Birth Control: Is it up to you — and your boss?

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The U.S. Supreme Court says it will consider a case where private employers say should be able to refuse to cover contraception in insurance policies because of their religious beliefs. Photo courtesy

The U.S. Supreme Court says it will consider a case where private employers say should be able to refuse to cover contraception in insurance policies because of their religious beliefs. Photo courtesy

Is your access to free contraception up to you, your insurer — and your boss? That’s the starter Q for today (Reminder 1: Keep it civil!)

The U.S. Supreme Court is taking up a case that would affect millions of people who rely on insurance coverage for contraception costs.

The U.S. Supreme Court says it will consider a case where private employers say should be able to refuse to cover contraception in insurance policies because of their religious beliefs. Photo courtesy

The U.S. Supreme Court says it will consider a case where private employers say should be able to refuse to cover contraception in insurance policies because of their religious beliefs. Photo courtesy

At issue: How much of a person is a private for-profit corporation? The Supreme Court already found that corporations are “persons” with political free speech rights in the influential 2010 Citizens United case. Now, the question is whether a “corporation” can hold a beliefs protected by Constitutional free exercise of religion.

In the case the court will consider, the evangelical owner of the national Hobby Lobby chain and the Mennonite family that owns Conestoga Wood Specialties, are challenging the contraception coverage mandate in the Affordable Care Act because it does not offer a conscience exemption for religious private employers.

Both employers say contraception drugs and devices are abortifacient and therefore it is a violation of their religious beliefs to require they offer employees insurance plans that cover these.

A few of many questions that follow from this:

— Do you need to live by your private employer’s religious convictions?

— If the court permits this, what would be the limits? Can an employer refuse to offer insurance that would cover medical expenses for an abortion in cases that risk the life or health of the woman? Can it refuse to cover mental health treatment not in accord with the owners’ beliefs?

— If you are a boss, how much say do you want in the family life of employees?

Reminder 2:  We have a rule at Faith & Reason. All views, respectfully presented, are welcome. So keep your tone civil, please.

And, as always, post early, post often and share with your friends.



  • Leslie Palma

    I don’t think the question is whether you have to live by your employer’s conscience. No employer is saying you can’t get birth control. What they are saying is, buy it yourself. I have three kids, all three needed braces. Total cost: $17,500, uncovered. Two of them wear contacts and/or glasses, as do I. These are virtually uncovered costs. A family member needs a very expensive hearing aid. Also uncovered. Why is contraception the most important thing a government can provide for its people?

  • Chris Candido

    That’s right. Your boss shouldn’t have anything to do with your birth control or abortion drug decisions. Therefore, your boss shouldn’t be forced to pay for them, either directly, or via accounting gimmick. And the government shouldn’t force your boss to be involved in these decision by threatening to put the company out of business if the family who owns the company doesn’t want to be involved.

  • Chris Candido

    Question: if your boss doesn’t pay for your movie ticket, is he blocking your access to the theater?

  • Frank

    People can live by their own convictions and pay for those convictions themselves.

  • Good point, Frank. But… What if your employer were, say, a Jehovah’s Witness who opposes blood transfusions and did not want to provide coverage for that in employee plans. Is that okay?

  • Many people agree with that argument. But let’s take that a step further. You work for say, a non-profit community hospital where the policy is to allow same-sex couples to list insure a spouse under the family plan. And the hospital is bought by a religious organization that opposes same-sex marriage. Then what?

  • There are a great number of basic health care coverage requirements — contraception is only one of them.

  • Frank

    Good question. I guess if its a life saving measure then insurance should cover it. Birth control and abortions almost never fall into that category but if they did I would support it being covered.

    Honestly I think health insurance should be taken completely out of employer hands unless they choose to offer it.

