Approximately two dozen activists gathered in front of the federal building in downtown Tampa this afternoon to vent their anger at the U.S. Supreme Court's decision on the Hobby Lobby case that ended the court's session last week.
President Obama's administration sought to require almost all employers that offer health insurance to cover contraceptives. But the Court ruled 5-4 that Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. and similar companies could refuse to cover contraceptives to which they have religious objections.
"As a health care provider, I'm very offended that the Supreme Court believes that they can allow a company to decide what kind of medications that I can prescribe or that they can cover for my patients based on religious beliefs," said Blannie Whelan, a family and emergency nurse practitioner. "That to me is forcing religion on their employees."
The case turned on the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, which says that the government “shall not substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion” unless the burden is “the least restrictive means” to advance “a compelling governmental interest.” The court said that a family-owned for-profit corporation may engage, like an individual, in “the exercise of religion.”
Progressives have reacted with alarm to the decision, claiming that the ruling was flawed because the Religious Freedom Restoration Act doesn't protect for-profit corporations.
That's certainly the opinion of Dave Kovar, who was dressed up at the rally as Justice Samuel Alito, accessorized with a plastic snout pulled over his nose to denote that he was playing the part of a male chauvinist pig.
"In America when we talk about religious freedom, I think of it as the 300 million individuals having religious freedom, not the whatever many million of corporations having religious freedom," he said while standing in front of the federal building. "If I want to start a place, I can hire you, but the moment that I say that I want to incorporate to hide my stock, hide my income, all of these other things? Well, then I give up my religious freedom at that point because my corporation doesn't have religious freedom because it has income benefits, liability, it has all these other benefits..I can't have my cake and eat it too."
Earlier this week, Senator Patty Murray (D-Washington) announced that she would introduce a bill that would require for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby Stores to provide and pay for contraceptive coverage, along with other preventive health services, under the Affordable Care Act. “Your health care decisions are not your boss’s business," Murray said when introducing the bill."Since the Supreme Court decided it will not protect women’s access to health care, I will.”
That's prompted a GOP Senate Super PAC called Reclaim America PAC to send out a mass email today with the banner headline "They're trying to overturn the Hobby Lobby decision."
"It's not about religious freedom," insisted Eleanor Cecil with the Hillsborough County chapter of the National Organization for Women. "Whose religious beliefs are we talking about? Where does it stop? If you have an employer who doesn't believe in medical treatment does it mean that they don't cover medical treatment? They don't believe in blood transfusions, does that mean that they're not going to cover that? We do have separation of church and state and this certainly crosses that line."
And Cecil noted that the five justices who ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby are all Catholics. "Think about that!" she said with incredulity. "It's five Catholic men who are pretty much ruling on what our laws say?"
Though the activists in Tampa today think the ruling was outrageous, there are certainly many who support it, including Tampa Tribune columnist Joe Henderson, who wrote last week that "the boss isn’t telling the employee she can’t use birth control. The boss is saying that he or she shouldn’t have to pay for it. There are plenty of other places to obtain contraceptives — Planned Parenthood, for one."
But health professional Blannie Whelan asks, "The problem is that they're a company and they're hiring people, and what they're doing is now excluding women who would possibly work for them who want to practice prevention from unwanted pregnancies. And birth control is expensive and they're covering all of these other medications, be it cardiac or diabetic or even Viagra. Isn't there a discrepancy? We're talking about prevention of illness or prevention of unwanted pregnancies. "