Hobby Lobby: The line between religious freedom and policy making

Hobby Lobby

Francis Emelogu/The Daily Cougar

On Monday, June 30, the Supreme Court passed a 5-4 ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby in the court case Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.

Craft store chain Hobby Lobby and wood cabinet store Conestoga Wood Specialties challenged the provision of the Affordable Care Act that asks employers to provide insurance coverage for a variety of contraceptives for female employees. The two for-profit organizations challenged this provision because they believed that coverage of certain contraceptives — Plan B, Ella and two types of intrauterine devices — were akin to abortion and went against their religious beliefs.

The provision exempted religious organizations from providing coverage for contraceptives and gave religiously affiliated non-profit organizations the option to notify insurers of their objections. A government go-around is available for employees of the latter, allowing women to receive contraceptive coverage through the insurer rather than the employer.

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby on the basis of its religious beliefs is problematic because accommodations “to religious beliefs or observances must not significantly impinge on the interests of the third parties.”

Women’s Resource Center Coordinator Malkia Hutchinson* agrees that the verdict wrongfully imposes an employer’s religious beliefs onto its employees.

“The verdict is dangerous for women that are going to be employed by these types of individuals who are going to pick and choose their religious beliefs and apply them to other people,” Hutchinson said.

Hutchinson also said that Hobby Lobby’s claim that certain contraceptives are akin to abortion is “medically and scientifically unfounded” and “it is based on (Hobby Lobby’s) belief.”

Additionally, the Guttmacher Institute did a study beginning in 2009 that followed the fertility, high-risk births and abortion rates of low-income Colorado women aged 15-24 that were provided with access to Title X-funded agencies in 37 of Colorado’s 64 counties.

Using z-tests, the Guttmacher Institute was able to show that the abortion rates for 20-24-year-olds was 22 abortions per 1,000 women in 2008, before the initiative began. After three years of the initiative, it had fallen to 18 abortions, showing an 18 percent decrease.

Electrical engineering senior Alan Garza can see the legitimacy in Hobby Lobby’s claim.

“I believe it was the right decision,” Garza said. “No individual or company should be obligated to do something that goes against their religious beliefs.”

Time magazine reports that the ruling only applies to companies considered “closely held,” in which five or fewer people own more than half the corporation.

“No one should be able to claim their religious beliefs as a way to come between employees and doctors,” Hutchinson said. “The reason we’ve seen such a decrease in the abortion rate is because of contraceptives available to so many types of women who didn’t have access before.”

In addition, studies from Columbia University and New York University show that these types of corporations make up 90 percent of all American businesses and about 52 percent of the American workforce is employed by one of these companies.

“Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations,” Ginsburg said in her dissent. “Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community.”

Psychology senior Monica Garden believes that the Hobby Lobby discussion proves to be “a sticky situation.”

“Although I believe that women should be allowed the freedom to utilize contraception, based on the fact that Hobby Lobby is a private company, (the company) should also be allotted the right to build policies based on their religious beliefs,” Garden said.

However, when Hutchinson was asked if Hobby Lobby’s claim of freedom of religion was valid since they are a for-profit organization, she said companies should not be granted the power to deny health coverage.

“No one should be able to claim their religious beliefs as a way to come between employees and doctors,” Hutchinson said. “The reason we’ve seen such a decrease in the abortion rate is because of contraceptives available to so many types of women who didn’t have access before.”

Hutchinson also said she believes that other religious groups would not be as successful.

“This is something you mostly see from Christian groups,” Hutchinson said. “I don’t think we’d see the same type of support for anything besides Christianity.”

In a poll conducted on thedailycougar.com, 56 percent of readers believe that employers do not have the right to deny women contraceptives while 33 percent believe that this case is about religious freedom and Hobby Lobby’s right to their religious beliefs.

How do you feel about the recent Hobby Lobby decision?

