Contraceptive Mandate: Do corporations have the people’s rights?

This entry is part 1 of 5 in the series Contraceptive Mandate
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The “Supreme Court of the United States” (SCOTUS) blog has a lot more about this case and will include updates this week. Click the logo to visit the blog.

The U.S. Supreme Court begins hearings this week on the contraceptive mandate—the provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires employers to include birth control in their insurance plans. Several issues are in play—all have to do with values.

One issue is this: Do corporations have religious rights? Are they “people”?

Churches and religious groups are exempt from the contraceptive mandate, meaning that they don’t have to provide this coverage if it violates religious principles. The cases the high court considers this week involve secular corporations whose owners object to the mandate on religious grounds. The companies are Hobby Lobby (owned through a trust by evangelical Christians) and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corporation (owned by a Mennonite family).

Similar cases heard in federal courts around the country have produced conflicting decisions, which is why this challenge to the Affordable Care Act has risen to the U.S. Supreme Court.

An argument preview on the Supreme Court of the United States blog presents one of the core issues: “At the level of their greatest potential, the two cases raise the profound cultural question of whether a private, profit-making business organized as a corporation can ‘exercise’ religion and, if it can, how far that is protected from government interference… In a manner of speaking, these issues pose the question — a topic of energetic debate in current American political and social discourse — of whether corporations are ‘people.’ The First Amendment protects the rights ‘of the people,’ and the … law protects the religious rights of ‘persons.’ Do profit-making companies qualify as either?”

Do corporations have religious rights?

Are corporations “people”?

How would you decide the Hobby Lobby and Conestoga cases?

Contraceptive Mandate: Women’s rights versus religious rights?

This entry is part 2 of 5 in the series Contraceptive Mandate
One century ago, in March 1914, birth-control pioneer, launched her famous magazine, The Woman Rebel. She took the slogan "No Gods, No Masters" from a famous slogan in the early labor movement. By August of that year, she was indicted under U.S. postal obscenity laws for mailing the magazine.

One century ago, in March 1914, birth-control pioneer Margaret Sanger launched her famous magazine, The Woman Rebel. She took the phrase “No Gods, No Masters” from a famous slogan used in the early labor movement. By August of that year, she was indicted under U.S. postal obscenity laws for mailing the magazine.

The CONTROVERSY over the so-called contraceptive mandate is being framed as a clash of basic rights: women’s reproductive rights versus an employer’s religious rights. Adam Liptak, in yesterday’s New York Times, wrote that the case opening before the U.S. Supreme Court today “pits religious liberty against women’s rights.”

The contraceptive mandate requires employers to provide birth control as part of their insurance plans. The cases before the high court concern the owners of some for-profit corporations who object to the contraceptive mandate on religious grounds. To be precise, they don’t object to all forms of contraception. They object to contraceptives that “end life after conception” such as the morning after pill and intrauterine devices (IUDs).

About one-half of pregnancies in the U.S. are unwanted, according to an article in the prestigious New England Journal of Medicine. Reducing unwanted pregnancies would cut risks to women’s health and costs to families and societies. “Contraception is a highly cost-effective public health measure, and the most effective methods are also the most cost-effective,” write the authors. “Unfortunately, the cost to individuals can be a substantial barrier to the use of highly effective methods.” The most cost-effective methods, such as IUDs, “carry a high up-front cost that can present an insurmountable barrier to women who might otherwise want to use them.”

Is “religious rights versus women’s rights” the correct framing of the issues?

Should public health trump religious objections?

Contraceptive Mandate: Survey says?

This entry is part 3 of 5 in the series Contraceptive Mandate

US Supreme Court Building Washington DC Wikimedia CommonsThe U.S. Supreme Court began hearings yesterday on the request to opt out of the contraceptive mandate on the basis of religious principles. Churches and religious organization can opt out, but the issue in front of the court concerns for-profit corporations whose owners object on religious grounds. The Supreme Court may not pay much attention to public opinion, but what do Americans have to say about this issue?

The latest results come from a new NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll conducted just before the high court hearing. Here’s the question:

“Under the new health care law, health insurance plans are required to cover preventive health services, including prescription birth control. Religious organizations are exempt from the requirement that their health plans cover prescription birth control. Do you think other employers who object to birth control and other contraceptives on religious grounds should or should not be exempt from the requirement that their health plans cover prescription birth control?”

