Sandra Fluke is a social justice attorney who testified before Congress in 2012 about the importance of contraception coverage in health insurance. She is currently running for the California State Senate. This article was originally published in the Washington Post.
A pair of potentially catastrophic cases will be argued before the Supreme Court on Tuesday. These cases are brought by privately held, for-profit corporations that are arguing their religious convictions should preclude them from offering employees the health insurance required by law. Specifically, these private employers don’t want to allow their employees’ insurance to cover some forms of birth control because, contrary to medical and scientific evidence, they believe some birth control causes abortions.
Corporations are not people. Corporations cannot have religious views. If religious rights are extended to corporations, it puts us on a slippery slope where any private company could argue that religious beliefs prevent it from offering vital employee protections.
Unlike my congressional testimony in 2012, which was about Georgetown University — a Catholic-affiliated university — refusing to include contraception in student insurance because it was a religiously affiliated school, the institutions arguing before the Supreme Court are not houses of worship or religious non-profits. The Affordable Care Act already includes special arrangements for those types of organizations. These are private, for-profit corporations — a craft store and a cabinet manufacturer — that want to be excluded from health insurance and employment laws because of bosses’ personal views.
Laws that include religious protection have never given corporations the right to have religious views, and it would be a terrible idea to make such an enormous change to our legal precedent now. Our laws protect individuals’ private religious beliefs, but when you cross over into the public sphere to become a corporation and make a profit off of the public, you must abide by the public’s laws.
Depending on the court’s rulings, the cases’ outcomes could deny millions of women coverage of any or all forms of birth control, limiting women’s ability to control their reproductive health, plan their pregnancies and manage their lives. As I testified, women also need birth control for many other medical reasons, including relief of painful health problems like endometriosis.
But allowing private employers to excuse themselves from health insurance and employment law could go much further than just contraception and reproductive health services. Allowing any private employer to dictate which laws fit inside its religious beliefs could upset the necessary balance of both religious liberty and employee health and safety laws. Depending on the exact ruling, any for-profit corporation could cut off its employees’ insurance coverage for blood transfusions, vaccinations or HIV treatment — all of which some Americans have religious objections to. Any critical health coverage the boss doesn’t agree with could be eliminated.
Moreover, we cannot pick and choose which religious beliefs should be allowed to overrule laws the rest of the public must follow. Although this country predominantly descends from a Judeo-Christian tradition, our valuable religious protection laws ensure that anyone is free to practice any religion they want, including religions whose belief systems and practices many of us would disagree with vehemently. In fact, far-ranging beliefs that are not associated with any organized religion could be used to justify a corporation’s practices as well. All sets of beliefs should be treated equally, but allowing any belief to override insurance law opens the door to many more extreme beliefs being able to do the same.
We are at risk of giving any person or group with a religious qualm the legal ability to refuse to comply with numerous critical employment laws, not just those related to health insurance. Americans could ultimately lose protections against employment discrimination, guarantees of equal pay and on and on. Religious objections have been raised to these types of laws before, but until now we have maintained the right balance. This country has always valiantly protected the rights of citizens to practice whatever religion they want in their personal lives, but we have also ensured that employees, students, customers and the public are also protected in the public sphere.
Extreme rulings in these cases could directly endanger health-care access for millions of women and put a bedrock constitutional protection at risk. We must fight back and speak out, and hope the Supreme Court rules in favor of the people.