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the US supreme court’s hobby lobby decision: a primer

All proceeds from the sale of this shirt go to Planned Parenthood.

All proceeds from the sale of this tee go to Planned Parenthood.

You may have heard the name “Hobby Lobby” being tossed around American blogs and news recently. You’d be forgiven if your first thought was Hobby Lobby is a ridiculously childlike name for a major national business. If you had that thought, you’d be absolutely correct. The scandal surrounding Hobby Lobby is, like its name, embarrassing.

All of the hubbub around this craft store chain is a result of a landmark United States Supreme Court decision on 30 June 2014. In the case of Burwell (Health and Human Services Secretary) v Hobby Lobby et al, the court voted 5-4 in favour of Hobby Lobby. Citing the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), the court ruled that private sector companies are not required to pay towards coverage of IUDs and the emergency contraceptive pill. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, its anti-choice Supreme Court teammate, argued that it was against their religious beliefs to cover the types of contraceptives that they controversially deemed “abortifacients” – medications that may lead to abortion. The Federal Drug Administration describes three ways that approved contraceptives work. The ones that Hobby Lobby and similar businesses are opposed to interfere with a ‘fertilized egg attaching (implanting) in the womb (uterus), which is essential for a viable pregnancy.’ The question of when life begins is key in this debate, as many (read: the entire scientific community) would argue that what IUDs and emergency contraception do is decidedly not abortion.

To back up, it is a recent development that an employee’s health insurance is required to cover contraception at all. The Affordable Care Act – AKA Obamacare – requires insurance companies or businesses that cover insurance costs to cover at least some of the cost of contraception. (NB: this explanation of contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act is perfunctory at best and insulting to President Obama at worst. You can read more about it here and here.)

As dissenting Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg eloquently predicted, this decision has opened the floodgates. The majority – those who ruled in favour of Hobby Lobby – have stated that this case will have a limited impact on the implementation of the Affordable Care Act. However, Justice Ginsberg’s opinion is that this is a ‘decision of startling breadth.’ Just how wide the reach of this case will be remains to be seen, but the court has already started the process of revisiting several cases that they had previously rejected as a result of the decision.

Want to join the dissent? Buy this shirt! All proceeds go to Planned Parenthood, of course.

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