The Hobby Lobby Ruling Was An Attack on Women’s Sexual freedom

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The Independent/UK

The Hobby Lobby Ruling Was An Attack on Women’s Sexual freedom

The 'faith' of a corporation can now dictate the healthcare provided to its employees

(Photo: flickr / creative commons / ALL)

With yesterday’s Hobby Lobby ruling, the Supreme Court decided to exempt Hobby Lobby and other private, religiously owned firms from Obama’s Affordable Care Act, which requires employers to offer all forms of FDA-approved contraception in workers’ health plans. This exemption means that women employed by Hobby Lobby will no longer be able to access four types of contraceptive on their employee healthcare plan.

Many large employers offered contraception coverage before Obamacare, and any business with fewer than 50 full-time employees doesn't have to offer it at all. But the Hobby Lobby ruling is significant because it only requires that businesses demonstrate ‘sincere religious beliefs’ to be exempt from a law.

By finding in favour of Hobby Lobby, the USA judicial system has stated that the right of Hobby Lobby’s owners to believe contraception is against their religion trumps the right of their female employees to access perfectly legal medication. A corporation can now, under federal law, be deemed to have ‘faith’, and this can dictate healthcare policy, no matter what the impact of that faith is on employees.

Of course, it is one thing to believe that contraception is forbidden by your religion. And even though I disagree with their belief, I respect the owners of Hobby Lobby’s right not to use contraception themselves. What I cannot agree with, however, is that they have any right whatsoever to force those beliefs on to other women.

With their ruling, the Supreme Court has backed Hobby Lobby’s judgement that there is something wrong with a woman’s right to access contraception – and therefore a woman’s right to practise safe sex, or to have sex for non-procreative purposes.

Although the ruling will not affect the UK, where contraception is free on the NHS, we have not been free from this kind of rhetoric, which puts women’s sexual health after ‘concerns’ about women’s ‘morality’.

Greeted with the news that a vaccine would be made available to school girls, protecting them from the sexually transmitted infection HPV that can increase the risk of getting cervical cancer, many expressed worries that the vaccine would encourage promiscuity in teens. They argued that armed with the knowledge that the vaccine protects them from HPV, girls would latch on to the nearest pimply-faced school boy and start having lots of consequence-free sex. As a result, some schools denied girls access to the vaccine – without first informing parents of their decision. These schools decided it was better to ‘protect’ girls from potential promiscuity, than to protect them from cancer.

Similar arguments have been heard about whether girls should be able to take the Pill without parental consent, or how easily women and girls should be able to access the 'morning after' pill. When I was at school, my sex education teacher told us that selling the morning after pill over the counter made it “too easy”.

Too easy? What’s wrong with making it easier for women to make informed, consensual choices about sex and their health? The idea that women should be able to make these decisions can only be seen as a problem if you believe women taking responsibility for their sexuality and sexual health is in itself a problem. And that’s what these arguments come down to.

We only have to look at the language commonly used to describe women engaging in consensual sex to understand just what a problem society has with women’s sexuality. Women are 'promiscuous' in a way men never are. There’s no male version of 'slut' or 'whore'. It is only women’s sexual choices that are judged. And it is only women’s choices around sexual health care that are continually under attack.

Sian Norris

Sian Norris is a writer and feminist activist. She is the founder and director of the Bristol Women's Literature Festival and runs the successful feminist blog sianandcrookedrib.blogspot.com.

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