Right-wing media capitalized on the Supreme Court's Hobby Lobby ruling with the refrain that the so-called 'war on women' is nonexistent, a bizarre take on a decision that relied on conservative talking points to deal a devastating blow to women's rights and health access.
Last month the Supreme Court ruled that “closely held” for-profit secular corporations like Hobby Lobby are exempt from the so-called contraception mandate, a provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) that requires employer-sponsored health insurance to cover comprehensive preventive health care including birth control. Right-wing media cheered the decision -- made by a conservative all-male majority relying on right-wing media myths in the opinion -- by mocking the notion that it limited women's access to health care or evidenced a larger war on women.
Bill O'Reilly argued that Hobby Lobby exemplifies how the war on women narrative is being falsely sold by liberals by citing the fact that his two female guests, both Fox News figures, disapprove of “paying for other people's birth control” and haven't themselves experienced “gender bigotry.”
Similarly, Fox News anchor Martha MacCallum predicted Democrats will use the decision to campaign on the “so-called war on women” with the “message that something's been taken away” from women. MacCallum deemed the notion “hard to understand” because, according to her, women still “have the freedom to get whatever kind of birth control they want to get,” either from Hobby Lobby's health coverage or “free from Planned Parenthood.”
Other Fox figures laughed at the idea of Hobby Lobby's connection to a war on women by comparing the term to the “Rocky Movie Franchise” which “just sort of keeps on going with different evolutions,” and by describing it as a fabricated Democratic campaign strategy.
The war on women, a term coined by advocacy groups, describes the barrage of attacks from “far-right national and state lawmakers, in coordination with Religious Right activists” on “not just abortion rights, but also access to birth control and preventative care, as well as contemporary views of women's roles in the workplace, the family and the halls of power,” as People for the American Way explained.
In the Hobby Lobby decision, the Supreme Court's conservative all-male majority prioritized the purported religious beliefs of employers over the health needs of female employees, allowing Hobby Lobby the right to deny female employees health plans that cover emergency contraception and intrauterine devices. The Court validated Hobby Lobby's inaccurate belief -- perpetuated by right-wing media -- that those forms of contraception cause abortion, determining it was sufficient that Hobby Lobby's owners “sincerely believed” that the contraceptives at issue in the case are “abortifacients,” even though they really aren't.
In doing so, the conservative majority decision not only ignored precedents and surrendered protections for women, but they ignored “the havoc” the judgment could introduce, as laid out in Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's dissent. Ginsburg underscored how the ruling would effectively "deny legions of women who do not hold their employer's beliefs access to contraception coverage," and create an “accommodation of a for-profit corporation's religious beliefs no matter the impact that accommodation may have on third parties who do not share the corporation owners' religious faith -- in these cases, thousands of women employed by Hobby Lobby ... or dependents of persons those corporations employ.”
Notably, the Court emphasized that its ruling was “concerned solely with the contraceptive mandate,” rejecting the idea that providing an exemption to the mandate for for-profit corporations would open the door for religious employers to deny coverage for other medical services like blood transfusions and vaccinations -- health needs that, unlike contraception, men may have as well. As the National Women's Law Center (NWLC) explained in their amicus brief to the Supreme Court, “contraception is critical to women's health and providing it with no-cost sharing advances the compelling government interest in public health,” as high costs of contraception remain a primary barrier to access for women. The NWLC also highlighted the gender gaps and sex “disparities inherent in failing to provide health insurance coverage for contraception and related services,” and noted that “in passing the ACA, Congress recognized that excluding coverage of women's preventive health services, including contraception, constituted discrimination against women.”
In addition to economic disparity and public health issues, as Dahlia Lithwick pointed out in Slate, the Supreme Court's ruling diminishes “the very notion of the woman herself as a moral circuit breaker, as an agent of her own ethical choices and preferences, whose decision to obtain and IUD, or a condom, or a morning-after pill is a fully autonomous moral choice that supplants the spiritual choices of her employer.” In other words, according to Lithwick, the Court's decision rests on the belittling idea that “women are in effect children” and “their choices are to be second-guessed anda gently redirected.”
It is not only women's access to emergency contraception and IUDs that is at issue -- a series of current legal challenges could make the ruling's impact even worse. As the Associated Press reported, the Supreme Court followed its Hobby Lobby decision with a series of orders that “confirmed that its decision a day earlier extending religious rights to closely held corporations applies broadly to the contraceptive coverage requirement in the new health care law, not just the handful of methods the justices considered in their ruling.” As legal expert Lyle Denniston explained, the Court “sent a fairly strong signal on Tuesday that its ruling giving some for-profit businesses a right not to provide birth control services to their female workers goes beyond the specific methods at issue in that decision.”
While right-wing media verbally deny the Hobby Lobby ruling's devastating impact on women's rights, the decision is a victory in their campaign to mock women's health access and advance Republican agendas to restrict reproductive choice -- actions that advocacy groups might deem a war on women.