Late in the afternoon on New Year's Eve, the US Supreme Court quietly dropped a small bombshell regarding the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate.
Just before presiding over the Times Square countdown on New Year’s Eve, Supreme Court Justice Sonia Sotomayor granted a temporary injunction to a handful of Catholic nonprofit groups, including the Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged. They say that the Obama administration’s accommodation on birth control coverage still violates their religious liberty. Sotomayor asked the government to respond by Friday. After that, the Justice, who oversees the circuit where the case was first filed, will either issue a further ruling herself or refer it to the full court.
The decision applies only to the organizations in question and doesn’t affect the broader contraceptive coverage regulations in the Affordable Care Act, which have already gone into effect for millions of American women. But it may signal that the broader court is receptive to arguments that filling out a form for an employee to get birth control directly from an insurer is a substantial burden on religion.
Mark Rienzi, senior counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty and the lead attorney on the case, told msnbc of his clients, “They’re saying, ‘I can’t fill out permission slips for abortion, sterilization or contraception under any circumstances.’” (The mandate does not cover abortion, but some Catholic and evangelical groups have contended that the scientifically undocumented possibility the IUD and emergency contraception will disrupt the implantation of a fertilized egg is the same as abortion.)
Note that the Little Sisters are not paying one cent for the contraception themselves. The insured would get them directly from the insurer. The form is simply proof that the employer isn't covering it; not a "permission slip" at all, as Rienzi claims. Why would a good liberal like Sotomayor, who undoubtedly supports the contraception mandate herself, be persuaded by this religious order's argument and grant them the injunction?
Why are Democrats so willing to cede ground on women's reproductive rights? Hmm, this is not very had to figure out, is it? This country has a weird and warped approach to sexuality. We're bombarded with sexual images and messages on the one hand, while being a bunch of tongue-clucking prudes on the other. Young women are, obviously, the global emblems of sexuality so of course they get to bear the weight of the responsiblity and shame around it. I encounter liberals and moderates all the time who express deep reservations about abortion on demand and emergency contraception that have no rational basis and seem to based on vague fears of their daughters turning into free range floozies. Thus right wingers, who are the most enraged about women havng sexual freedom, are able to parlay this mainstream anxiety into a a lot of undeserved latitude in their quest to mold policy around their obsessive desire to police female virtue, no matter how much it harms actual girls and women. When they really should be told to sod off, repeatedly.
The Hobby Lobby case and this latest Supreme Court ruling leads to inevitable comparisons to other religious groups denying blood or organ transplants or perhaps mental health treatment based on "moral objections" to highlight the absurdity of employers demanding to be let out of providing contraception coverage. The important thing to remember is that the Hobby Lobby case would not gotten this far were it about blood tranfusions or hemorrhoid treatments and everyone knows it. But that's how strong the stigma against female sexuality is.The Obama administration should never have offered any group – religious or no – an exemption from the the mandate in the first place. Health insurance is regulated by secular law. If you're going to offer coverage as an employer you don't get to offer certain employees substandard coverage because of your religion.
Right after the ruling, I noticed several conservatives, including Sen. Roy Blunt (R-MO), hailing this as a "step in the right direction". This indicates that they are playing a long game. Recall that in 2011, Blunt's amendment would have allowed employers to opt out of any treatment that violated their religious beliefs. The end goal is women having no reproductive rights and your boss having control over all aspects your private life, including possibly your own non-sluttiness related medical needs. Those are the unintended consequences of catering to the prude lobby.