The U.S. Supreme Court heard a number of cases on reproductive justice topics in early 2014. Here is your guide for following the cases, including summaries of the decision and talking points for letters to the editor.
Hobby Lobby v. Burwell
Oral arguments were heard March 25, 2014. The decision was released on June 30. 2014.
The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 against women and their reproductive health in the name of a twisted application of religious liberty. The ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood maintained that ‘closely-held’ for-profit corporations, like these and a significant percent of corporations in the United States, possess more religious liberty and rights than their female employees. The qualifications offered by the majority opinion suggests that these loopholes apply only to contraceptive coverage and not to other religiously contested medical opinions, such as vaccinations and blood transfusions, and that in other circumstances, religious freedom must not be used as a tool for discrimination. Past Supreme Court rulings with similarly narrow decisions, however, have transformed over time to harm larger swaths of the population and sway further away from the original stipulations. Just days after the ruling was released, groups have begun to exploit the religious liberty of corporations to discriminate, particularly against members of the LGBTQ (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Queeer) community.
Even if these loopholes are not exploited in the name of further oppression of marginalized communities, this focus only on women’s reproductive health once again reminds us that our government would rather protect corporations than individuals, especially women, and that we have a long fight ahead to ensure full reproductive freedom and equality for all. Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) President Rev. Peter Morales writes, “Though I am exceedingly disappointed in this ruling, I reaffirm the commitment of the UUA to work for reproductive justice in accordance with our first principle because ‘justice is what love looks like in public.’”
- Progressive faith traditions, including Unitarian Universalism, affirm that parenthood and sexuality are sacred gifts. The denial of equitable access to family planning services effectively translates into coercive childbearing, which is an affront to one’s moral agency and an insult to human dignity. Women’s access to key preventative contraceptive services is essential not only to their health but also to other rights including religious liberty, equality, and economic security—fundamental values of Unitarian Universalism’s prophetic witness.
- Contrary to plaintiff’s assertions, it is the worker’s religious freedom and conscience at stake in these cases. A boss has no right to use their own religious teachings to dictate how an employee may use their healthcare coverage. Likewise, allowing a corporation or boss to skirt public law by claiming a religious offense inherently privileges one set of beliefs, endangering a host a number of employment laws like minimum wage, standard working conditions, or non-discrimination policies, undermining the rule of law writ large.
- Religious institutions—houses of worship, societies, schools, etc. – exist to cultivate sacred community grounded in shared beliefs. By contrast, a corporation provides commodities for a profit. The plaintiffs in these cases seek to equate a corporation’s standing to that of a religious entity or an individual believer. Such an assertion cheapens the meaning of religion and the sanctity of spiritual communities, which, for Unitarian Universalists (UUs) and other people of faith, is deeply troubling.
- The UUA and other faith-based organizations sent this Amicus Brief (PDF, 46 pages) to the Supreme Court, detailing our position about true religious freedom.
- Read the UUA’s statement on the Hobby Lobby decision.
- Supreme Court Blog about the case with background information, all supporting documents, and details.
- Read the UUA’s Reproductive Justice Alert released after the decision, which includes links to more articles and analysis.
- Get UU-specific background information on the case.
McCullen v. Coakley
Oral arguments were heard January 15. The decision was released June 26, 2014.
The Supreme Court of the United States ruled unanimously against buffer zone protections around women’s health clinics in Massachusetts. Patients, volunteers, and employees of women’s health clinics consistently report that their personal safety is threatened at clinics by the verbal attacks and physical proximity of anti-abortion protesters. By striking down the Massachusetts’ buffer zone law, the Supreme Court sets a concerning precedent that the rights, safety, and well-being of some is more important than those of others. The Supreme Court ruled against a 35-foot buffer zone, though they provided the space for Massachusetts to rewrite its law to protect women on health clinic’s private property.
- Read the UUA’s statement on the McCullen decision.
- Get UU-specific background materials and talking points on this case.
Little Sisters of the Poor v. Sebelius
The Little Sisters' request has been temporarily granted by the Supreme Court.
The Little Sisters of the Poor Home for the Aged in Denver, Colorado brought a case against the Affordable Care Act (ACA) based on their wish to deny the no-cost birth-control policy to their employees. This case asks the Supreme Court if the free exercise rights of non-profit organizations that wish to deny contraceptive coverage to their employees, a pardon already granted by the ACA, are being infringed upon due to federal forms they must complete to withhold coverage. Check out these letters from Rev. Debra Haffner at the Religious Institute and from Rev. Rob Keithan at the Religious Coalition for Reproductive Choice.