Rounding out a term of controversial decisions, the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling June 30 on the case of Burwell, Secretary of Health and Human Services v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. Much of the disapproval the ruling generated stems not from well-informed analyses. Rather, Americans have once again sounded a battle cry without burdening themselves with the weight of facts or the myriad of legislative alternatives available for the national government.
In the wake of the decision, Americans everywhere leapt to enact real social change, or more accurately, to the nearest laptop computer to tweet out our unvarnished opinions. Scores of GIF-ridden Buzzfeed articles were written, each containing longer lists than before. “How could the court disenfranchise our women this way,” Americans raged, copying and pasting the URL into a new status. Respected journalists took to the air, quoting the latest grim statistics: 100 percent of MSNBC viewers hate Hobby Lobby. Even UT students sounded off. “I definitely believe the Court screwed up,” contends Kelvin Kim, fourth-year student at UT. “To outlaw contraception [...] for certain people? This isn’t the 1940’s. Women have rights.”
It seems that in the wake of this shocking court decision, few have taken even a passing glance at the facts. To consult the source is an arduous task, especially when far more entertaining versions can be told by Kristen Wiig juggling a litter of golden retriever puppies, or by an existential Thought Catalog entry. Trust me. The internet is a shiny and interesting place, and it’s easy to get stuck in a hashtag-generating wormhole from time to time. But sooner or later, that hard-hitting article from The New Yorker turns into one proclaiming that God has been found in ancient Arab DNA, and the music screeches to a halt as you realize you have been duped once again by a completely reputable-looking source. Americans have once again been taking the easy way out, and we’re all suffering enormously for it.
So here’s some background on Burwell for those of you who might not know: this case involved a clash of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) and the national government. The RFRA prohibits the government from substantially burdening a person’s First Amendment rights unless it can be proven that the cost furthers a compelling government interest. (For all you constitutional-law-lovers out there, this test is known as “strict scrutiny”). The second prong of the test requires that mandates constitute “least restrictive means” of serving an interest. And under the second prong of this test, this newfound “right to contraception” ultimately failed. This doesn’t mean that no one gets birth control or that corporations have the same rights as humans, or whatever the slippery slopes and the hyperbolic titles of the Internet may have led you to believe. It just means that where there is a clash of someone’s First Amendment-granted rights versus current legislation (largely subject to the party in power, by the way), the law of the land is going to win every time. Keep in mind this is the Court’s job: to uphold the Constitution, not to act as policy-implementers or legislators.
Another fact worth noting is this is not the only way in which the government could have chosen to pursue a nationwide “right to contraception”. Writing for the majority in Burwell, Justice Samuel Alito acknowledges the number of less restrictive methods available to Congress, including allowing religious corporations to be afforded the same exemptions as religious non-profits. Here, no women are denied rights. Rather, the group-health-insurance issuer bears the cost of the coverage, without imposing cost-sharing requirements on the organization. “Although this procedure requires the issuer to bear the cost of these services,” Alito writes, “HHS has determined this obligation will not impose any net expense to issuers; because cost is less than or equal to cost savings.”It seems that this is not the end of the road for Christian contraceptive coverage. In fact, it is just the beginning.
And if it seems though deciding in favor of religion is unfair, think about what other rights are protected under that good ole’ First Amendment. Your right to say *mostly* whatever you want, for example. My right to write this column. The freedom to live and breathe and speak in peace, knowing that the things we say cannot be prohibited at whim by whoever is in power. I think that’s pretty great. And I think that we need to maintain more of a conscious awareness of those rights before we rage against a Court for acting in protection of them. Asserting this right does not entail undermining the right women have to contraception--the court asserts many alternatives to provide these protections. But they are careful to ensure any amendment-restrictive mandates are pursued through the “least restrictive” manner: a condition under which the act ultimately fails.
We all get a little misinformed. But if there’s anything to take away from this column, it should be this: Please read the case yourself. If you are passionate and interested in women’s rights, then please protect them at all costs. Do what you have to do, align with a political party and make some changes! Go, fight, roar. But please, before you take up arms, take a listen to the oral arguments, or a look at the case itself. This is complicated stuff, and as a nation, I think we do ourselves a pretty large disservice by acting otherwise.
Deppisch is a government senior from League City.