Monday, January 30, 2023

Brief commentary on today's Hobby Lobby decision


Requiring family-owned corporations to pay for insurance coverage for contraception violated a federal law protecting religious freedom, the Supreme Court ruled in a 5 to 4 decision on June 30, the New York Times reports.

Under President Barack Obama’s Affordable Care Act, companies that have more than a certain number of full-time employees have to provide healthcare coverage that includes certain types of birth control. Although Hobby Lobby is comfortable providing the pill and most of 19 other female contraceptives in the ACA, the company’s owners didn’t feel they should have to pay for the morning-after pill, which the company’s owners think is the same as an abortion.

In a common form, known as Plan B, the morning-after pill can delay ovulation so sperm die a natural death before ever encountering an egg. It can also prevent fertilization of the egg or prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. Depending on the precise definition of pregnancy—Does it begin at fertilization or at implantation?—the morning-after pill isn’t even an abortion. Furthermore, if “pregnancy” is defined as beginning at fertilization, in vitro attempts that could be implanted but never are get aborted all the time.

The court’s opinion, available here, is therefore staggering in its misunderstanding of human biology but mind-numbing in its implication that corporations have the right of freedom of religion.

This seems to violate what I know about corporations. For example, I incorporated Voxitatis in Maryland in order to shield my personal assets from any lawsuits. One of the primary reasons for forming a separate corporation is to create a wall between the corporation and its owners. If I wanted to use Voxitatis as an extension of myself, I could have created a sole proprietorship, a partnership, or something along those lines. But the corporate umbrella shields me from attacks.

The court disagrees with me in the majority opinion, which I invite you to read. But it relied on the Dictionary Act, which is the law that equated corporations, which exist solely for the benefit of protecting their owners, with people under the law. The thing is, I believe this decision goes against that definition by suggesting corporations aren’t separate “persons” at all.

Rather, the court seems to say even a corporation, provided it’s “closely-held,” can be a simple extension of its owners, shareholders, or whatever structure is in place. This comes dangerously close to opening the door to violating everything I thought I knew about corporations. The decision was carefully restricted to paying for healthcare coverage for contraceptives under the ACA, but we all know how lawyers can extrapolate. If corporations aren’t “separate” from their owners, how can the Supreme Court reconcile the Citizens United ruling? That decision all but requires that corporations be seen as separate and apart from their owners.

I just think this is all about money. It has very little to do with religion, especially with Christianity, where a person’s actions speak louder than his words. If Hobby Lobby, that new type of “person” we seem to have created, doesn’t want to pay for abortion, that’s fine. The corporation can assert that refusal in several legal ways, none of which appear to have satisfied the majority in this decision. But more to my point, if it refuses to support abortion with its money, it should stop buying any of the crafts that line its shelves from China, where actual abortions, not the prevention of some definitions of pregnancy, have been all but mandated.

Government teachers: I assure you that this has nothing to do with the First Amendment or even with its Free Exercise Clause. If Hobby Lobby truly loved its neighbor, as Christ himself preached, the corporate person would not be setting its female employees up for life-threatening miscarriages, which can be prevented with the morning-after pill, it would not act as a hypocrite when it comes to its position on abortion all these years, it would not worship money to the exclusion of other persons, and it would not put several of its employees out on the street as a result of the boycott that will surely follow this action.

Paul Katula
Paul Katula is the executive editor of the Voxitatis Research Foundation, which publishes this blog. For more information, see the About page.

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