ITHACA – The recently opened Hobby Lobby on Route 13, a chain hobby and craft supply store primarily selling low cost items produced in China, was the site of an afternoon protest Monday, Nov. 11. Area residents, including members of the Tompkins County chapter of NOW (National Organization of Women), local business owners, and students from Ithaca College and Cornell, gathered to protest the attempts of Hobby Lobby owners, Mr. and Mrs. David Green, to challenge the Affordable Care Act mandate concerning birth control.
Green wants his company to be exempt from having to provide health insurance coverage of certain forms of birth control for his female employees. These FDA approved contraceptives, including the morning after pill, and certain intrauterine devices, prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterine lining and thus prevent pregnancy. The Green’s contend that this is tantamount to abortion, which is against their religious beliefs.
In December 2012, the Supreme Court denied Hobby Lobby’s request for a permanent exemption from the mandate, but a federal judge granted a temporary exemption to the company in July of this year. As of October, Hobby Lobby has asked the Supreme Court to consider its lawsuit against the mandate. If the Supreme Court considers the case, many believe the decision will come down to an interpretation of the Citizens United case and whether or not Hobby Lobby as a corporation is entitled to the rights of an individual, in this case the freedom to exercise “its” religious beliefs.
“The Greens argue that for-profit businesses should be allowed exemption on religious grounds in the same way as religious groups,” said Karen Biesanz, of the TC NOW chapter. “To the best of my knowledge, no court has found that a for-profit business is the same thing as a religious organization with regard to federal law. The Hobby Lobby case is seeking to blur the distinction between corporations and their owners. From my perspective, a corporation should not be considered a person. A corporation should not be considered to have religious beliefs like a person does. I believe that corporations are distinct from their owners in terms of constitutional rights.”
According to Carly Hodes, a Cornell MBA student and one of the organizers of the protest, “US law recognizes that employers have tremendous power over the lives of their employees. To protect the rights of individuals, the law requires large companies like Hobby Lobby to provide comprehensive health care coverage. Hobby Lobby’s owners have the right to think and behave however they like in regard to their own personal healthcare, but they do not have the right to make such decisions for their employees. Institutions are free to hold and voice their beliefs, but economic coercion against employees by cutting off their access to legally protected care should not be an available next step.”
The provision of the ACA in question requires health insurance companies provide coverage for most contraceptives without co-pay, as part of comprehensive health care coverage. Approximately 99 percent of U.S. women use birth control at some point in their lives. A study published in October 2012 and reported on in the same month in the Huffington Post showed that access to free contraception reduced abortion rates from 19.6 abortions per 1,000 women to around 5.95 abortions per 1,000 women per year. Applying the study’s results to the 2010 Census for Tompkins County population, abortions would go from around 588 countywide per year to around 179 when the ACA goes into effect.
“Hobby Lobby is a for-profit company employing over 13,000 people who hold a wide variety of beliefs,” said Hodes. “Hobby Lobby should follow the same health, safety, and labor regulations and offer the same health benefits to employees that any other large business must meet. Letting companies use ‘religious objection’ claims to cherry-pick the laws they do and don’t feel like following is an irrational and dangerous precedent to set.”
“I’m here because I heard about it and was outraged,” said protestor Adam Straub of Ithaca. “Hobby Lobby is trying to deny comprehensive health coverage to their female employees. Allowing them to opt out of covering birth control for moral reasons would be the same as allowing them to not pay half of their taxes because they are morally opposed to war.”
“It’s discriminatory,” said Ann Sullivan of Ithaca. “With the Affordable Care Act being a woman stopped being a ‘pre-existing condition,’ and Hobby Lobby wants to return being female to a pre-existing condition. They want to practice medical care without a license.”
The manager of the Ithaca Hobby Lobby had no comment, but did ask the Ithaca Police Department to have the protestors move off Hobby Lobby property. The protestors moved to the parking lot entrances in accordance with police instruction. Biesanz and Hodes said they are planning more actions, including a larger weekend protest.