Jewish Journal

Supreme Court Strikes a Blow to Women’s Health

by Susan Esther Barnes

June 30, 2014 | 10:40 am

Photo by Susan Esther Barnes

Earlier today the Supreme Court dealt a startling blow to women’s health rights when it ruled that Hobby Lobby and other closely held companies can decide not to include coverage for certain types of birth control in their health insurance plans for employees.

This means, for instance, that a woman who works for Hobby Lobby and who is raped will not be able to get the “morning after pill” through her insurance. If she can’t afford to pay the full market price for this important medication, she will have to risk the additional psychological, physical, emotional, and financial trauma of bearing the child of her rapist.

Let’s put aside, for the moment, the Jewish belief that life begins at birth vs. the Christian belief that life begins at conception. This is a question no mortal can answer: When does the soul of a person enter the body that is being created?

What we do know is that, when this happens, and we know it will, a woman will have suffered a terrible assault. What we do know is she is going to want to put it behind her and to pick up the pieces of her life. What we do know is she will need support and compassion as she begins to heal. And what we do know is that being forced to carry the baby of her rapist will impede her ability to recover.

Women are strong. But there are some things we should not be forced to endure.

Freedom of religion is an important value in this country. It has made this country a safe place for Jews and other religious minorities. But it has always been based on the principle that one person cannot force their religious views on anyone else.

This is where the Supreme Court got it wrong. First, it got it wrong because the morning after pill does not constitute an abortion. It prevents a pregnancy from happening in the first place. In this way, it is similar to any other form of contraception.

Second, regardless of when any individual believes life begins, they should not be able to impose their belief on anyone else, especially if their coercion will result in such obvious and possibly irreparable harm to another person. Denying a person the right to medicine because the medicine doesn’t fit your religious beliefs should never be allowed, and it most especially should not be allowed in a circumstance such as rape.

Third, to say it would be an imposition on a person’s religious beliefs to require them to pay for proper medical insurance that covers the morning after pill is absurd. Nobody is trying to force anyone at Hobby Lobby to take a morning after pill. Nobody is forcing them to buy the pill and to give it to someone. They were just being told to buy decent insurance, just like any other employer.

Fourth, this case is nonsensical, because it gives the right of religious beliefs to a corporation. Companies are not people.

Let me show you how utterly ridiculous this notion is. Hobby Lobby is being allowed this exemption from the law because they are a “closely held” company. Let’s say, hypothetically, that one of those co-owners of Hobby Lobby converts to Judaism, and decides that denying insurance for the morning after pill is against his religion. Then, according to this ruling, no matter whether or not Hobby Lobby offers the insurance, you would have the corporation trampling the religious rights of itself.

This is why the only thing that makes sense is to require the insurance to be offered to everyone, so that everyone, as an individual, can follow his or her religious beliefs as his or her conscience dictates.

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Susan Esther Barnes is a religious Reform Jew who can regularly be seen greeting people at her synagogue before services. She is a founding member of her synagogue’s chevra...

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