By Helen Alvare
Women Speak for Themselves
The Supreme Court yesterday agreed to hear two important cases about whether women and men who own businesses are protected by civil rights laws against religious discrimination. The Obama Administration says it can ignore religious freedom laws when regulating businesses and their owners because it believes earning money is inconsistent with exercising religion.
Reacting to the news that the Supreme Court will consider this important issue, the White House struck its typical pose as the one and only protector of, and voice for, "women and families." The president assures us that he is pressing these cases so that "women and families -- not their bosses or corporate CEOs" make decisions about whether to use abortion-inducing drugs and devices.
The White House stance assumes that women care far more about free access to contraceptives, or their sex lives, than about religious freedom, or allowing businesses to have a conscience. This view of women is degrading. It treats women as one-dimensional victims needing the protection of government-as-big-brother.
Moreover, the government misjudges women at every turn. First, the idea that service to "women and families" requires crushing these businesses with fines is absurd because the businesses at issue are actually owned by . . . women and families. While it may have escaped White House notice, the plaintiffs in the two cases include women owners and operators of the relevant businesses. This should not be so surprising: there are more than ten million women-owned businesses in this country. And here in the 21st century, many women are the "bosses and corporate CEOs" the White House criticizes. Crushing businesses with fines-particularly businesses with women owners-hurts women, rather than helping them.
Second, the White House view ignores the fact that women benefit -- indeed, everyone benefits -- from having a job market in which people of all different faiths are able to create jobs. Hobby Lobby, for example, employs more than 13,000 people, and actually provides free contraceptives to its employees-- just not the small handful that can cause abortions. There are thousands of women whose lives are better and whose families are stronger and more secure because of those jobs. Crushing Hobby Lobby just because of its owners religious beliefs would hurt these women, not help them. The last thing our economy needs, and the last thing American families need, is the government shrinking the already too-small pool of available jobs.
Third, women actually tend to practice religion more than men. For this reason too, the government's attack on religious freedom rights hurts women more than men.
The White House insists that its heavy-handed approach is needed to protect women because it thinks contraceptives are "essential to women's health." That is, to say the least, a highly dubious claim. Women get sick and die, for the most part, of things like heart attacks, strokes and cancer. Their long list of ailments rarely calls for free contraceptives to solve a health problem. In fact, as Judge Janice Rogers Brown recently noted, there are credible medical sources (like the World Health Organization) who now classify some hormonal contraceptives as carcinogens. Americans spend millions of dollars a year to buy chicken and meat that have not been pumped full of synthetic hormones-precisely because they fear the associated medical risks.
But even if the government is right about how we all need easy access to contraceptives all the time, there can be no serious argument that the only way to provide us with our pills is to force unwilling employers to pay for them. Contraceptives are widely available and cheap. And for those who cannot afford them, the government already spends millions of dollars per year providing them for free. With the Obamacare exchanges now open, if the federal government thinks more women need or want this insurance coverage, it now runs a marketplace in which they can get it.
Women do not need big brother steamrolling religious liberty to make their lives better. They would prefer to hold onto religious liberty itself.
Helen Alvare is a law professor at George Mason University and the founder of Women Speak for Themselves. This article was originally published at USA Today and is used with permission.