With a Supreme Court ruling adding fuel to the fire, the Burwell vs Hobby Lobby fight is far from over. Let’s start with a little background first. The Affordable Care Act mandated that the employers providing health insurance coverage to employees must cover all forms of birth control. However, not all organizations agreed with the ‘all forms of birth control’ aspect of the law by citing religious reasons for their reservations. The owners of these organizations argued that the law is forcing them to cover contraceptive methods that can displace a fertilized egg, which is equated to abortion by the owners of these organizations. Since abortion and these contraceptive methods are against their religious beliefs, the corporations decided to file suit to get the law amended.
Thus began the Burwell vs Hobby Lobby case which saw Sylvia Burwell, secretary of Health and Human Services, pitched against Hobby Lobby Stores, an arts and crafts chain led by the Green Family, primarily David Green. After a whole slew of media attention and public opinion running along the case, the Supreme Court decided to rule in favor of Hobby Lobby, giving the organization the freedom to choose against offering the female contraceptives that did not align with their religious beliefs. The Religious Freedom and Restoration Act played a major role in this ruling, with courts citing this act and considering these corporations as people under the RFRA, thereby giving them the freedom to exercise their religious rights. The court agreed that the burden of these contraceptives should be pushed elsewhere, if not on employees.
While the case looks like a win for corporations, there are way too many conclusions stemming from the Supreme Court ruling. A major point to note in the ruling is that the court specifically cited ‘closely knit’ corporations, and the definition of that term is open to interpretations. By closely knit, the Supreme Court covered organizations held by families, like the Hobby Lobby, but the interpretation can definitely extend to organizations that are held by people of the same religious group, for instance. Another point worth noting is that the ruling ties the religious beliefs of the corporation to the religious beliefs of the companies’ owners. Such a direct mapping attacks the basic curtain of separation that exists between a shareholder and companies. For some, this breach might be pose danger. For instance, if a corporation breaches a federal law, wouldn’t this ruling act as a precedent and allow people to sue the shareholders instead as corporations are mere means for achieving their intentions? It may seem far fetched but the window has been opened.
The Burwell vs Hobby Lobby case can set a precedent that can be used in several other similar cases. If the contraceptive aspect can be hit, what’s to prevent another case on some other insurance coverage mandate that affects the employer’s religious beliefs? Blood transfusions, medications derived from pigs, intravenous fluids, pills coated with gelatin, vaccinations, etc. can all come under the scanner post this ruling. Needless to say, that is not a precedent Supreme Court wanted to set, and that’s why it specifically mentioned that this ruling was for the contraceptive mandate and should not be applied to other connected insurance mandates.
Another deduction from the Burwell vs Hobby Lobby is the inclination developing for a single payer health system. By shifting the costs of these contraceptive methods elsewhere, which is the employee or government, the Supreme Court has moved the burden for payment. If the Hobby Lobby ruling comes to pass as a precedent for other connected insurance mandates, the costs could again shift to the government. If we continue on this path, we could be running down the path to a single payer healthcare system and the government will become responsible for covering all healthcare costs. We might not be ready for such a change yet, but this ruling definitely has taken us one step closer.