Washington, D.C. — The Independence Day celebration started early this year, on the very last day of June, in front of the Supreme Court of the United States.
“Where are the women?” During the beginning of the public debate about the Obama administration’s so-called “contraception mandate,” that was the rallying cry and rhetorical bludgeon of the Left. The answer was standing on the steps of the Court as the sun blazed down this particular Monday morning: Right here, defending religious freedom.
I got to the marble steps just a little before we were expecting to receive the ruling in the Hobby Lobby case. Already there was a hopeful anticipation, as Kristan Hawkins from Students for Life led a group of students, interns, activists, wives, and moms in a rally in support of our founding freedoms — God-given freedoms our government was designed to protect.
Contrary to many a mischaracterization that lives on, the question before the Court was whether or not the evangelical Green family, who run the Hobby Lobby arts-and-crafts chain — along with Christian bookstores — would have to choose between their conscience and an Obamacare regulation mandating insurance coverage not just of contraceptives but also of abortifacients (which is what the Greens object to).
Also before the Court were the similar religious-liberty concerns of the Hahn family — Mennonites who run a cabinet-making company, Conestoga Wood Specialties, in Pennsylvania. The Hahns are about the last people in the country who would have wanted to make a federal case — literally — of anything. But the federal government had forced them, along with many others whose cases are still pending — including the Little Sisters of the Poor, who serve the elderly poor — into this position.
The Court’s 5-to-4 answer to the central question was: No, they do not have to make that un-American choice the Obama administration was forcing with its mandate. The majority decision was contrary to what the Justice Department has been arguing in cases throughout the country.
Immediately, opponents of the ruling — on the scene outside the Court, and throughout those places where we gather to opine — were declaring that women were being “screwed” (the most family-friendly of the online reactions) and chanting “Ho, ho, hey, hey, birth control is here to stay.” Access to birth control was never the point of this fight. And yet Kirsten Gillibrand, the junior senator from New York, tweeted: “It’s unacceptable that in 2014 we are still fighting over women’s access to birth control.” In fact, the Hobby Lobby ruling does not take away anyone’s access to contraception, and the Greens were never advocating such a thing. The Obama administration, however, was actively denying the religious liberties of the Greens and the Hahns before the Supreme Court majority ruled. The ruling is a victory for the freedom of conscience in America against an egregious misuse of regulatory powers by the federal government.
In the end, the Court ruled that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act protects these family-run businesses from the coercive power of the mandate. Bill Clinton signed that legislation, which Ted Kennedy helped pass. Hillary Clinton may be joining the crowd that demagogues about it now, but back in the day when she was working on health-care policy as first lady, this was simply considered a conventionally reasonable mainstream position.
Outside the Court on that last day of decisions, activists representing groups including NARAL Pro-Choice America, which helped craft the mandate in the first place, were on site, too, led at times by a young man screaming about birth control, as a sign decorated with a rainbow greeted traffic, insisting that the religious-liberty claim that brought the Greens and the Hahns to court was “Bigotry Disguised as Religion.” But what I saw once I got beyond the abuse of the word tolerance to disguise intolerance and the insistence that treating women’s fertility as a disease is the only way for women to be truly free — hallmarks of this debate and the ideology undergirding the policy — I saw mostly young women who came out to voice their appreciation for Americans who would go to court to defend what has been described as “our first, most cherished liberty.”
The presence of so many women at the Court celebrating the win — including members of the victorious Becket Fund for Religious Liberty legal team — helped expose the lie that the Obama administration’s abortion-drug, contraception, and sterilization mandate was about women’s health and freedom and that to oppose it was to be the enemy of these goods.
In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg asserts that “The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would . . . deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage.” This portrait is an unnecessary distraction, as insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs and contraception is no right men have fought and died for, while religious liberty is.
Ginsburg also writes: “Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community.” As much fun as the media have with the old Mitt Romney line about people and corporations, the owners of Hobby Lobby didn’t surrender their religious-liberty rights the day they decided to supply the scrapbookers of America.
Upon reflection, I wonder if Justice Ginsburg might be relieved that she did not win the day. Not so long ago she voiced the opinion that the Court’s Roe v. Wade decision had actually done damage to the abortion-rights cause, having given opponents a highly visible target and shifted the momentum to their side. If the Obama administration and its ally, the abortion industry, truly do believe that coverage of abortition-inducing drugs and contraceptives is basic health care at some inalienable-right level, they should make that case out in the open. Instead, since the very beginning of the debate over President Obama’s signature health-care legislation, they have argued on the basis of obfuscation and demonization, sowing confusion and even intentionally misleading, while accusing others, as Obama himself once put it, of “bearing false witness.”
We live at a time where there is a lot of confusion about fundamentals — faith, family, freedom. When the women showed up that morning at the Court, they were encouraging all Americans to treasure and be good stewards of the gifts we have as free men and women — each with unique and complementary talents. You don’t have to shop at Hobby Lobby or go to church with the Greens to celebrate the victory won for us all before the Court.
— Kathryn Jean Lopez is a senior fellow at the National Review Institute and editor-at-large of National Review Online. She is also founding director of Catholic Voices USA. This column is based on one available exclusively through Andrews McMeel Universal’s Newspaper Enterprise Association.