  • Chris Candido

    But Cathy, that is a hypothetical having nothing to do with these family businesses founded and run from the begininng by the same family with same convictions. The federal government shouldn’t be imposing mandates that force people, including job-creators like the Hahns and the Greens, to either bow to the government’s moral judgments or go out of business. This is clear violation of the First Amendment. It’s tragic that we are even having a serious discussion that our Constitution should be sold out for the price of an easily-accessed abortion drug.

  • Chris Candido

    Apples and oranges. Birth control and early abortion drugs are not life-preserving treatments. In fact, they are not “health care” as traditionally understood. A better comparison would be cosmetic surgery or “male vitality” treatments.

    (Please, folks, I know that some people treat hormonal and other disorders with the BC regimen, so don’t bring that up. We all know that we’re talking about BC used for BC.)

  • Larry Crabtree

    A definition of ethics is at stake in this argument. Any company is birthed, organized, motivated, and guided by owners/leaders with ethical convictions. Does the government have the right and authority to force a change in those ethical standards foundationally held by those who own and guide their company? I believe any government who forces ethical changes within a privately owned corporation is a government to be feared. Employees may freely choose to work for companies that agree with their own ethos.

  • Matthew

    I think the issue of corporate personhood is a red herring. It doesn’t matter if you are employed by an individual, partnership, LLC or S-Corp. The employer may not discriminate against his or her employees or customers. Nor, it seems to me, should the employer have any say over what religious practices the employee observes, nor over what is covered by the employee’s health insurance.

    Personally, I think tying health insurance to employment has been a huge mistake. I’d much rather have employers provide tax free money to employees to go buy insurance on an individual market. Then this sort of thing wouldn’t even be an issue.

  • Anne-Marie Cottone

    True. What if your boss belongs to a religion that doesn’t allow blood transfusions? It seems many of the comments on this issue, both here and on other sites, are more concerned with the morality of contraception and abortion than with the issue of whether your boss gets to decide how much medical coverage you have. Your boss shouldn’t get a say in your sex life.

  • Anne-Marie Cottone

    That’s not all that hypothetical. Look at the governor of Oklahoma who has decided to deny benefits to National Guard members because the benefits would have to extend to same sex couples.

  • Jen

    I’m not sure why we would dismiss birth control used for other purposes. It’s incredibly common- studies say rates range up to 58% who use oral hormones (birth control pills) for exclusively or partly non-contraceptive reasons. Birth control is prescribed to lessen severe acne, to regulate irregular or painful menstrual cycles, to relieve severe PMS, and to treat endometriosis, polycystic ovarian syndrome, even cervical, ovarian, and other cancers. Should my employer not cover those conditions? Use of birth control for non-contraceptive purposes is allowed by the Catholic Church- though still not covered by the church as an employer. Maybe employers who have objections to birth control can require some sort of vow that women won’t have sex while being treated? Perhaps they can swab these women randomly, like drug testing, to be sure they aren’t taking advantage of the contraceptive purpose? Too intrusive? Just cover birth control.

  • Pingback: Can Corporations Have Religious Beliefs? The Supreme Court Will Soon Answer That Question()

  • Frank

    No just have exceptions if its prescribed for non birth control reasons.

  • Anne-Marie Cottone

    BC? It’s so repugnant to you that you can’t even spell it out? So what exactly is wrong with birth control? If these companies really feel that contraception is wrong, they could try providing much more generous maternity leave and better wages

  • Anne-Marie Cottone

    Frank, what’s it to you?

  • LisaWinslow

    Birth control IS a basic part of comprehensive healthcare for women. Does this employer pay for men to have vasectomies or reversals, viagra? Which, to me is apart of men’s healthcare, and therefore should be covered.

    Far as I know, this case is about employers forcing female employees to follow the religious rules of said employer. The right to free religious expression is afforded to YOU. YOU get to follow whatever screw-ball rules you want to, but you dont have the right to force others to follow YOUR rules. By denying comprehensive healthcare coverage to women who do not follow the same religious rules is demonstrating an arrogance that is just not awarded to any one religion in this country, courtesy of the Constitution.

