National Partnership for Women & Families


From the desk of ... Elizabeth Sepper, Repro Health Watch

What’s at Stake in the Supreme Court Birth Control Cases? More Than You Might Think.

By Elizabeth Sepper, Associate Professor of Law, Washington University School of Law

Elizabeth Sepper, Associate Professor of Law , Washington University School of Law

Access to contraception long seemed settled and remote from the culture wars. After all, 99 percent of American women use birth control during their lives. Twenty-eight states already require insurance to cover contraceptives. Yet, contraception has emerged as the most hotly contested legal issue of 2014. Next week, the Supreme Court will hear a challenge to the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that health insurance nationwide cover contraceptives. The challengers – Hobby Lobby, a craft store chain, and Conestoga, a cabinet manufacturer – are just two of the many for-profit, secular businesses to claim that contraceptive coverage violates corporate free exercise of religion under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and the U.S. Constitution.

The right of women and men to control their reproductive lives – without their boss’ say-so – hangs in the balance. More than half of U.S. women between ages 18 and 34 cannot afford birth control. Poor health outcomes for mother and child result from unintended pregnancies. Requiring employee insurance to cover contraception is key because half of Americans are insured through their jobs. Before the ACA, many insurance plans did not cover the most effective contraceptives, such as IUDs. Women paid 68 percent more in out-of-pocket health costs than men, in part due to the costs of contraception and reproduction.

But the importance of the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga cases isn’t limited to contraception. For the businesses to prevail, the Court would first have to decide that corporations can exercise religion like human beings – a radical proposition. It would then have to conclude that contraceptive coverage is a burden on corporate religion that can’t be justified by the significant public health and gender equality benefits that birth control coverage brings.

If the Court sides with Hobby Lobby, employees will bear the costs of religious beliefs of corporations. Employees in all workplaces could lose the benefit of any insurance mandate. Corporations could resist covering counseling and testing for sexually transmitted infections. Unmarried women could be denied prenatal care. Employers could oppose covering the HPV vaccine based on the misguided belief that it causes promiscuity. Still others could refuse to include depression screening or kids’ vaccinations in employee insurance.

And that’s just where it begins. A win for Hobby Lobby could resurrect businesses’ attempts to exempt themselves from Social Security, minimum wage, worker’s compensation, antidiscrimination, health, and safety laws. Courts had long rejected such claims. Under the logic of Hobby Lobby, businesses might now prevail, at significant cost to their employees. Employees everywhere would have to worry that their companies might refuse to comply with laws that protect equality and create a safety net. Businesses could argue that religious belief entitles them to pay women less, fire pregnant women, or deny spousal benefits to same-sex couples. Consumers could face heightened discrimination as well. Pharmacies could refuse a patient HIV medication. Hospitals could bar a man from visiting his same-sex spouse. A hotel could disallow bookings by unmarried couples.

A win for Hobby Lobby would open the door for secular, for-profit companies to find religion and demand a veto over their employees’ private decisions. At heart the question for the Court is: Can a corporation have a “conscience” that trumps individual freedom and allows business owners to impose their beliefs on employees and consumers? In the past, the Court answered that question with a resounding 'no' – equality in the workplace and the marketplace rides on the Court doing so again.


Submitted by Jerry on March 26, 2014
Women's rights are being eroded daily. This has to stop. My body is private and my religion is private. Women need to draw a firm line between these private rights and government interference.
Submitted by Pam on March 26, 2014
Hobby Lobby's personal religious beliefs should not be used as a front to discriminate against women's personal healthcare. Their employees deserve the same access to all health benefits offered as anyone else. No employer should be allowed such an invasion of privacy...ever!
Submitted by RB on March 26, 2014
Ridiculous claims to slime out of responsibility to take care of employees.
Submitted by Sheri on March 26, 2014
People who work for corporations are not in bondage. They are guaranteed their own values & beliefs.
Submitted by HamiltonWW on March 26, 2014
If we were talking about snipping balls for birth control, these bastards wouldn't blink about keeping such religious views out of our politics. Someone call a team of vasectomy doctors to DC for emergency procedures! INSTANTLY... you would have this thing gone!
Submitted by linda on March 26, 2014
we have come to far as women to go back to the 19th centruy
Submitted by Kitty on March 26, 2014
This is unconstitutional, Roe v Wade has already decided this years ago. A business has no right to tell me or anyone what to do with our bodies, it's between me and my doctor. Boycotting Hobby Lobby!!!!
Submitted by mike on March 26, 2014
Abortion in China is not only a legal right but a legal responsibility. By selling Chinese product, Hobby Lobby is condoning what they preach is wrong. Its all about profit. The people running Hobby Lobby are HYPOCRITES.
Submitted by Denny on March 26, 2014
Corporations are not people. They don't scrap the bottom of a barrel for food. They don't bleed in the emergency room after an accident.
Submitted by sketter on March 26, 2014
Wake up to the values & beliefs of others nd stop be judgmental
Submitted by Judiecar on March 26, 2014
If the Supreme Court sides with Hobby Lobby on this issue they will really open a can of worms. It's not going to be pretty!
Submitted by emelia on March 26, 2014
Are we still living in the dark ages? What right do these bigots have to dictate their dark ages philosophy on others?
Submitted by Liberal and Proud on March 26, 2014
These people have no right to force their belief's on anyone. God gave us free will to choose how we want to live. They should trust the very God they use to strip people of their liberties.
Submitted by Reane on March 26, 2014
Freedom says it is there for anyone if they so choose. Just because you use or don't use your psyciatric benefits, doesn't mean you shouldn't be covered by them. Also the Religious Organizations should TRUST their believers to be capable of making their own choices instead of brainless people who don't know what to do for themselves.
Submitted by none on March 26, 2014
I do not want to check every merchant
Submitted by Bill on March 26, 2014
Business shouldn't be able to push their beliefs on other people
Submitted by Outraged on March 26, 2014
It seems that the right wing will not be content until they control every aspect of our lives.With the exception of Health Care, of course. Then you're on your own!
Submitted by Roie on March 26, 2014
The owner of Hobby Lobby is NOT being asked to take birth control. He should mind his own conscience and leave others to theirs. Religious beliefs of one are not to be forced on another.
Submitted by ijbtheterrible on March 26, 2014
People are first.
Submitted by Gar Bear on March 26, 2014
Employers have no right to determine birth control for their employees
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