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h/t: Irin Carmon at msnbc.com

A Christian college in eastern Pennsylvania has filed suit in federal court, fighting the  Affordable Care Act’s requirement that it provide access to a third-party administrator, which could offer services including the “Plan B” morning-after pill to their employees, according to The Mercury News.

Valley Forge Christian College, located in Phoenixville, filed the suit stating that it objected to being compelled to participate, “indirectly with, or transferring any legal or moral authority by which a third party might enable the provision of such services to the employees of Valley Forge Christian College.”

The college’s objection stems from the “accommodation” provision of the ACA, which allows non-profits to opt out of providing contraceptives by employing a third-party administrator or insurer.

According to the lawsuit, “Valley Forge Christian College has no objection to providing coverage for contraceptive drugs which truly — and only — prevent conception and do not interfere with the continued survival of a human embryo.”

At issue for the small college affiliated with the conservative Assemblies of God, is what it considers “abortion-related drugs and procedures,” including Plan B.

The claims are similar to ones  made in the recent Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision, where the plaintiffs called Plan B an “abortion-causing drug.”

Critics have pointed out that Plan B is not an abortifacient, citing the FDA’s description: “Plan B One-Step will not stop a pregnancy when a woman is already pregnant and there is no medical evidence that the product will harm a developing fetus.”

With the lawsuit, Valley Forge is using the same argument used in Hobby Lobby: their belief that the drug is used for abortions.

Should Valley Forge fail to provide access to a third party administrator it would face fines of $100 per day per beneficiary under provisions of the Affordable Care Act.

“In its recent ‘Hobby Lobby’ decision, the Supreme Court of the United States made clear that citizens cannot be forced to choose between violating their faith and being punished by the government for following their faith,” explained Jeff Mateer, general counsel for Liberty Institute, which filed the suit along with a local law firm.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, named in the suit, referred all questions to the U.S. Department of Justice, which has yet to respond to the Friday filing.

h/t: Tom Boggioni at The Raw Story

She’s right on. 

h/t: Nicole Flatow at Think Progress Justice

thepoliticalfreakshow:

In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, an all-male U.S. Supreme Court majority granted exemptions to “closely held corporations" that refuse to offer contraceptive coverage in employee health plans. In response, many have thrown up their hands, asking, Why should women have any faith in the law if it can’t even protect us from this?

But here’s the thing: It does. Employers who single out contraceptives as undeserving of coverage don’t only violate ethical expectations of gender equality. They also violate federal anti-discrimination law.

Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits employers from discriminating on the basis of sex, including enacting policies that, while gender-neutral on their face, disproportionately hurt either men or women. Congress passed the Pregnancy Discrimination Act in 1978 to clarify that it meant for Title VII to protect employees from discrimination based on pregnancy — even though such policies and harassment technically did not single out one sex, just “pregnant people” versus “non-pregnant people.” Under the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, pregnancy discrimination constitutes sex discrimination.

Title VII can apply to not only pregnancy but also the potentiality of pregnancy, so corporations that single out contraceptives while covering other medical care discriminate based on gender. According to a January 2000 Title VII ruling issued by the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (as well as multiple lower court decisions), the very exclusion the court appeared to authorize in Hobby Lobby constitutes a violation of federal nondiscrimination employment law.

Just last week, in the wake of the Hobby Lobby decision, the EEOC issued new guidance on pregnancy discrimination, reaffirming that excluding contraception from an employer health plan that covers other preventive services amounts to sex discrimination. The Hobby Lobby decision did not address Title VII simply because the court wasn’t asked to. The lawsuit was a challenge from corporations seeking to get out from under the contraceptive mandate, not a discrimination claim by the craft chain’s employees.

Nonetheless, the justices should have considered the anti-discrimination law on the books. By ignoring the discriminatory aspects of the denials, the Hobby Lobby majority was able to argue that the government’s interest in protecting contraceptive access could not sustain the Religious Freedom Restoration Act challenge mounted by the objecting corporations.

However, the government’s interest, as expressed in Title VII and the Pregnancy Discrimination Act, in protecting people who are or have the potential to be pregnant from discrimination could — and should — have been marshaled to tip the scale against Hobby Lobby.

We may still see a successful Title VII challenge to employer insurance policies that deny contraceptive coverage. Just because the Affordable Care Act can’t require closely held corporations to follow its mandate doesn’t mean anti-discrimination laws can’t produce the same result.

