This is the first time in history that the Supreme Court has decided whether religious liberties can be used to trump anti-discrimination laws. Corporations, like Hobby Lobby, are invoking their personal religious beliefs under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act to exempt themselves from the Obamacare mandate that requires companies offer birth control to employees at no cost.
And even though many companies have paid for contraception for years, we now have to wait and see what effect this kind of ruling will have. Will this open the flood gates of religious sanctity under “corporate” headers that might include denial of coverage for vaccines or transfusions, psychiatric care, etc. or will the majority of employers continue to act sanely and rationally in the face of a narrow ruling which has the potential of setting a dangerous precedent?
The five justices who decided that Hobby Lobby was entitled to forego contraceptive coverage were all Catholic, with the exception of Sotomayor, a Catholic woman, who dissented from the majority ruling.
So let’s talk about Catholic men in positions of power for a minute, shall we? As a one-time, dutiful, catholic girl growing up under the looming, shroud of male authority, I feel well-versed on the subject. Now, one could argue that there are a bunch of progressive, Catholic men milling about town, handing out condoms while championing women’s rights and gay marriage, but this has not been my experience.
Growing up in a catholic household, there was one way to approach the topic of sex: you didn’t talk about it. EVER. I remember asking my mother where babies came from and she literally gave me the most distilled, allegorical run-down of the deed: “You see, the man and the woman fall in love, and then the man plants his seed inside the woman, where the seed grows into a baby and it’s the most beautiful thing ever.”
Suffice it to say, I eventually dropped out of CCD classes (forced Catholic camp for kids) and went elsewhere for my baby-making information. My older, more savvy friends thought it was hilarious when I exclaimed that virgins were “people who’d never been kissed.” Because—-well—that is also what my well-meaning mother told me. It’s a wonder I wasn’t pregnant by 13, but I lucked out in the chubby and shy category. Most of my friends, Catholic-girls-gone-wild, were having sex by 13, which isn’t surprising considering all we ever did was drink, smoke butts and get high. Ironically, none of our parents knew about our extra-curricular activities, or so it seemed. You would thought the numero uno, catholic girl-gone-bad, Madonna, sweeping her “Like a Virgin” body all over MTV would have clued them in, but no. I mean, “Papa, Don’t Preach?” Really guys?
But my dating life didn’t come into play until I was in college. This was when my uninformed, freshman self fell madly in love with a senior Physics student, who, although, not a complete and total pig, failed to inform me about certain, crucial things every sexually active 17-year old girl should know, like how you get pregnant or how you contract an STD. I was studying Chaucer and yet completely and utterly clueless about my own body.
That’s when my older, female friend, who had already been down the sexual Yellow Brick Road, told me I’d better get over to Planned Parenthood and fast. I called my mother and told her I was going on birth control. She was horrified. And it occurs to me now, that what freaked her out the most wasn’t the thought of birth control, but the the act of sex itself. Namely, sex outside of marriage. I love my mother and she was obviously working with what she taught and what I believe most young, Christian girls are taught–your vagina doesn’t exist. It belongs to God and the guy you marry. Just pretend it isn’t there and nothing bad will happen, a philosophy the Catholic church could have patented. When it comes to denial of reality, these dudes are professionals.
When I finally got into the Planned Parenthood office, I must have cried for an hour as I got probed and padded for what seemed like an eternity. But the bright light of hope was that someone was finally explaining to me, without shame or omission, what happens to a female vagina when a penis goes near it. I was embarrassed by my naivete, but also relieved that I narrowly missed what could have been the untimely and incredibly challenging world of teenage pregnancy. I can’t tell you how many women in college came out to me about having abortions. The guttural descriptions of not only the painful procedure, but also the shame of the entire process. Many of my friends described having to walk through lines of jeering protesters on what they described as the one of the worst days of their lives.
It is no mystery that women’s reproductive health has been under attack in the United States for a long time now. The Obamacare contraceptive regulation was a step in the right direction, but Republicans are trying desperately to secure their constituency for 2016. The right is beyond right now and moderate Republicans are ghosts of Conservatives’ past.
I’m not an economist over here, but I’m sure that the average employee at Hobby Lobby isn’t making much more than minimum wage. Watching women’s rights continue to slip away is truly disturbing. And although I think women, particularly young women, are much more educated, nowadays, birth control is expensive. I was one of the lucky ones. Somehow God prevented some over-zealous sperm from doing a back-flip into one of my teenage eggs while having sex under a Sound Garden poster in a messy dorm room in the 90s. I’m lucky that my birth control covered under insurance. Employees at Hobby Lobby and other companies like it won’t be so lucky.
For those who work at Hobby Lobby and other companies like it that will be refused coverage based on the religious predilections of five dudes, I hope they find other ways to get their needs met, but I’m troubled about the implications of this ruling. Something like 50 percent of employees work for Hobby Lobby-type employers. And in a culture where Christianity tacitly reigns supreme under Justices like Antonin Scalia, this issue is quickly becoming about how corporations can now enforce their religious rights as individuals, which is a very dangerous and slippery slope.