March 14, 2014 — On March 25, the Supreme Court will hear arguments in cases that will decide whether business owners can use their personal religious beliefs to block their employees' birth control coverage. In this special edition of our monthly quote round up, we take a look at the key issues before the court.
"What is at stake before the Supreme Court is whether a CEO's beliefs can trump a woman's right to healthcare." -- Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.), in a floor speech on the Supreme Court contraceptive coverage cases, adding that women "should have access to quality medical care no matter who signs their paycheck" (Cox, "Floor Action," The Hill, 3/11). In the cases, arts-and-crafts retail chain Hobby Lobby and cabinet maker Conestoga Wood Specialties argue that the requirement goes against their owners' personal religious beliefs and violates the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (PL 103-141), which "protects a person's exercise of religion" (Women's Health Policy Report, 2/11).
"[T]he Supreme Court has held repeatedly that the Constitution is not violated when society enacts laws ... that have the unintended effect of limiting some people's religious practice." -- USA Today contributor Tom Krattenmaker, comparing the companies' lawsuit to a vetoed Arizona bill that would have shielded businesses that violate anti-discrimination laws (USA Today, 4/11). Both the lawsuits and the Arizona bill make a "[c]aricature" out of religious freedom, he argues, asking, "[W]hat about the rights of the many employees who do not share the boss' moral reservations ... ?" (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/5).
"[T]he corporate identity of the claimants to religious protection adds a new and troubling dimension at a time when the Supreme Court seems intent on enhancing corporate power." -- New York Times op-ed contributor Linda Greenhouse, a former Supreme Court reporter for the Times, analyzing the legal issues involved in the contraceptive coverage cases and other recent examples of for-profit businesses claiming religious protections (New York Times, 3/5).
"[Emergency contraception] won't cause an abortion in the legal and medical sense of the word." -- Princeton University's James Trussell, an expert on reproductive health, explaining the scientific consensus on how EC works and pregnancy is defined (Reuters, 3/11). By contrast, the owners of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga assert that life begins at fertilization and that certain forms of EC can prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus, which they consider tantamount to an abortion (Women's Health Policy Report, 3/11).
"Exempting ordinary, nonreligious, profit-seeking businesses from a general law because of the religious beliefs of their owners would be extraordinary, especially when doing so would shift the costs of observing those beliefs to those of other faiths or no faith." -- Frederick Mark Gedicks of Brigham Young University Law School, in a Washington Post opinion piece. Gedicks, co-author of a recent Harvard Civil Rights-Civil Liberties Law Review paper on the litigation, argues that allowing for-profit companies to bypass a law because of religious beliefs would violate the First Amendment's Establishment Clause, which "prevents the government from requiring people to bear the burdens of religions to which they do not belong and whose teachings they do not practice" (Washington Post, 1/15).