Crown Heights

Congresswomen speak out on Hobby Lobby contraception lawsuit

‘These cases involve control,’ U.S. Rep. Clarke says

March 27, 2014 By Paula Katinas Brooklyn Daily Eagle
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Members of Brooklyn’s congressional delegation were watching the U.S. Supreme Court arguments over employer-funded contraception for women with great interest on Tuesday and two of the delegation’s female members spoke out on the controversy.

Both U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-Crown Heights-Brownsville) and U.S. Rep. Carolyn Maloney (D-Greenpoint-Manhattan) said they hope the Supreme Court rules against the owners of Hobby Lobby, the nationwide chain of craft supply stores seeking an exemption from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) provision that requires employers to provide health insurance coverage for contraception.

Under the ACA, employers must provide reproductive health care as part of health insurance plans for their employees. The owners of Hobby Lobby are arguing that the ACA mandate violates their religious freedom. A second business, Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., is also seeking an exemption on religious grounds.

The Obama Administration does permit religious organizations to be exempt from the ACA contraception provision. The case argued before the court on March 25 involved the question opf whether a for-profit business could invoke the same privilege.

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But the case has much larger ramifications, according to Clarke.

“These cases involve control,” Clarke said. “Will women have the right to control their health care decisions? Or will employers have the right to control the health care decisions of their employees?”

Clarke was one of 93 House members who signed onto an amicus brief filed with the Supreme Court in January urging the court to uphold the right of women to purchase health insurance that includes reproductive health care.

Maloney said the case involves an important principle. “A woman’s health and life decisions should not be restricted by her employer’s personal beliefs,” she said.

“If the U.S. Supreme Court does not uphold the Affordable Care Act’s birth control protections, millions of women could find themselves without access to critically important health services just because such services personally offend their bosses. This would be a major setback for women’s rights, effectively creating different classes of citizens based on a woman’s employer. With 99 percent of women having used birth control at some point, the objections brought by these cases dismiss the overwhelming consensus from medical and scientific communities that such access is important preventive medical care. The Affordable Care Act provides full access coverage without a co-pay for preventive health care, including contraceptive methods. These cases demonstrate that without laws to protect health equity, discrimination could once again return to the health coverage market,” Maloney said.

National Public Radio (NPR) reported that the questioning by the justices during the oral arguments on Tuesday appeared to be divided along gender lines, with the female justices sharply questioning Hobby Lobby lawyer Paul Clemente about possible ramifications of a decision in Hobby Lobby’s favor. The female justices were supportive of the contraception mandate, while a majority of the male justices were skeptical of it, according to NPR.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor asked Clemente about the possibility that employers would have religious objections to health plans that cover other basic medical procedures such as blood transfusions, immunizations, medical products that include pork.  Justice Elena Kagan stated that an employer might have a religious objection to complying with sex discrimination laws, minimum wage laws, family leave laws and child labor laws.

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