It’s important to call the denial of contraceptive coverage what it is: illegal discrimination. The policies in question in Hobby Lobby are not merely the stuff of culture wars. They discriminate against women in violation of a civil-rights law passed half a century ago.

H/T: Jean Ann Esselink at The New Civil Rights Movement

thepoliticalfreakshow:

Republican-majority legislatures in many red states are gorging themselves on new laws to restrict safe, legal abortion out of existence, but things have been pretty stable for the women of Tennessee, a state that has 14 doctors providing abortion, compared with a mere eight in Alabama and two in Mississippi. Because of this, 1 in 4 women getting an abortion in Tennessee hails from out of state.

One major reason it’s relatively easy to get a safe abortion in Tennessee is a state Supreme Court decision in 2000 that held that “a woman’s right to terminate her pregnancy is a vital part of the right to privacy guaranteed by the Tennessee Constitution,” meaning that medically unnecessary abortion restrictions are largely unconstitutional.

Now anti-choicers are pushing back, advocating for a ballot measure called Amendment 1 that would amend the state constitution to single out abortion as the one medical procedure not covered by the privacy rights enshrined elsewhere in the state constitution. “Nothing in this Constitution secures or protects a right to abortion or requires the funding of an abortion,” reads the proposed amendment, and activists on both sides of the issue are pouring money into the campaign to determine whether state legislators can be free to pass laws restricting safe abortion access in the state. “We’ve been trying to put this back to a neutral position to say that the legislators should be the ones setting this policy, not liberal courts,” Lt. Gov. Ron Ramsey told an audience at a fundraiser last November.

So far, polling data shows that the anti-abortion side isn’t doing well in the polls, with 71 percent of voters opposing attempts to give the legislature more power to regulate abortion and even a majority of Republicans disliking this proposed amendment.

Anti-choice efforts to turn public opinion in their favor seem misguided, if you ask me. According to ThinkProgress, “They’ve even enlisted Jim Bob and Michelle Duggar, who star in the TLC reality show ‘19 Kids and Counting,’ to drum up public support for Amendment 1.” People may like that TV show, but if you’re trying to persuade voters to support anti-choice laws, it’s probably not wise to put extremist Christian fundamentalists who believe you should have a bazillion children at the front of your campaign. For most of us, living like the Duggars sounds like a nightmare, regardless of your position on abortion. Putting them out front only serves to confirm people’s worst fears about the end goals of the anti-choice movement. 

 

Much to the chagrin of women’s rights advocates, Hobby Lobby has won its legal battle — but claims of “victory” for religious freedom must be emended. Make no mistake: This is no victory for the freedom to exercise Christian principles. Though employers like Hobby Lobby are now free to deny women access to contraceptives through their employer-subsidized health plans on the basis of religious objection, they will be violating their own purported Christian principles if they do. While Christians are not compelled by their faith to engage in religious practices that impose upon the freedoms of others, they are compelled — by their belief that all persons, men and women, are created in the image of God — to oppose discrimination.

Employers are now free to deny women access to contraceptives through their employer-subsidized health plans, though they will be violating their own purported Christian principles if they do.

Some corporations that have objected to the contraceptive requirements of the Affordable Care Act, like Hobby Lobby, claim that they do not wish to discriminate against women by denying them access to contraceptives generally, and that their opposition is merely to abortion. However, their understanding of which medications act as abortifacients rests on an outdated understanding of medical science and is at odds with the facts of the matter. Use of these contraceptive methods is not tantamount to abortion, and moreover, providing women with access to safe, reliable contraceptives for free drastically reduces the actual abortion rate.

It is likely that women will ultimately retain coverage, anyhow, though religious employers are now able to legally withhold it. The Supreme Court assumed in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that the government has a compelling interest in ensuring that women have full access to preventive care. It appears that a majority of the court believes that this interest is compelling. The issue still under real legal dispute is how that coverage will be provided.

One suggestion is that the Obama administration extend to closely held, for-profit corporations the same accommodation already in place for religiously affiliated nonprofits. If a corporation objects, on religious grounds, to covering contraceptives in its health plan, it can fill out a two-page form, with five questions (two of which are providing a signature and the date), self-certifying that it meets the requirements for religious accommodation. By submitting this form, employees will be provided contraceptive coverage directly from their insurance company rather than through their employer.

