This week, all eyes were on the US Supreme Court when it issued a landmark decision in the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. A majority of justices decided that a corporation could not be forced to offer employee health insurance plans that covered contraception services that violated its owner’s religious beliefs.
The legal issues at the heart of this decision are sure to be debated for many years. While Justices Alito and Kennedy state in their majority and concurring opinions that the scope of the decision should be read narrowly, many legal experts argue this decision is a fundamental realignment of relationships amongst people, corporations and the government.
A key provision of the Affordable Care Act (aka ObamaCare) mandated that all health plans offer a basket of prevention services designed to lower overall health care spending and improve health outcomes. Independent medical experts convened by the government selected the actual covered healthcare services. These experts decided that preventing unwanted pregnancy was just as useful as diabetes and cancer screening in keeping people healthy. So, all FDA-approved contraception methods made the list.
Unfortunately, not everyone sees it the same way. Some religions oppose most forms of contraception. Others, like the Hobby Lobby’s corporate owners, object to Intrauterine Uterine Devices (IUDs) and morning-after pills (“Plan B” and Ella) because they believe these methods prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg.
It’s very important to note that the scientific experts say these methods are not abortifacients. Abortion is just not how they work. Instead, they prevent ovulation or block fertilization.
However, the Supreme Court essentially said that the science in this case doesn’t matter. From the majority’s perspective, a strongly and consistently held belief was sufficient to trump science.
Justice Alito, in his opinion, said, “It is not for the Court to say that the religious beliefs of the plaintiffs are mistaken or unreasonable” (emphasis added). He granted religion a huge loophole. There is no requirement for even internal consistency of the belief.
The religious plaintiffs hold the belief that abortion is a sin. Therefore, anything that is designed to cause abortion is also a sin. They believe IUDs and morning-after pills cause abortions, therefore their use is a sin. Except, the part about their causing abortion isn’t true. The Supreme Court just ruled that it doesn’t matter.
Imagine applying this new-found legal principle in other ways. God put us on the Earth to tend his creation. God is perfect and he would never let us do anything that would damage his creation. Humans can’t be causing climate change because global warming is part of God’s plan. Therefore, following regulations mandating my power plant lower CO2 emissions would make me deny my faith. In this case, I have to assume the Supreme Court (or at least four of its justices) would have my back—if I truly believed it.