    Maybe these companies should not offer health insurance, or hire men only, or only people with the same religious views. Of course they may come under discrimination scrutiny, but as shown with the BSA, a private entity has the right to discriminate. It doesnt make you all that popular but, my guess is, they dont care what other people think or they wouldnt be trying to force their views on them.

  • LisaWinslow

    Are you comparing women’s healthcare to going to the movies? Thats a little insulting. People dont have to go to a movie once a year to make sure something isnt destroying the projector.

  • LisaWinslow

    So, you think children should still be working in sweatshops? Work safty rules? A minimum wage? or how about a WAGE at all in the south? Isnt that government forcing a change of of eithics? From unethical to ethical? Government has always had to supervise and regulate corporations ethics when it comes to employees.

  • Larry

    If your boss is part of a corporation and not a mom and pop store, their beliefs are an irrelevancy to the nature of the company. A corporation, like Hobby Lobby, is a legally separate entity from its owners. It has no religious belief because it is not an individual. It does not assume the characteristics of an individual.

    Company owners want all the benefits of being separate from their companies but none of the costs.

  • Larry

    If they are not a sole proprietorship the beliefs of its owners are not relevant to a company. Those “job creators’ already enjoy the benefits of incorporation including shielded personal assets and liabilities. The flip side to such an arrangement is their will is not the sole controlling factor of such companies. They chose to make their companies separate from themselves to their benefit, now they can deal with its downside.

    There already is a mandate to provide adequate health insurance. Congress passed it, the Supreme Court upheld it. Its the law. Since we no not have public single payer healthcare, the responsibility for providing adequate healthcare resides in the companies.

    Of course what is truly infuriating is these companies who want to deny family planning also oppose paid maternity/medical leave, affordable day care, and child nutritional aid. They want people to have babies but don’t give a damn about actually caring for one.

    Frankly this debate is typical of short sighted conservatives. Had they not fought against single payer public healthcare, they would not be in such a position.

  • Larry

    More appropriate question, does your boss have the right to tell you which movie to buy tickets for?

    Health insurance is compensation for work performed for an employer. Health care decisions are purely an employee’s. It is the equivalent to their paycheck. An employer has no more right to make decisions about employee’s healthcare decisions as they have a right to tell employees how to spend their money.

  • Larry

    No, its a matter of employers trying to make decisions for employees they have no business doing. Its not the healthcare options which is relevant here, its who is deciding for them.

    Thanks to Congress and the Supreme Court, family planning options are considered integral to adequate healthcare coverage for Americans. You already lost the battle for this. What is happening now is just a feeble attempt to avoid it using a non-existent claim for corporate religious rights.

  • Larry

    Well it shows the level of contempt he has for women’s healthcare. Plus crappy analogy is always the last resort of people who don’t have a meritorious argument. Chris is arguing that an employer can tell its workers how to spend their money.

  • Larry

    There is a perfect example of Christian love in action. Rather than consider the common good, they value dogma over people and act spitefully.

  • Larry

    Well its because they are not pro-family, they are “pro-family values”.

    Meaning they don’t give a damn about the ability of a family to survive in a sane manner but want to be self-righteous nabobs telling people not to have relations, drink, smoke or watch TV-MA programs.

  • Michael

    I agree, Larry. Although the Supremes ruled that corporations are people, I won’t believe it until one is jailed for its misdeeds. Still, those ‘people’ rights are going to cause problems for those of us who live and breathe. How long will it be before employers limit mental health benefits to providers of religiously-based therapy?

  • Rev. Dorothy Okray

    I think if everyone who believed in and/or used birth control would immediately stop shopping at Hobby Lobby, I am quite sure the owners would decide that they would not inflict their “religious convictions” on their employees and the problem would be resolved! I do not think anyone has the right to demand others live by their religious beliefs. That was one of the reasons many fled to this country.

  • LisaWinslow

    Very well said, Larry, Thank you.