This very exemption, however, currently faces its own legal threat from some Christian religious organizations, which claim that notifying the government of their objections to contraceptive use is itself religiously objectionable, as doing so will “trigger” the provision of coverage by a third party. The University of Notre Dame and Wheaton College are among several institutions that have brought such challenges. There is very little sense to be made of claims that your freedom of religion is substantially burdened by someone else’s providing services that you do not want to provide yourself. This suggests that the legal challenges are not merely aimed at allowing corporations to abstain from facilitating behavior they deem immoral but instead are seeking to effectively prevent women from engaging in that “immoral” behavior by keeping financial barriers for women, and administrative barriers for the government, in place.

This is economic coercion. Opponents to the contraceptive mandate have insisted that women remain free to purchase whatever health care services they choose, but this is woefully insensitive to the reality that low-income women and families face. For these women, there is a very large difference between what is available to them for purchase in principle and in effect. It is easy for those who do not regularly face desperate decisions due to financial insecurity or medical complexities to forget the difference. An intrauterine device, for example, can cost a low-income full-time worker more than a month’s wages. For some women, this is both the safest and most effective medical option, yet hopelessly unaffordable.

This kind of economic coercion is distinctly at odds with Christian principles. There is only one incident described in the Christian scriptures where Jesus is represented as employing coercive force, and it was not used to prevent people from engaging in sin. It was used, instead, to prevent people from dishonoring God by exploiting religious practice for personal gain. The gospels describe Jesus’ reaction to those who sought to profit from the Passover pilgrimage to the temple as fierce: “And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. And he told those who sold the pigeons, ‘Take these things away; do not make my Father’s house a house of trade.’” This is where corporations that claim their operations constitute religious practice of the Christian faith ought to take note.

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Read previous contributions to this series.

Hobby Lobby offered coverage for some of the contraceptives it now claims its religious faith forbids it to have any association with, until shortly after the Becket Fund for Religious Freedom asked it if it would be interested in filing suit. The company continues to profit from investments in the manufacturers of the “objectionable” contraceptives through the 401(k) plan it offers its employees. Recently, Hobby Lobby has faced legal trouble for false advertising. It has built a fortune, in large part, by selling goods manufactured in China, infamous for its poor labor conditions and related human rights violations. These are the practices of a corporation that will emphasize the Christian faith of its owners when convenient and profitable, but set that faith aside when it would be costly to do otherwise.

Hobby Lobby is not the only corporation which has objected to the law through what seems to be quite selective applications of Christian principle. Offering health care coverage as called for by the Affordable Care Act is morally permissible according to the Catholic philosophical tradition, and the sincerity of institutions like the University of Notre Dame is questionable.

The more pressing question religious corporations should ask themselves is whether denying women comprehensive health care while providing it to men, and so failing to respect women’s inherent dignity and equality, is consistent with their religious values. Since the Supreme Court focused on the practical effects at stake (that is, whether women would be able to obtain coverage elsewhere, and thus by a less restrictive means) rather than on the expressive function of the law, Hobby Lobby is now free to discriminate in its provision of health care. But the question remains, why would it want to?

H/T: Kathyrn Pogin at The New York Times' Opinionator Blogs

ppaction:

Timeline: 100 Years of Birth Control

Since Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger coined the term “birth control” in 1914, contraception has truly revolutionized women’s lives in the United States, and around the world. Brush up on your birth control history, and see just how far we’ve come in 100 years.

SEE THE HIRES VERSION HERE

ppaction:

Anyone who thinks you can just walk into a convenience store and get the affordable birth control you need clearly has no understanding about the reality of women’s lives — and no business making decisions about them.

Have you been hearing this line as much as we have? Share this.

5 fact checks you need to know about the Hobby Lobby decision and how it affects us.

h/t: Michael Sherrard at TPM

The people protesting Hobby Lobby in many ways are true heroes to be commended for their actions. 

h/t: Tara Culp-Ressler at Think Progress Health

h/t: Tara Culp-Ressler at Think Progress Health

h/t: Sahil Kapur at TPM

thepoliticalfreakshow:

When the Supreme Court hands the LGBT community a victory, it’s hard to hide it. After all, allowing states to legalize marriage is not something you can sneak by the nation. But when the Supreme Court unleashes a nightmare, it’s not easy spot. But that’s exactly what the court did this week in a ruling that has the potential to wreak havoc on everything from marriage equality to HIV treatments.