How would you answer it?

A majority of Americans (53%) answered that the employers in question should not be exempt from covering birth control in their employee insurance plans. About four of ten (41%) disagree, saying that employers like Hobby Lobby (one of the cases before the court) should be exempt on religious grounds. Only 6% say they are not sure.

Compared to older Americans, young adults (ages 18–34) are much more likely to say that employers shouldn’t be able to opt out on the basis of religious objections. This is yet another way that the values and attitudes of Millennials are distinctive and different from older Americans—differences that we discussed recently on OurValues.org.

How would you answer the NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll?

Have your opinions about the contraceptive mandate changed or stayed the same over time?

Contraceptive Mandate: Shifting public opinion?

This entry is part 4 of 5 in the series Contraceptive Mandate
Click the image to read Lyle Denniston's entire blog post summarizing the hearing.

Click the image to read Lyle Denniston’s entire blog post summarizing the hearing.

Hearings on the contraceptive mandate, before the U.S. Supreme Court, suggest that we may see a split ruling—with the ultimate decision in the hands of Justice Kennedy. Could this split decision also be reflected in shifting public opinion about the contraceptive mandate?

The cases before the high court concern whether for-profit corporations can opt out of the contraceptive mandate if it violates the religious principles of the corporate owners. The issue is not about all forms of contraception, but only those that end life after conception, such as the morning-after pill.

Court observer Lyle Denniston recaps the argument, calling it “one hearing, two dramas.” In his post on the Supreme Court of the United States blog, he says that that one drama was played by the liberal justices who oppose opting out on religious grounds and the other drama by the conservative justices who appear to support it.

Yesterday, I reported on a national poll about this issue, conducted in early March. A majority of Americans (53%) said that corporations should not be exempt from covering birth control in their insurance plans, even if violates the owner’s religious principles. Forty-one percent disagreed, saying that a corporation should be able to opt out if its owners have religious objections.

Now, a poll taken just this week by Rasmussen Reports shows a different pattern: 40% oppose the religious exemption for the contraceptive mandate, compared to 49% who support it. A December 2012 poll by Rasmussen Reports showed somewhat less support for the religious exemption and somewhat more opposition to it.

Polls sometimes disagree. When they do, there are several possibilities. One is that sample procedures are different, resulting in a pool of respondents who are different in some way. Critics of Rasmussen Reports have said the pollster has a conservative bias. Another possibility is that the questions are worded differently. And, sometimes, polls different because they reflect shifts in public opinion.

Do you think that public opinion has shift about religious exemptions to the contraceptive mandate?

Has your opinion changed, and if so, why?

Contraceptive Mandate: Who has the power?

This entry is part 5 of 5 in the series Contraceptive Mandate

The contraceptive mandate brings together so many issues, each of which can be controversial by itself: sex, reproduction, gender, religion, federalism, and more.

Hobby Lobby store at night

What do the employees want? Their preferences aren’t at issue in this case. The chain’s owners and the high court hold the power.

One issue that hasn’t received enough attention is power. Who has the power? Who doesn’t?

This week, we’ve covered various facets of the cases before the U.S. Supreme Court concerning religious objections, by corporate owners, to the contraceptive mandate. These include the concept of corporations as persons, women’s rights versus religious rights, and differences in public opinion about the issues from the beginning of the month to just this week.

Today, we consider the issue of power. By power, my focus isn’t the power of the high court to decide these matters. It’s the age-old issue of the power of business owners versus employees. Let’s put aside the issue of religious principles. I know that’s at the heart of the matter, but let’s hold it in order to consider the issue of power.

Employees have very little power vis-à-vis the power of the business owners. Business owners make decisions and impose them on their many employees. Employees don’t have a say.

I would love to see results from an opinion poll of the employees of Hobby Lobby. What are their feelings about the contraceptive mandate? Do they want no-cost access to all contraceptive technologies, including the morning-after pill and IUD? Do they have religious objections? Presumably, some do and some don’t. Each employee has his or her own moral and religious principles that come into play when making decisions about conception and contraceptives.

But the high court will make a decision that sweeps over all employees, one way or the other. This decision might favor the will of corporate owners, or it may not—either way, the employees are voiceless.

Should the employees have a say?

Should their voices be taken into consideration?

Or, does the power reside with the corporate owners?