Tomorrow the Supreme Court will hear Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc., a case that challenges the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. Hobby Lobby, the chain of craft stores, claims that providing health insurance that covers birth control would violate the religious beliefs of its owners and, therefore, the company should be exempt from the requirement. (Conestoga Wood, a small Mennonite furniture maker, has also challenged the mandate, and the Court will also hear Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Sebelius tomorrow.)
Much has been written about the various legal arguments surrounding this challenge. But not as much has been said about the fact that the refusal of Hobby Lobby’s owners to provide their employees comprehensive health insurance represents the worst kind of anti-choice arrogance.
No, the question of abortion is not at issue in this case, or in the owners’ actions. But contraception is part of the same spectrum of reproductive health care that includes abortion, and that affects both men and women. More specifically, the issue of choice comes up in the very question being asked in this case: should the healthcare choices available to an employee be dictated by the religious beliefs of his or her employer?
This attempt to legislate the private lives and choices of others ignores the reality that giving women and men greater control over their reproductive health is good public health policy. But the reasons to provide contraception go beyond preventing pregnancy. A 2011 study from the Guttmacher Institute found that over half of women taking oral contraceptive pills did so—at least in part—for reasons other than preventing pregnancy. This conclusion likely didn’t come as a surprise to the millions of women and doctors who already knew this, but it appears to have escaped either the knowledge or consideration of Hobby Lobby’s owners and attorneys.
This kind of myopic reasoning is far from uncommon, and it doesn’t just afflict the owners of for-profit corporations. I’ve lost count of the number of conversations I’ve had with individuals — men and women, college-aged to middle-aged — who are far too eager to use one personal experience as the rationale for restricting rights on a larger scale:
“My best friend’s mother’s cousin had a baby at 25 weeks and she grew up totally healthy, so I think late-term abortion is wrong.”
“I knew a boy that had Down Syndrome and his family loves him and can support him for his whole life, so no one should terminate for genetic reasons.”
“My roommate’s neighbor had an abortion and regrets it, so no woman should have an abortion.”
Of course there are premature infants that thrive, just like there are women that wish they hadn’t chosen abortion and children with genetic abnormalities that are cherished members of their families. But these examples and countless others willfully ignore the fact that one person’s experience cannot be extrapolated to stand in for everyone’s experience. Just because one woman regrets her abortion doesn’t mean that no woman should be able to terminate a pregnancy. All it means is that one woman regrets her abortion. To claim otherwise demonstrates an inability to admit that others may have different experiences; a failure of empathy; the complete arrogance to imagine there’s only one way of looking at the world; or all of the above.
The Hobby Lobby website makes no secret of the company’s views. Yet neither does it imply that only people that agree with those views should work for the company. In fact, one of the corporation’s “commitments” is to provide both employees and their families with company policies that “strengthen individuals and nurture families.”
But even if the owners do have a religious commitment, Hobby Lobby is not pretending that it is a religion. It is a business. That any business should have power over what can literally be the life-and-death health decisions of its employees, well, that’s another issue for another day. But as long as Hobby Lobby sells its supplies to saints and sinners alike, it has no business questioning what its employees do when they go to see the doctor.
Sarah Erdreich is the author of Generation Roe: Inside the Future of the Pro-Choice Movement. She lives in Washington, D.C. with her family.