The case involved the craft-store chain Hobby Lobby. The store had sued the federal government because it did not want to provide contraceptives to employees, as mandated under the Affordable Care Act. Hobby Lobby objected on religious grounds, arguing that corporations have the same right to religious expression as individuals.

The Supreme Court agreed. In his majority decision, Justice Samuel Alito took pains to insist that the ruling applied only to “closely-held” corporations and even more specifically was “concerned solely with the contraceptive mandate.”

Don’t you believe it.

With the ruling, the Court has created a giant legal loophole that the religious right will exploit for years to come. And a lot of that legal challenge will be directed toward gay issues. It’s not a coincidence that the legal group representing Hobby Lobby, the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, titles itself after the same principle that opponents of marriage equality keep trumpeting. 

Now Alito was careful to say that the decision didn’t allow corporations the right to “provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice.” But Alito’s definition of illegal discrimination may not extend to LGBT rights. The only example he cited in his ruling involved racial discrimination. He was conspicuously silent on other types of discrimination, including discrimination based on sexual orientation or gender identity. 

That has opened the door to legal challenges from antigay opponents. Already, the impact of the ruling is expanding. The Justices granted Wheaton College, an evangelical institutionknown for its antigay policies, an exemption from responding to certain requirements of the Affordable Care Act on religious grounds, even though Wheaton is not a closely held corporation.

In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor complained that the Court had changed the playing field just three days after the Hobby Lobby ruling. “Those who are bound by our decisions usually believe they can take us at our word,” Sotomayor wrote. “Not so today.”

“The Supreme Court has ruled that for-profit corporations have religious rights and have accorded them religious exemptions,” said Doug Kendall, president of the Constitutional Accountability Center. “Despite their attempts to qualify that ruling, it opens the floodgates to claims by corporations for religious exemptions.”

Now that the floodgates are open, expect the challenges to follow. Here are five nightmare scenarios that are now possible because of the Hobby Lobby ruling.

1. A corporation refuses to offer benefits to same-sex married couples, even in states that recognize those marriages.

The Hobby Lobby ruling allows corporations raise objections to laws others have to follow because of “sincerely held beliefs.” Is there any belief more sincerely held by religious conservatives than that the state shouldn’t acknowledge same-sex relationships? Imagine the weight of a corporation brought to bear on HR policies regarding gay couples. It could make the debates about refusing to bake wedding cakes seem like small in comparison.

2. A business refuses to hire any openly LGBT employees. Alito said that the Hobby Lobby ruling denies that “discrimination in hiring, for example on the basis of race, might be cloaked as religious practice to escape legal sanction.” On the basis of race, perhaps. But not necessarily on other grounds. A business that is vehemently antigay would be willing to test supposition in court. They may not succeed, but there’s no guarantee that they wouldn’t. And it won’t be just hiring practices. The problem might not stop at the workplace: it could be extended to real estate transactions as well.

3. A company objects to providing HIV prevention drugs. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) dramatically cuts the risk of HIV transmission, and gay men by the thousands are signing up for the prescription medication (Truvada). But it’s expensive, and in most cases it needs to be covered by company medical insurance. But it could be considered a kind of HIV-prevention–like a condom. Companies run by antigay activists, who often cloak bigotry in religious terms, could easily argue that it is tantamount to encouraging sodomy. We already know how some religious conservatives feel about condoms. The Hobby Lobby decision doesn’t really differentiate among the types of treatments that can’t be challenged on religious grounds. Once again, it will be left to other courts to sort that out.

4. Trangender people are shut out of medical benefits. More and more, courts are recognizing gays and lesbians as a class that deserves protection under the law. However, not so for transgender people, for whom legal protections are still lagging. Jenny Pizer, law and policy director at Lambda Legal, says that companies could object to medical treatments that transgender employees need, using objections to the treatments themselves as the excuse. That would be an easier case to win, unfortunately, than one targeting employees for gender identity.

5. The proposed executive order banning workplace discrimination by federal contractors could be in jeopardy. Within a day of the Hobby Lobby ruling, an argument broke out about the proposed executive order banning workplace discrimination among federal contractors. “The government would be saying you can’t get the benefits of getting a federal contract unless you give up your religious liberty rights,” said Kevin Theriot, vice president of Alliance Defending Freedom, a religious right legal group. “It’s another form of coercion.”

There’s already talk about putting a big, fat religious exemption into the executive order,which would lessen its impact and enshrine the right of federal contractors to discriminate.