So very many things wrong with the Hobby Lobby decision

The Supreme Court decided last week that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act applies to closely held corporations as well as to individual people, and that because of that, the ACA’s standards for insurance coverage that include contraception cannot be applied to companies with religious conflicts with contraception. The RFRA doesn’t explicitly apply to corporations, but as part of the growing trend that corporations are people, the Court ruled that they are in this case. (Citizens United wasn’t explicitly cited in the court’s opinion, but was brought up by the plaintiffs.)

There are so very many problems with this ruling that I don’t know where to begin.

The first giant problem with the ever-expanding “corporations are people” argument is that one of the primary reasons companies incorporate is to limit liability for the individuals involved. Giving more and more individual rights to corporations means we’re approaching the situation (if we’re not there already) where a corporation has all the rights of a person, but few to none of the responsibilities. In this case, Hobby Lobby’s owners get the benefits of being legally separated from their company, but none of the drawbacks. They get to apply their personal beliefs to the corporation, but the corporation’s liabilities aren’t applied to them as individuals. So, if an employee with severe fibroids and blood clotting issues (so no pill) can’t get an IUD and has severe anemia or ends up in the hospital getting massive blood transfusions, she can sue the company, but not the owners. They get to stand at a safe distance from the effects of their own decisions. If you want your company to be an extension of you, then maybe don’t incorporate.

Also, the case is based on the companies’ stated belief that the four contraception methods they object to (ella, Plan B, and both hormonal and copper IUDs) are abortifacents. That’s blatantly not true. First off, preventing the implantation of a fertilized egg is not an abortion. It’s not. Period. Words mean things. Now, you can have a religious belief that a fertilized egg is a person and that it’s wrong to end its existence. (That creates all kinds of slippery slopes because so many fertilized eggs just don’t implant anyway—you could claim that almost *anything* might potentially prevent a fertilized egg from implanting.) But you don’t get to call it “abortion,” not if you’re being honest. In the same way, you’re free to believe that people shouldn’t kiss until they’re married, but you can’t redefine kissing as “premarital sex.” Secondly, Plan B *doesn’t* prevent implantation. (The FDA label says that it “may” while further studies have shown that it doesn’t.)

This is a huge issue, because you can have religious beliefs about absolutely anything, and if observable facts can be ignored, there’s really no limit to what you could claim religious protection for.

Another issue is that Hobby Lobby self-insures. People defending the decision point to that as a reason they should be exempt. Two problems with that. One, no law requires them to self-insure. That’s their choice. If it creates a moral conflict with them regarding birth control, they’re free to get insurance from an insurance company like most other employers do. But more than that, the fact that they self-insure means that they’re selling a product, insurance coverage, to their employees. Employees pay into a pool for self-insurance, just as they pay some or all of their insurance premiums when their employer uses an insurance company. The ACA sets standards for that product, which Hobby Lobby’s insurance doesn’t comply with.

So because of their religious beliefs, they get to sell a substandard product to a nearly captive audience. Despite the exchanges, employer health insurance is often the only affordable option for most people. Even worse, people with employer-provided insurance don’t qualify for subsidies for the exchanges, and Hobby Lobby gets tax benefits for providing insurance. So, to recap, they get to receive tax benefits for something they’re not actually doing, disqualify their employees for a government benefit that they should qualify for, and sell a substandard product.

Additionally, for all the people saying it’s totally not a problem because they cover 16 of the 20 methods, the *reason* that there are so many different methods of birth control is that not all of them work for everyone. (I’ve personally been on at least half a dozen pills and a couple other hormonal methods.) There are different benefits and side-effects, there are different medical conditions that interact with birth control methods in different ways. IUDs are excluded, for example, despite being one of the most reliable methods. Additionally, IUDs are used for many of the same non-pregnancy reasons that pills are (PCOS, endometriosis, fibroids, etc.) and don’t have the same risks with blood clotting.

Not to mention that emergency contraception is a different medical need entirely, one that other hormonal methods don’t really meet. If the condom breaks, making an appointment with your doctor to start on Ortho-Tricyclene or Depo-Provera isn’t going to help the immediate issue. Covering contraception but not emergency contraception is like saying, “We’re already covering your SSRI, why should we pay for Xanax too?” or “We’re covering your maintenance asthma meds; you don’t need an inhaler.”

If a woman has a strong medical need to not be pregnant (and let’s say she’s married to avoid the “keep your legs shut” bs), her doctor might recommend an IUD as the best option. She may well have tried other hormonal methods, or may have specific contraindications for those methods. But Hobby Lobby and the Supreme Court apparently know better than her and her doctor what’s medically necessary.

Also, if Hobby Lobby’s opposition to these forms of contraception is so sincere, how is it that they covered them previously? Not to mention investing in companies that produce them, and buying everything from China, land of mandatory abortions (real abortions, not “abortions” that happen when a fertilized egg maybe doesn’t implant).

