Sectarian Lobbies Are Demanding That Federal Judges Curtail Americans' Access to Reproductive Health Care

By Boston, Rob | Church & State, February 2013 | Go to article overview

Sectarian Lobbies Are Demanding That Federal Judges Curtail Americans' Access to Reproductive Health Care


Boston, Rob, Church & State


Hobby Lobby is one of the largest chains of craft stores in the United States. It's a popular spot for people who want to buy fabrics, decorative paint, sewing kits, scrapbooking supplies and so on.

Selling arts and crafts supplies would not seem to be particularly religious in nature, and many of the chain's customers might be surprised to learn that Hobby Lobby considers itself an evangelical Christian enterprise.

A visit to the company's website bears this out. The firm's mission statement reads, "Honoring the Lord in all we do by operating the company in a manner consistent with Biblical principles." It also adds, "We believe that it is by God's grace and provision that Hobby Lobby has endured. He has been faithful in the past, and we trust Him for our future."

The site also includes a list of "ministry projects"--organizations the corporation works with "to share the Good News of Jesus Christ to all the world." These include Oral Roberts University and Wycliffe, a missionary agency that translates the Bible into many languages for global evangelism.

The Oklahoma City-based company's religious underpinnings might have been under the radar for a lot of shoppers, but recently they've been attracting a lot of attention. Last year, Hobby Lobby announced that it opposed a new rule from the Obama administration that requires businesses to offer their employees health insurance policies that cover no-copay contraceptives. The company felt so strongly about the birth-control matter that it took the issue to court.

So far, it's not having much success. Hobby Lobby sought a preliminary injunction that would free it from abiding by the birth-control mandate while the matter was in court. But a string of federal courts, including the Supreme Court, rejected the company's request.

Hobby Lobby's owners subsequently announced that the company planned to defy the law--even in the face of fines that could exceed $1 million per day.

"They're not going to comply with the mandate," Kyle Duncan, general counsel of the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, a Catholic-oriented legal group that is representing Hobby Lobby, said in a statement. "They're not going to offer coverage for abortion-inducing drugs in the insurance plan."

The skirmish over Hobby Lobby is part of an unprecedented barrage of lawsuits unleashed by the Religious Right and the all-male hierarchy of the Roman Catholic Church to overturn the contraceptive mandate and block access to safe and affordable birth control for millions of Americans. Having failed to stop health care reform in Congress, the bishops and the Religious Right are now relying on an avalanche of lawsuits to eviscerate the contraceptive mandate in court.

The bishops have been preaching against birth control for years, and some Religious Right leaders have joined them, charging that some forms of contraception are "abortifacients." But their arguments have fallen on deaf ears with most of the public. Americans have simply ignored them, and use of artificial contraceptives remains high.

That's partly because access to birth control is guaranteed by most insurance providers. That will change if the bishops and their Religious Right allies have their way.

If they win in court, these powerful sectarian pressure groups will have succeeded in disrupting the single most important advance in reproductive health care since the invention of birth control pills--and they will have done it in the name of "religious liberty."

How did we get to this point?

After the Department of Health and Human Services announced the requirement for birth control coverage last year, right-wing legal groups organized a massive court crusade to undermine the regulation. Representing both religious nonprofits and secular businesses, they filed a blizzard of lawsuits in federal courts around the country.

The mandate, which is an outgrowth of the Affordable Care Act, exempts houses of worship. …

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