SCOTUS Hands Down Decisions That Will Impact Women’s Healthcare & Unions

June 30, 2014  |  

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsThe Supreme Court handed down two decisions today that have an impact on unions and women seeking coverage for their contraception.

In the case of Harris v. Quinn, the Court ruled by a margin of 5-4 that some government workers — partial public employees —  don’t have to pay union dues dealing a blow to unions. It wasn’t devastating, but for many who see the power of unions diminishing, it was a negative development. The conservative justices — Samuel Alito, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, John Roberts — and swing voter Anthony Kennedy made up the majority.

The case was brought by eight Illinois home health workers who said they shouldn’t be required to pay the dues. “Justice Alito wrote that unions play such a limited role for ‘partial public employees’ like home-care aides that these aides should not be required to pay dues — indeed he wrote that such a requirement would violate the aides’ First Amendment rights.” Twenty-one states including Illinois require government workers to pay fees for the collective bargaining efforts of unions.

The dissenting group of four justices see this as the first step to overturning a more important ruling — Abood vs. Detroit Board of Education, from 1977 — that would have a greater impact on union. In that case, it was established that government employees should pay their “fair share” for the union’s bargaining on their behalf for wages and benefits (strengthening the bargaining power of workers) even if they didn’t agree with the union on other matters. Workers are not required to chip in for things like lobbying efforts.

In the more controversial Hobby Lobby case, the Court ruled by a 5-4 margin again that family-owned companies should not be required to pay for certain kinds of birth control if the company owners deem it against their religious beliefs. Two companies with Christian owners — a chain of craft stores called Hobby Lobby and a wood cabinet company called Conestoga Wood Specialities — said they don’t believe in certain kinds of contraception and would be penalized millions of dollars under the Affordable Care Act for not providing it for their workers. The majority, once again made up of those conservative judges, basically extended religious freedom protections to for-profit companies, which could open the door to other claims and outright discrimination based on a business owner’s interpretation of their personal religion.

The dissenting judges here also were Elena Kagan, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Stephen Breyer, and Sonia Sotomayor. Justice Ginsburg, writing in her dissent, called it a “decision of startling breadth” despite the majority’s attempts to make it as narrow as possible. According to these justices, it opens the door for other, larger companies to claim that they too don’t want to follow some element of the law because it’s against their religious beliefs. Justice Alito says he thinks “it seems unlikely” that this will happen, but that’s no comfort to those who think a woman’s right to adequate healthcare is being compromised by this ruling.

Mother Jones has this great wrap up of what it calls the “blistering dissent” from Justice Ginsberg, including this large piece of truth telling: “Any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby’s or Conestoga’s plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will be the woman’s autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults.” The morning-after pill and IUDs are the primary forms of contraception that are affected.

In addition to the protesters from both sides who vocalized their beliefs from outside the Supreme Court building, many took to the Internet to voice their opinions. John Legend tweeted the following:   

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//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsAnd we’ve got this from Sen. Cory Booker (D, NJ):

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsAnd here’s the response from Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D, NY):

Sally Kohn, writing for The Daily Beast, broke down her opposition to the ruling in no uncertain terms, writing that besides crossing the line with women, the ruling also crosses the line for religious freedom: “But it’s the conflation of these points that is truly frightening: the idea that in continuing to give corporations more and more unchecked power and reign, we are giving them the power of religious tyranny — the ability to wantonly and unilaterally impose religion as they see fit on their workers and perhaps more.”

Clearly, we agree with the minority on both cases. Your thoughts on these rulings?

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