CREDIT: AP Photo/Ed Andrieski
If Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties — the two for-profit companies that are asking the Supreme Court to grant them a religious exemption from Obamacare’s birth control coverage requirement — are successful in their legal battle, it could open up the door for businesses across the country to start chipping away at their workers’ insurance benefits. There’s no telling exactly how many companies would attempt to employ the same “religious freedom” arguments to deny their employees coverage for certain health services.
But it is pretty apparent who will be affected first: The people who work at the dozens of other companies that tried to get their birth control objections in front of the Supreme Court.
Since the spring of 2012, 71 other companies have attempted to challenge Obamacare’s birth control provision in court. Gretchen Borchelt, the senior counsel and director of state reproductive health policy at the National Women’s Law Center (NWLC), told Mother Jones that a ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby would most immediately affect the estimated 22,000 people who work at those businesses. After all, their bosses have obviously already tried to seek this loophole.
NWLC has been tracking the ongoing contraceptive lawsuits closely, and by their count, over 100 lawsuits have been filed in federal court based on the same claims that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Woods are making. That includes cases brought by both for-profit and non-profit employers. Aside from Hobby Lobby, 46 of these cases involving for-profit companies are still pending, and their outcomes may directly depend on how the Supreme Court rules.
The businesses that have sued to withhold coverage for birth control range from construction companies, to law firms, to dairy corporations, to car dealerships.
Hobby Lobby’s supporters are attempting to downplay the ripple effects of the company’s Supreme Court case. “To me, the implications of the case are not all that huge,” Mark Rienzi, a law professor at Catholic University and for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the group that is arguing against the contraceptive provision on behalf of Hobby Lobby, told NBC News. “Virtually all businesses are fine with the contraceptive mandate. It’s only a tiny percentage that sued.”
“I think the plaintiffs in these cases, along with their supporters, have done an excellent job of crafting the messaging and shaping the debate, and it’s been playing out on their grounds,” Adam Sonfield, a senior public policy associate at the Guttmacher Institute, told ThinkProgress in an interview earlier this month. Sonfield recently published a policy review about the central claims in the Supreme Court case, and believes that allowing corporations to compromise their workers’ full range of insurance benefits is a “frightening road for us to be going down” as a society.
For instance, in addition to taking away coverage for workers’ birth control prescriptions, a Hobby Lobby win also threatens to compromise the doctor-patient relationship. Since the company also argues it doesn’t want to provide “related education and counseling” about the birth control methods it opposes, that could prevent workers from discussing those types of contraception with their doctor if they want that doctor’s visit to be covered by their insurance. And legal experts also warn that a broader interpretation of religious liberty could compromise LGBT Americans’ access to health care services.
The 71 other companies that are likely eager to capitalize on the Hobby Lobby ruling could end up making a very poor business decision if they stop covering their workers’ birth control. Wider access to birth control helps keep women in the workforce. And covering contraception in employees’ health benefits actually tends to save money in the long term, given the high costs of pregnancy and childbirth.