights to their beliefs as a business mold.
The most compelling arguments from the court against the Paul Clement’s stance stem from how the law could be monstrously misconstrued. Justice Sotomayor requested clarification on a company’s right to refuse other sources of medical treatment that go against certain religious beliefs such as blood transfusions. The ruling in favor of a company’s right to refuse services could have long reaching effects on communities. With hundred of thousands of American employees working abroad for American companies one could ask if normal coverage could be denied for those employees because of the religious beliefs of the countries they work in. Also, an employer could decide they will no longer have coverage for cancer or HIV because some religions don’t believe in services that go against God’s will. One would be hard pressed to find a medical facility that will still employ an individual who smokes. This has become a universal mandate within the healthcare field. This could be contrary to one’s beliefs knowing there are religious communities that use smoking in their prayers. So the request by the employers could be considered unreasonable if the Supreme Court upholds the argument that religion trumps personal rights and freedoms.
However strong the beliefs of companies like Hobby Lobby in demanding their religious rights, some ask how a company can stand on their morals knowing that supplies for their stores come from counties that require employees to get the services they are so morally against. In China, where 90 percent of the supplies for the Hobby Lobby stores come from, the female workers are forced to have abortions against their will so they can continue working in the sweatshop style factories. Hobby Lobby has never taken a stance on these human rights violations as a moral argument in the name of God. The company continues to fund the Chinese government-owned shops where the supplies are made by child laborers and women who receive abortions even against their own will. Someone could ask if this is an argument that could be used against the craft supply giant in court. Also, an argument could be made that the balance of coverage must be equal. If an employer, such as Hobby Lobby or Catholic Charities of America, still allow coverage for a vasectomy does that constitute and unfair balance of care; putting the value of a male employee above that of a female.
Few will argue that this does not constitute a slippery slope for an employer to start making decisions for its employees on such sensitive matters such as health care. Yet, in a right to work society no one is forcing an employee to join a company known to have strong religious beliefs that will be part of the every day work environment. One may also argue that in the current environment of economic difficulties refusing any job could be detrimental and an employee should not be forced to choose between their health and the ability to survive. Whichever side of the argument you stand on, one must really analyze the possibilities in how this law can be construed from every angle. Could current employees of companies who never previously set religious boundaries now face losing coverage they have already been receiving? Should an employer really be able decide what rights you have? Any decision in this case will be protested by the losing side, yet is the case being considered by the Supreme Court already an unreasonable argument.
By Kimberly Beller