Outside the Hobby Lobby in Laurel, Maryland, it is 99 degrees. Yesterday was a little cooler. Yesterday the TV stations were here, Channel 5 and Channel 9. They set up shop out in the parking lot, neatly centered in a kind of Jesus Triangle with Chick-Fil-A across the way and sweetFROG Yogurt (which stands for “Fully Rely On God”) a few stores down the strip mall. Today the heat comes up through the soles of your shoes like the bass at a rock concert, and the television stations are gone, and it’s all very still in that specifically suburban way, where you can start to feel bored and stuck and aimless just thinking about those same sounds: that kill of the car engine, the brrrring of the cash register, the just off-screen traffic of the highway.
Deyanira* has never been to Hobby Lobby before, but she was having coffee at Burger King this morning and heard the name on the news. Thought she’d swing by. “Something about women’s rights,” she said. “I didn’t get the whole story.”
We explain the case to her, briefly: the Supreme Court ruled that business owners with religious objections to birth control may defy federal rules requiring most employers to include contraceptive care in their health plans.
She shakes her head. “That’s amazing to me.”
Good amazing or bad amazing?
“Bad amazing. I know there’s freedom of religion, but they are a business. There’s nothing wrong with birth control.”
She’s the first person to stop and talk. Mostly the customers — more than a trickle, less than a crowd — hurry past, their arms loaded up with picture frames, plastic bags dangling from the crooks of their elbows. One visibly pregnant woman stayed long enough to find out about the SCOTUS ruling, but said she’d “need to take time to think about it” to figure out how she felt.
But Deyanira is a social worker. “I’ve seen horrible things that happen to kids who aren’t wanted, or to teenagers who have children who don’t want them. Women, it’s your body. And men are used to deciding things for us.”
“I’ve worked in foster care, and I see it all the time. These kids end up in Child Protective Services. Of course, the Republicans say you can give them up for adoption, but…” She trails off. I offer that it is not so simple, giving someone up for adoption. And that it’s not exactly free and easy to be pregnant, or to give birth. She nods. “They’re missing the true reality of poverty. They always attack Planned Parenthood, too, and what’s wrong with planning your family?”
She came to New York from the Dominican when she was 12 years old. She’s been in the States forty-two years now, in Washington for seventeen. “There’s more liberty for women” in the U.S. than her home country, she said. “But there’s this underlying control [of women], and it’s this way. And there’s economic control.”
Ken G.* walks out of the store with a bag and his engineering employee ID on a lanyard around his neck. “I sit with Ginsburg on it,” he said of the ruling. “I think we’re opening up Pandora’s box. A lot of decisions about women aren’t made by women.” He is unenthusiastic as he says this, just matter-of-fact.
“To what level do we give people protections based on religious beliefs?” he asked. “And at what point do they subjugate other people’s religious beliefs?” He repeated what he said before, about who makes decisions for women. “And these are mostly patriarchal religions.”
If you feel so strongly about it, Ken, what are you doing shopping at Hobby Lobby? “It’s the only place within fifty miles of here that had what I needed.”
After about half an hour, a manager comes outside to say “no comment” to any questions about the SCOTUS case, and also to say that we could not speak to any employees, and also that we are not allowed inside the store. Except actually, we had already been inside the store. Deyanira isn’t the only one who’d never been to a Hobby Lobby before.
Inside Hobby Lobby, Fourth of July merchandise is already on sale. Every season was duly represented: a wall of wreaths and Christmas tree ornaments, an aisle of red-orange wares that smelled like fall. You could buy a Duck Dynasty poster, if you were still so inclined to buy a Duck Dynasty poster. There’s Americana with “Land of the FREE” painted on it in red and blue, and there are walls and walls of crosses.
Outside Hobby Lobby, where we are required to remain, there is a sign in the window:
Full time benefits include a medical and dental plan. You can ask for an application, if you’re allowed inside.
*Last name withheld upon request.With additional reporting by Adam Peck.