In Part 1, I talked about why the Hobby Lobby decision matters. In this post, I’ll address some of the arguments offered in support of the nation that making contraception part of the standard package of preventive services required in all insurance plans violates employers’ religious freedom.
Claim: There are two parties in this dispute: employers and the government.
OK, nobody really comes out and states that as a claim, but it’s the underlying assumption behind a lot of discussion of the Hobby Lobby decision. Hell, it’s right there in the name, Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius: there was nobody arguing the workers’ case. Ultimately, this isn’t just a question of religion, or contraception, or even abortion; it’s a labor issue. But the worker is the forgotten party.
It’s pernicious, this attitude. I almost did it myself, in this very post. I almost titled it “Birth control, insurance, and employers.”
With some exceptions, the relationship between employer and employee is an inherently unbalanced one. Companies can’t survive without workers — something that people who regard workers as little more than parasites on the bottom line tend to forget — but an individual employee almost always needs a job more than the employer needs that particular employee. That gives the employer power; and the worse the labor market is, the greater their power. This reality is the reason workers organized for unionization and labor laws in the first place.
What does that have to do with Hobby Lobby? Consider that only one party — the employer — is generally portrayed as having religious liberty interests. Why is it that only the beliefs of the more powerful party carry weight? What about employees’ own beliefs about whether or not it’s morally acceptable to use their insurance to access contraception?
And that leads me to…
Claim: It’s wrong to force employers to spend their money on something their religion forbids.
If there were a law or regulation requiring people who oppose contraception to go out and buy condoms or birth control pills and hand them out to anyone who works for them, I would be sympathetic to the argument that would constitute a burden on their free exercise rights. (It would also make absolutely no sense as public policy, of course, and would never pass; remember that the Supreme Court isn’t the only check on what laws exist in this country.)
But that’s not what’s happening with employer-sponsored insurance. When a company hires an employee, they offer a compensation package. Part of that package goes directly to the employee in the form of wages or salary. Part of it goes to pay premiums for an insurance policy that allows the employee to access a wide variety of health care services, including contraception if they so choose. For companies that pay wages with debit cards, should they be allowed to put restrictions on those cards so that they can’t be used to buy anything that the employer’s religion forbids? After all, it’s certainly possible to construct an argument that not doing so would be facilitating the employees’ access to something (that the employer considers to be) evil. If you’d object to not being allowed to buy alcohol or pork with your payroll card, then you can understand why some people object to the contraception exemption.
I really can’t stress enough that health insurance is an earned benefit. It’s not a gift. People say that the owners of Hobby Lobby shouldn’t have to spend their money on something they don’t believe in, but it’s not their money once the employee has earned it by exchanging her labor for it.
Claim: Every plan excludes some things, so excluding contraception is no different.
Just as an employer can’t pay you unlimited salary, they can’t provide unlimited health insurance. Limitations based on price will have to be made. Now, where you would draw the line on those limitations may not be the same place where your employer draws the line, but at least everyone agrees that it’s reasonable for insurance plans not to cover absolutely everything.
Additionally, there will be limitations on what’s covered due to judgments about what is or is not effective. You can’t get homeopathic remedies with health insurance, thank goodness, because they’re useless. But those limits should be based on medical and scientific evidence.
What’s being proposed in Hobby Lobby and similar cases is that the decision about what medical services you can access with your health insurance should be made not based on cost — which is regrettable but unavoidable — or medical judgment, but on your employers’ religious beliefs.
Claim: This isn’t about making sure people have access to contraception; it’s about punishing employers for having the “wrong” religious views.
Despite what folks like Rod Dreher might have you believe, advocates for insurance coverage of contraception are not driven by a compulsion that “The Religious Right Must Always Lose.” We do have an interest in making sure that safe, effective contraception is available to everyone, and in making sure that employees’ rights are protected. We do often express anger and frustration about beliefs we consider harmful. But if the U.S. moved to a single payer system or a system where everyone got vouchers to buy their own insurance or whatever, we’d be fine with that. We wouldn’t be upset because we’d no longer have the opportunity to show those Christians who’s boss. It’s not about them.