Last week, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) ruled against abortion clinic buffer zones in Massachusetts, arguing that a woman’s right to unobstructed access in seeking reproductive health services was of less weight than the right of protesters to abusively taunt and harangue her with their political opinions. In a unanimous decision, SCOTUS judges ruled that Massachusetts’ abortion clinics’ 35 foot buffer zone around abortion clinic front doors, which effectively restrict all non-clinic employees or patients from congregating and blocking access (regardless of political affiliation), is unconstitutional. This decision despite the fact that SCOTUS protects buffer zones (many larger than health clinic buffer zones) around polling places and even the Supreme Court itself.
In practice, last week’s decision established that a woman’s right to privacy and reproductive choice is less constitutionally important than the right of protesters to verbally abuse her.
Today, SCOTUS made a second heinous ruling in regards to women’s rights. SCOTUS ruled in favour of Hobby Lobby against portions of the Affordable Care Act that mandated abortion and contraceptive coverage. Hobby Lobby lawyers asserted the right of the company to — on religious grounds — refuse health insurance plans for employees that includes contraceptive and abortion care coverage, regardless of the employee’s own political or moral opinions on the subject.
Or, more specifically, to permit employers to force its stance on abortion access onto their employees.
In their 5-4 decision, the Court reasoned in their majority decision that corporations — which we learned in 2010’s Citizens United decision are actually people — apparently have a constitutionally protected right to freedom of religion, and that these First Amendment rights of “corporate persons” actually supersede the constitutional rights of individual employees that in part make up that corporation. And, since the opinions of that corporate entity are established by the CEOs in charge of that company (in this case SCOTUS limited their decision to any company where majority ownership is held by no more than five individuals), in essence, today’s Hobby Lobby ruling asserts (again) that the constitutional rights of the wealthy 1% are of greater value than the constitutional rights of the other 99%.
So, if you are a working class woman making minimum wage at Hobby Lobby, your individual constitutional right to reproductive care access is less important than the religious rights of the corporate entity that employs you. Your constitutional rights as a woman aren’t worth protecting. Your constitutional rights as a woman simply matter less.
And what women are we really talking about? Black women, Latina Women, Native women, Asian American women, immigrant women, non-English speaking women, working class women, impoverished women, homeless women, disabled women — women who have high rates of usage for reproductive health services; women who are more likely to rely upon employer-based healthcare coverage for their reproductive care; women whom the American justice system already and routinely fail, time and time again.
Remember that time, back in the day, when some people had constitutionally protected rights that were of greater value than others? Remember that time when being a wealthy, land-owning man, was your ticket to political representation? Remember that time most people — especially women and people of colour — didn’t have any rights that any White man had to respect? Yeah, we were supposed to have left that archaic political idea back in the nineteenth century — along with lynching, manifest destiny, Chinese Exclusion, anti-suffrage and chattel slavery.
While the Obama administration has vowed to step in and blunt the impact of today’s decision on affected women, today’s Hobby Lobby ruling establishes a dangerous precedent for the country by reinforcing the whims of “corporate personhood” as more constitutionally protected than the rights of individuals. This was, in fact, the drum beaten by the four judges — including the Court’s four liberals and only three women — who worried about how the majority decision might open the floodgates for corporations to infringe upon other constitutional rights of its employees citing dubious “religious” grounds. If corporations have the right to disenfranchise its female employers, where exactly does the boundary lie between the rights of individuals and of corporate entities?
In less than a week, SCOTUS has effectively dismantled the right for women to have their reproductive health constitutionally protected. In less than a week, SCOTUS has established that the First Amendment rights of the anti-choice political Right are of greater value than women everywhere.
This — this — is the abysmal state of affairs for womens’ rights in this country.
I’m ready to sign the petitions (Update: here’s one by Planned Parenthood). I’m ready to break out my picket signs. I’m ready to chant and protest and boycott.
Who’s with me?