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The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby on Monday that for-profit employers with religious objections can opt out of providing contraception coverage under the Affordable Care Act.
The ruling deals directly with only a small provision of the act.
Jane J. Mansbridge, Adams Professor of Political Leadership and Democratic Values, talks about the ruling and the impact it may have on the mid-term elections.
Q: What is the significance of this ruling?
Mansbridge: It is highly significant, both for women’s reproductive rights and for the other issue of treating corporations as persons.
Q: Is this a blow for women’s reproductive rights?
Mansbridge: A major blow. Although the decision applies only to “closely held” corporations, it marks just one more move in the Court’s restriction of reproductive rights. The religious exemption should not apply to corporations at all. Several thoughtful evangelical writers have themselves made this point (e.g., the Reverend Richard Cizik, former Vice President for Governmental Affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals and David Gushee, an evangelical Christian professor of Christian Ethics)
The case indirectly points out how important the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) is for women. For those not affected by this decision, the act will reduce greatly the cost of contraception. The Guttmacher Institute’s brief to the Court in this case gave evidence that “almost one-third of American women report that they would change their contraceptive method if cost were not an issue,” and “Initiating use of an implant or IUD can cost a month’s salary for a woman working full time at minimum wage.” Such considerations have influenced evangelical thinkers who oppose the decision. Cizik cites, for example, a 2012 study demonstrating that when at-risk women were allowed to choose birth control methods and those methods were provided free, their abortion rates dropped, in his words, “up to 80 percent below the national abortion rate.”
Q: Are you at all concerned about the fact that all of the Supreme Court justices who ruled in the majority are men?
Mansbridge: All the women on the Court opposed this ruling. Those women are all Democrats, but many Republican women would support their dissents. The decision would have had greater legitimacy if it had not been only men restricting the rights of women.
Q: Do you expect this ruling to serve as a lightning rod during the fall mid-term elections?
Mansbridge: Both sides will undoubtedly use it and it will undoubtedly increase the trend toward ever-greater polarization in our politics, which are already more polarized than they have been in more than 100 years. The important issue will be turnout. The ruling is unlikely to provoke many voters to change parties. As Lynn Vavrek has pointed out, only 6 percent of the voters actually switched sides from 2008 to 2010, and just as many switched from McCain to the Democrats as from Obama to the Republicans.
The “shellacking” the Democrats took in 2010 (the difference in outcomes between 2008 and 2010) came solely from low Democratic turnout. This ruling will positively affect the mid-term election for Democrats only if it serves to get Democratic voters out to the polls. Republicans will surely use it to get their voters out. Perhaps this will energize women’s groups to put their efforts into get-out-the-vote campaigns the next time round.