The other issue is the giant door this opens up. If Hobby Lobby can opt out of covering 4 methods, certainly a Catholic business owner can opt out of all 20. (In fact, the Supreme Court later stated that their ruling did apply to all methods.) And despite the opinion stating that it’s not relevant to other exemptions from other treatments (e.g., blood transfusions, anything based on stem cells, mental health), the logic is exactly the same. Not to mention the rather terrifying precedent that a company can have a religious objection to any generally applicable law, and that a belief that you only hold when it costs you money and not when it makes you money still counts as “sincerely held.”


Freedom and Vaccination

So, recently on the Unfundamentalist Christians page, the discussion came up about a recent ruling that people who choose not to vaccinate their kids for religious reasons don’t get to send them to school during an outbreak. One person was arguing that this is a slippery slope to letting the government decide what you do with your body if you can’t afford to homeschool, and that it’s not really a serious public health concern anyway because it doesn’t affect the majority. (To be fair, he was fine with keeping unvaccinated kids home during an outbreak, but was concerned the decision could lead to not letting them attend public school at all.)

That’s obviously a fairly weak argument, especially the bit about the majority. The majority of people will never get cancer, either (one in two men and one in three women, according to the American Cancer Society). So, let’s just not worry about that, because natural selection will sort it out, right?

The other thing that people don’t get is that vaccines, while really really useful, are not perfect. Adults end up with a much less effective vaccine over time if they don’t get regular boosters. Not to mention that if you get enough of a virus in your system, it can overwhelm your immune system, even with the “extra training” it got from a vaccine. So, yes, choosing not to vaccinate, if enough people do it, does have risks for the vaccinated population.

I thought that whole “the government telling me what I have to put into my body” line of argument was interesting, because it seems to be a common trend in discussions of religious freedom. It’s the idea that not only are your religious beliefs and practices protected, but that the consequences of those beliefs should be applied to other people, rather than to you. It’s the idea that if you choose to make your child a health risk to the kids around him, that figuring out how to deal with that is the school’s problem, not yours. There are examples of this all over. It’s the expectation that if you’re a pharmacist who gets fired for refusing to provide birth control, you’re a victim of persecution rather than someone who chose a poor career fit and then refused to do their job. It’s not up to you to find a job that fits your beliefs. Rather, it’s up to your employer to work around it or your customers to put up with crappy treatment. Or if you work at the courthouse and don’t want to sign same-sex marriage licenses, you shouldn’t have to, even if that screws over taxpayers who came in expecting you to do the job you’re being paid for.

Or, recently, if you’re a secular business owner who chooses to be willfully misinformed about the nature of contraceptives, you can get all the tax benefits of providing insurance without actually meeting the minimum legal standards for that coverage.

I’m a big believer in religious freedom. But I don’t think it should be a Get Out of Jail Free card for any rule you feel shouldn’t apply to you. Particularly not when you’re asking other people—whether those are your employees, the taxpayers, or your kid’s classmates—to shoulder the burden of your beliefs.

Redditors hit rock-bottom, then break out the dynamite

I’m pretty much past being shocked by the hateful things people say to and about fat people for daring to exist in the world, but every once in a while, the trolls still manage to surprise me. In this case, it’s a bunch of redditors making fun of a woman with a spinal injury who’s trying to raise the three grand she needs for a scooter on GoFundMe. Because, you know, she’s fat, and obviously spinal injuries magically fix themselves if you lose weight.

Atchka’s post at Fierce Freethinking Fatties has a really good explanation of the situation, as well as what it illustrates about fat hatred. Casey is literally the poster child for “doing everything right.” She has a medical issue that’s responsible for her weight, and she was extremely active until she had a freaking spinal fracture. And yet, none of that counts for anything in the minds of the haters. If you’re fat, you literally cannot be active enough to prove to these people that you aren’t spending 23 and a half hours a day on the couch eating donuts. They can see pictures of you dancing, running, whatever, and they will make up weird justifications for why that isn’t real exercise, deliberately misunderstand things you say, or otherwise stick their fingers in their ears and go “LALALA, can’t hear you! LOL UR FAT.” You could literally lap them on the track, running backwards and blindfolded, and they’d find some way to claim that they’re more active—and therefore a more worthwhile person–than you.

This comes only a few days after one of Ragen Chastain’s obsessed trolls sent out a phony fact-checking email about her dance championships, trying to “prove” that she hasn’t really won competitions.

I do understand where it comes from. Cognitive dissonance is not a fun feeling, so it’s easy to twist reality to suit your biases. And everybody does that to some extent. But the extent of willful denial of reality these people show, not to mention the level of obsession required to spend hours of your life trashing someone on a forum or sending fraudulent emails to try to screw over their speaking engagements, it just boggles the mind.

In light of this kind of pervasive harassment, it really bothers me that people treat internet bullying as a minor inconvenience, or something that’s completely apart from “the real world,” when that’s not true at all. The trolls don’t live on their own little island somewhere—they’re right here in the real world with the rest of us. They could be your coworker, your neighbor, your cousin. And I sincerely doubt that anyone who’s that full of hate is limiting their nastiness to online interactions. Not to mention that cyberbullying *frequently* crosses into the victim’s “real life.” Often, that’s the whole point—find out and distribute their personal information, lie about them to their boss or their friends. It’s not something you can walk away from by turning off the computer.