‘Hobby Lobby’, or How Judges Decisions Affect Women’s Lives

By Hannah Wilson (Development Associate at Women’s Link Worldwide)

Hobby Lobby-ENG

The impact of the Hobby Lobby case could easily be underestimated. At first glance, it’s about corporations’ duties regarding healthcare policies- surely nothing to do with the average person. In fact, this case has monumental implications for women and their control over their sexual and reproductive rights, not only in the United States, but, in precedential value, all over the world. Undoubtedly, therefore, it is a worthy contender for the Bludgeon Award in the 2015 Gender Justice Awards for its failure to uphold the rights of women everywhere.

As stated above, the subject matter of the case is seemingly complicated: whether three corporations could avoid regulations provided by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) on the grounds of religion. The appellants, Hobby Lobby Inc., said that they morally objected to any form of contraception which would lead to the harming of the egg after it has been fertilized, as they sincerely believe that life begins at conception. Therefore, they objected to providing their employees’ healthcare coverage for four contraceptive methods included under the Act, because they believed they would damage the fetus. Worryingly, in an unprecedented judgment which totally disregards the autonomy of women to make their own contraceptive choices, the Supreme Court of the U.S.A. upheld that forcing the appellants to pay for the contraceptive coverage would indeed violate their religious rights. In short, they held that instead women should be denied a right granted by Congress so that fundamentalist business owners can check that their female employees aren’t doing anything that would disagree with their, the business owners, religious beliefs.

So many points of contention come out of this judgment that it is difficult to know where to start; indeed, the dissenting voice of Justice Ginsberg readily dissects the majority decision. This decision does not just discriminate against women; it specifically discriminates against women who are already in vulnerable positions due to their employment or economic status and who, without the coverage, may be unable to access appropriate care due to its exorbitant cost. This, the dissent states, goes against the express purpose of the act and exacerbates the situation Congress sought to remedy.

It also ignores the fact that contraceptive provision under the Government act was an issue specifically debated on. Following recommendations from healthcare professionals, Congress decided to introduce a focused Women´s Health Amendment, designed by independent experts who stated the importance of allowing women to access the whole range of contraceptive methods. The idea that the Court have forwarded, that an employer can restrict a woman’s right to receive comprehensive healthcare and that they may dictate the treatment a doctor can prescribe to their employee according to the “religious beliefs” of their business, makes a mockery of the intention of Congress. The Court is ranking the personal opinion of employers higher than women’s sexual and reproductive rights.

By supporting the views of a small group of people in the commercial sector, this decision tramples on a woman’s right to decide what happens to her body. The Court has ignored significant interests which, as stated by Justice Ginsberg, are “concrete, specific and demonstrated by a wealth of empirical evidence”. This judgment, with its complex legal terminology and confusing company law context, really means one thing only: the denial of the sexual and reproductive rights of women, and particularly those in vulnerable socio-economic positions. This doesn’t just relate to big business or government policy, it has a direct impact on women everywhere.

Judicial decisions should protect human rights. If you, like me, feel that this decision should be recognized for its negative impact on the lives of women and girls, please get involved by voting for the Hobby Lobby case to receive the People’s Choice Gavel Award in the Gender Justice Uncovered Awards 2015. Your voice counts.

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