Fox News host Martha MacCallum hid the radical implications of a Supreme Court case which could allow for-profit corporations to use religion to discriminate against women and deny employees basic health care coverage, claiming the corporations were merely asking "for some tolerance of their religious belief."
On November 26, the Supreme Court agreed to hear oral arguments in two cases in which business owners -- Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties -- argue they should be exempt from an Affordable Care Act (ACA) requirement which mandates that large, for-profit corporations must offer employees health plans that cover contraceptives at no additional cost.
On December 2, America's Newsroom co-host Martha MacCallum supported the corporations' arguments, claiming that allowing employers to pick and choose what to cover under their health plans based on their religious beliefs was simply an issue of "tolerance" and that the health care law was asking employers to "violate their conscience" by offering contraceptive care:
It seems to me, I mean all they're asking is for an exemption, and for some tolerance of their religious belief, so if a company is owned by someone who doesn't believe that that is ethical, that they should be able to offer a plan that is accepted under Obamacare but that is exempted, that exempts contraception.
I don't understand what the issue would be, with offering a separate version that that employer feels doesn't violate their conscience? How can you ask someone to violate their conscience in the plan that they choose to offer to their employees?
What MacCallum ignores is that religious organizations and certain religiously affiliated nonprofits are already provided exemptions from the contraception mandate. The question posed by these cases to the Supreme Court is whether or not these exemptions should be extended to for-profit, secular companies. If the court rules in favor of the corporations, it would be an unprecedented extension of religious freedom rights and could have radical legal implications, going against the basic tenets of corporate law.
It could also set a dangerous precedent, allowing employers to use their religious beliefs to discriminate against women, and potentially deny all Americans benefits for a wide range of basic medical needs.
Requiring businesses to provide health care plans that cover contraception at no additional cost "was put into place in order to eliminate gender inequality in healthcare," Gretchen Borchelt, senior counsel at the National Women's Law Center, explained. As Micah Schwartzman and Nelson Tebbe noted in Slate, exempting for-profit corporations would reinstate that inequality, undermining a purpose of health care reform:
[E]xempting large, for-profit corporations from the contraception mandate would significantly burden female employees, along with all the wives and daughters covered by the policies of male employees. Thousands of women would lose all insurance coverage for contraception. That loss would be very real, and it would frustrate a central objective of Obamacare: namely to ensure that women have equal access to critical preventative care.
If the Supreme Court rules in favor of the corporations, it will not just put women's basic health care in jeopardy. As MSNBC's Irin Carmon and Slate's Dahlia Lithwick have pointed out, corporations could potentially be allowed to opt out of covering anything that is religiously contested, including things like vaccinations, psychiatric care, and AIDS medications. What if your employer is an Orthodox Jew who wants to refuse coverage for any medication that comes in a gelatin capsule? What if she is a Christian Scientist who doesn't believe in visiting doctors?
Requiring for-profit companies to offer health plans which cover birth control is not an attack on religious liberties. It ensures that everyone, regardless of their personal religious belief, has access to basic health coverage which they can then choose to use or ignore.