Hobby Lobby: Convenience, not freedom

By Baker City Herald Editorial Board July 04, 2014 08:57 am

As we celebrate our nation’s independence today it’s appropriate to also consider how much progress we’ve made in ensuring citizens have the full measure of freedom — America’s DNA, you might say.

During the 20th century the debate about freedom in the U.S. focused on fundamental matters.

Should women vote?

Should African-Americans be able to sit in the front seat of a public bus and go to the same schools as white students?

We answered those questions, and our answers — that freedom must always trump gender and racial heritage — were the correct ones.

Today, by contrast, a major topic among the national discourse is whether a relative handful of corporations ought to be compelled, by force of federal law, to buy their female employees four types of contraceptives (out of 20 available) even if doing so runs counter to the business owners’ religious beliefs.

This is important to some people. But it’s hardly universal suffrage or desegregation in public schools.

Moreover, the uproar over the U.S. Supreme Court’s recent decision in the Hobby Lobby case seems to us all out of proportion to the ruling’s probable actual effect on women.

The five-justice majority didn’t say women employees of the affected companies can’t buy the contraceptives.

Nor did the High Court block the federal government from spending tax dollars to fill the prescriptions should Congress decide the ruling creates an undue financial burden on any workers.

Instead, the ruling creates a minuscule exemption from the requirement in Obamacare that employers pay for all types of contraception. The exemption is available only to corporations in which five or fewer people own at least half of the corporation’s value. 

The Hobby Lobby case isn’t about freedom; it’s about convenience. The difference between these two is considerably murkier than it was in, say, 1963. 

In any case it’s likely that insurance will continue to cover contraceptive costs for women who work for Hobby Lobby and other companies that qualify for the exemption. Indeed, Obamacare requires that insurers for nonprofits that, like Hobby Lobby, object to contraception, or certain forms of it, to provide contraceptives to those nonprofits’ employees in a separate plan.

This might seem a literal case of passing the buck, but it’s a way to keep Obamacare on the right legal side of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, passed by Congress and signed by President Clinton in 1993, without depriving anyone of the convenience of employer-provided contraception.