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Hobby Lobby: Furthering the Othering of Women

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July 7, 2014


“The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would override significant interests of the corporations’ employees and covered dependents. It would deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage that the ACA would otherwise secure… In sum, with respect to free exercise claims no less than free speech claims, ‘[y]our right to swing your arms ends just where the other man’s nose begins.'”-Justice Ginsburg

When the ruling came down in favor of Hobby Lobby this past Monday, it was not a surprise for many who work within the reproductive justice movement. Yet, despite the less than optimistic outlook many held, we hoped that the outcome would be favorable. Instead, what we received was an affirmation, by the highest court in the United States, that women’s healthcare needs are of lesser importance as a whole. Looking back through the decision I am compelled to trace how our society has created a perfect storm for this outcome:

The medical community has ignored women for decades: Nowhere in The Supreme Court decision was it mentioned that Hobby Lobby’s religious beliefs do not comport with actual scientific knowledge. I mention the history of women and the medical community to show the pattern of dismissal towards women within all aspects of society. For example, researchers have used typically used white men as the default group  for testing drugs, therapies, and risk factors for diseases. Women, minorities, and those within the LGBTQ community have not typically been a part of medical research. Knowing the lack of attention paid to women by the medical community, it should come as no surprise that in the highest court of the United States women’s health needs were put behind the quest for religious liberty.

The necessity of birth control is questioned and degraded: Many birth control opponents purport the idea that women only need contraceptives to continue their wanton need for sex. Right after the Hobby Lobby decision, Congressman Mike Lee, declared that the decision was correct because birth control is used “largely for recreational behavior” In fact, this message became so ingrained into the cultural psyche that a study was commissioned to examine if there is a link between increased sexual activity and birth control use.  It should be noted that this research found no causal link between sexual behavior and birth control. It is important to recognize that we live in a culture that has accepted misinformation and denigration of women as valid topics for research. Again, this shows that when science comes second to the cultural stigmatization of women; we lose. When we accept that a woman’s sexual autonomy is shameful, disgusting, and easily dismissed we end up with court decisions that reinforce the notion that women are not be trusted with their own reproductive health.

When all else fails lets remind women that they are second class citizens: This is why so many advocates for women’s health are angry, disappointed, and disgusted by this ruling. We have been forced to acknowledge that there is no reality, even a reality based in science, that will affirm that women have the right to make decisions surrounding our own health. Recognizing that we live in a society that has deemed that religion trumps over science, corporate interests are prioritized over health, and that our bodies come secondary in the medical community. The culture that we live in recognizes its past mistakes when it comes to the historical mistreatment of women; nonetheless, we cannot look towards a more optimistic future when continuously reminded that our progress thus far can be summed up as one step forward, fifteen steps back.

Tiana Patterson, J.D. is the Law Students for Reproductive Justice (LSRJ) Law & Policy Fellow at Choice USA.

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