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Many Arguments in Contraceptive Coverage Cases are 'Hooey,' Washington Post Columnist Argues

Many Arguments in Contraceptive Coverage Cases are 'Hooey,' Washington Post Columnist Argues

January 9, 2014 — In the coming months, there will be a lot of talk about the contraceptive coverage rules, but most of it "will be wrong, either (from opponents of the mandate) overstating the infringement on religious freedom or (from supporters) exaggerating the impact of excluding coverage for birth control," Washington Post columnist Ruth Marcus writes.

To clarify the issue for the "soon-to-be-perplexed," Marcus offers a "guide" to two of the court cases challenging the provision.

She writes, "The most immediate issue, with Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor issuing a temporary stay of the mandate, involves the most sympathetic of plaintiffs, the Little Sisters of the Poor," who "claim that merely signing [a] form forces them to 'abandon their religious convictions and participate in the government's system to distribute and subsidize contraception, sterilization, and abortion-inducing drugs and devices.'" Marcus adds, "The Sisters are sincere; their legal argument is hooey," noting, "[E]ven if the Sisters signed, their employees would not obtain contraceptive coverage" because of a "separate law [that] exempts church-run insurance plans."

Plaintiffs' arguments are "even hooier" in the case involving craft store chain Hobby Lobby and "whether the contraceptive mandate violates the religious freedom of for-profit corporations whose owners object to providing some or all forms of birth control," Marcus writes. She adds, "It is one thing to say that corporations have free speech rights to express political views," but it "is quite another to impute religious beliefs to a corporate entity and to let those beliefs trump employees' rights under federal law."

Marcus argues, "Treating contraception as a preventive service makes moral and economic sense. It will result in fewer abortions and lower medical and other costs." She notes, "Yet even if the Little Sisters and Hobby Lobby were to win, the vast majority of women with insurance coverage would enjoy access to contraception without a deductible or copayment," while "[s]ome women would have to pay out of pocket -- as, presumably, they did pre-Obamacare -- and that would impose an economic burden."

She concludes, "Denying contraceptive coverage is not, as the White House asserts, coming 'between a woman and her doctor.' It's coming between a woman and her insurance company. That's a difference worth remembering" (Marcus, Washington Post, 1/7).