  • Larry


    Being a person is not the same as having the rights of an individual citizen. A child is a person, but has no right to vote. Corporate speech was a widely recognized thing long before Citizens United. It generally applied to advertising, official policy statements and internal communications. Corporate religion never existed. There is no sane way it can possibly exist.

    How long will it be before a corporation tries to excuse sectarian discrimination. Imagine a company saying it violates their religious beliefs to hire a muslim.

    As someone said, “I won’t believe a corporation is a person until Texas executes one.”

  • Larry

    Amen Reverend, Amen.

  • Deacon John M. Bresnahan

    A big part of the problem is that, instead of having a real give and take debate on health-care in the Congress resulting in a typical respectful compromise., the controlling Dem House Speaker arrogantly wise-cracked that people could read the 2,500 page bill after it was passed. Then she proceeded to use Democratic total control of the government to proceed to act like a dictator. But dictatorship always leads to rotten solutions for difficult problems.
    Now the dictatorship mentality is working hard to defend Obamacare by telling people they were all too stupid to pick their own medical insurance coverage. That it was”substandard’ or too expensive so the liberals in Congress just had to save them from themselves.

  • Frank

    People have the right to make their own decisions and pay for it. No one is stopping them.

  • Frank

    All I am saying is that people have their own choices to make and should pay for their own choices instead of expecting others to.

  • Frank

    No one is forcing anyone to live by another’s convictions except those that demand others pay for something that they want.

  • Duane Lamers

    Ms Grossman, why not come out directly and clearly and state that you believe it is the taxpayers’ responsibility to pay for birth control? You know that it isn’t a “health issue” unless you choose to redefine “health.”

    Nor do you mention the fact that all insurance plans must include maternity costs despite the fact that many insured do not need this feature. The same can be said about many other features of programs that your president says people need.

  • Duane Lamers

    Yes, “it’s the law.” Also on the lawbooks are immigration regulations which are not enforced despite their being “the law.”

    And then there are Obama’s many unilateral changes made to “The Law” despite the fact that laws are to be made and changed only by Congress. Perhaps you find no problem with selective enforcement of laws–as long as you are in agreement with the selections made.

  • The employer is paying for it either way, whether they give you a paycheck to buy it or subsidize your insurance to buy it.

  • Frank

    No once they pay someone its no longer their money. There is a distinction.

  • Larry

    Only when the decisions are something they have a right to control. Employers do not have a right to control how their compensation is used by their employees. You are advocating taking decisions away from the people who have a right to make them.

    An employee’s health insurance is their benefit, one heavily regulated and controlled by the government as a matter of course. If employers wanted to divest themselves of the responsibility of providing such things, they have that option. They just don’t have the option of telling the insured how to use the policies.

  • Larry

    That would only be true if the ACA did not exist. But it does. These companies are looking for an excuse to get out of it using silly arguments.

  • Ian Clark

    The fact that something is covered, does not mean that it will be used. And so here is what I think: if you’re running a business and have strong religious convictions, work to create an environment in the workplace which supports your beliefs. Lets say you run a Catholic hospital and are worried about having to provide plans which cover birth control. Rather than try to fight every detail in your policies and in the law, why not work actively in your community to show people the moral ills of choosing to use birth control or having an abortion?

    Jesus said “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s”. And so in he same way, if the law requires you to pay for something, pay for it. You’ll never be totally happy. But, equally, give “unto God” – that is to say, preach and live the gospel so as to show people how to live in accordance with Scripture, even if it is contrary to the law.

  • Frank

    Not at all. People can spend their own money how they choose, including on birth control and abortions.

    Employers have a choice on what benefits they want to provide. If someone wants a different set of benefits they can find a company to work for that offers what they want. If employers are forced to pay for things they don’t want to they will just stop providing heath coverage.

  • Frank

    ACA as it was passed does not and will never exist. You’ll see.

  • Argon

    Hmm… Private corporations should not be subject to ethical constraints posed by governments under which they operate? So corporations are also exempt from anti-bribery laws? Ayn Rand would be happy.