What Next? Reflecting on Hobby Lobby and the Massachusetts Buffer Zone Case

As promised, the Supreme Court (SCOTUS) decided yesterday in the case brought forward by Hobby Lobby-~-and, much to the dismay of reproductive justice advocates, they ruled in favor of the craft store owners.  And in doing so, they effectively ruled against people who can potentially get pregnant.

I’ve already shared my thoughts and concerns on this in my last post, but to be clear, I’m not alone in my line of thinking.  In fact, some of the potential slippery-slope consequences I mentioned also appeared in Ruth Bader Ginsberg’s dissent, in which she writes

Would the exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.

Bader Ginsberg goes further, saying that she fears the court has “walked into a minefield”, setting the stage for any number of legal challenges to this ruling.

I actually hope that she is right-~-not because I want to see people denied coverage for important medical procedures, but because eventually one of those legal challenges is likely to end up in front of the Supreme Court again, and hopefully they will be forced to reverse their positions.  While birth control seems like a voluntary, not-so-important facet of healthcare (even though for many, it is so much more than that), I doubt the same could be said for anesthesia.  And, as Bader Ginsberg also points out, the Court can hardly favor one religious claim over another, because this would come into direct conflict with the Establishment Clause in the first amendment.  We shall have to wait and see.  In the meantime, I can only hope that there will be some adequate safety net created for employees who need financial help accessing birth control. If you’re thinking that this isn’t a “real” problem, note that 34% of women voters report that they have at some point needed help paying for birth control, a number which jumps to 55% among young women.

This comes on the heels of another SCOTUS decision impacting reproductive rights, namely the Massachusetts Buffer Zone case.  The Court ruled unanimously that Massachusetts went too far, because their buffer zones included public sidewalks.  That may seem reasonable at first glance, but recognize that much of the harassment of both employees and patients occurs in public spaces, and most entrances are on public sidewalks.  Doctors, nurses, and patients alike receive verbal abuse and death threats when they enter clinics, and the safety of these individuals ought to be a concern when we consider issues like buffer zones in current debates.

It’s obvious that reproductive rights activists are going to continue to come up against first amendment claims-~-and that, to be honest, is not unreasonable.  We need to have these debates and discussions in our society as we work to reconcile what are clearly important competing rights claims.  But we need to figure out how to reconcile these claims in a way that doesn’t place individuals’ comfort as paramount to other individuals’ health-~-and while you’ll never hear me tell you that religion is meaningless, and we should disrespect it, the reality is that it should never be forced upon others.  Free exercise means that you shouldn’t have to take birth control if you believe it’s problematic, but you shouldn’t be able to stop me from doing so.  It means that we shouldn’t be able to stop you from going to church, sending your children to Sunday school, even teaching them your beliefs about homosexuality…but it doesn’t mean you should be able to discriminate against the LGBTQ community.  We ultimately need a clearer understanding of what freedom of religion means in this country, if we are going to reconcile religious claims with those other rights…because your ability to practice shouldn’t be an infringement on my own ability to operate as a person in our society.



~ by Randi Saunders on July 1, 2014.

One Response to “What Next? Reflecting on Hobby Lobby and the Massachusetts Buffer Zone Case”

  1. […] back. And this time I predict I’ll have a lot to say for a while. Between the recent Supreme Court rulings and my own regular volunteer work as a clinic escort, which I began back in March, I only see […]

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