  • Employers do not have the right to deny women contraceptives. (56%, 72 Votes)
  • Companies have a right to choose what their insurance covers based on their religious beliefs. (17%, 22 Votes)
  • This is not a women's rights issue, it is about religious freedom. (16%, 20 Votes)
  • Because not all contraceptives are banned, I am fine with the decision. (6%, 8 Votes)
  • I have no opinion on the decision. (5%, 6 Votes)

Total Voters: 128

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With the decision causing uproar among women’s rights activists, the Obama administration is under pressure to find an alternate way to provide coverage.

“I don’t think it’s even feasible; I don’t think we’re going to see anything,” Hutchinson said. “The GOP has been doing a lot of damage (to) securing reproductive rights for women. I don’t know what other types of options there can be.”

According to the New York Times, the administration is under intense pressure to find a solution, and while they have not yet decided on a course of action, two proposals have been made.

The first would require the companies’ insurers or health plan administrators to provide contraceptive coverage and receive reimbursement later. The other proposal would require the administration itself to provide cost-free contraceptive coverage for women who cannot receive it through their employers.

Additionally, it is uncertain when the government will be able to provide a solution as the administration has yet to outline how either proposal would be administered or financed.

According to the New York Times, “it took more than two years for the administration to figure out how to provide contraceptive coverage for women at nonprofit groups that have religious objections.”

Although the administration is motivated to find a solution due to the large number of women who have lost coverage, due to the nearly 100 similar cases that have been filed by other companies and the need to secure women’s votes in the upcoming elections, we may not see a solution for some time.

The court’s verdict raises several issues. The first concerns this ruling’s potential to largely impact future cases related to women’s contraceptive coverage, but may also impact other areas of healthcare coverage if other companies attempt to refuse coverage for certain medications and procedures that do not align with their religious beliefs.

Furthermore, while this ruling may strictly apply to the contraceptive mandate, because the court ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby given their reason of religious beliefs, it is possible that other corporations may try something similar — even if the case opposes a different law.

As a nation that comprised of various religious backgrounds, we need to explore the limitations of religious freedom in policy making.

Opinion columnist Rama Yousef is a creative writing senior and may be reached at [email protected].

*The views expressed by Malkia Hutchinson are her personal opinions and in no way reflect the opinions of the Women’s Research Center or the University of Houston.


  • First off, I applaud your poll development. You did very will in asking the question you wanted answered most in a way that left no middle ground for people to choose a belief that employer provided insurance benefits should cover something less than all contraceptives. If you had asked it in a way that said “Employers do not have the right to deny any form of male or female contraceptive” and then followed up with one that said “Employers should have the right to deny some forms of male or female contraceptive”, you would have split your 56% result, which would have not been the result you wanted. The other part, and how you asked the questions and even the order they fell was very good but I’m not going to get in to all of your good tactics, was that you did split any other views into 3 parts such that it appears that the overwhelming majority believe the way you do. In reality, and given the general liberalism of people that come here in the first place, you only got 56%, but you made it look far better than that. Excellent, you could have worked for Iosif Vissarionovich Dzhugashvili. I would also add that one of the points you cleverly left out of your discussion and poll was that it wasn’t till the ACA was passed that employers were required to offer any healthcare to their employees or pay a penalty so the ACA could receive funding for this healthcare privilege that is now a right as defined under the general welfare clause of the US Constitution. Here again, your work on this subject would make Paul Goebbels proud, but I believe he would want you to be a little less obvious in the future.

  • Obama is no doubt using his power to rule every aspect of our lives. I agree with you that not all questions were asked. I didn’t see in the questions that Hobby Lobby WOULD cover 16 out of 20 contraceptives. The only four that were excluded were directly related to abortion. This isn’t about women’s issue. This is once again all about politics and Obama’s legacy! If you are paying attention and I’m sure you are Obama seems disengaged in all the scandals and crisis’s going all around him. His only concern is ObamaCare!

  • What a stupid poll. No company is arguing to have the right to deny women contraceptives. Everyone should agree that companies should never have that right. The Hobby Lobby case is instead about the government being able to force an individual, in this case the owner of a company, to pay for specific contraceptives that they feel goes against their religion. Female employees still have access to contraceptives just that Hobby Lobby is not going to pay for some.
    Poor writing.

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