Small Business Owners Are More Progressive than the U.S. Supreme Court Thinks
See also: Infographic: Small Business Owners Support Contraception Insurance Coverage by Julisa McCoy and Donna Barry
The end of the most recent U.S. Supreme Court session brought indelible progress for civil and human rights. The Justices upheld the Fair Housing Act, maintained health care coverage for millions of Americans in need, protected the constitutional right to marry regardless of sex or gender identity, andallowed abortion clinics in Texas to keep their doors open.
Despite this term’s many progressive rulings, many are still struggling with the effects of the Court’s controversial Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision. On June 30, 2014, the Court dealt a severe blow to women’s health and rights by granting closely held, for-profit corporations standing to deny their employees access to contraception coverage on the grounds of religious freedom—a right normally thought to be reserved for individuals. Many, including Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, have spoken about the Hobby Lobby ruling’s dangerous precedent of masking discrimination behind religious exceptions.
Rhetoric both before and after the ruling has sought to obfuscate women’s fundamental right to contraception by maintaining a narrow focus on corporate personhood and religious freedom. Consequently, the personal and financial benefits women gained from the Affordable Care Act, or ACA—including relief from cost sharing for contraceptives and other preventive care—have been largely ignored. A recent study by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania found that, prior to this ACA benefit, the mean percentage of out-of-pocket expenses on private insurance claims for women using oral contraceptives was 30 percent. For women using an intrauterine device, or IUD—a longer-acting, more expensive form of reversible birth control—that percentage rose to 44 percent.
Following the implementation of the ACA, women’s mean out-of-pocket expenses for birth control pills and IUDs decreased 38 percent and 68 percent, respectively. Women taking oral contraceptives saw an annual savings of $255 and women using an IUD saved $248 per year. Altogether, the study estimated that the 6.88 million women using only birth control pills through their private insurance collectively saved $1.4 billion per year.
Although the University of Pennsylvania study is fairly recent, existing research had already documented the importance and effects of contraceptive accessibility. Despite this knowledge, many conservatives argued that the ACA mandate was the federal government’s way of “imposing its secular values” onto corporations by “forcing” them to offer insurance-covered contraception. Others trivialized women in their fight for access to insurance-covered birth control, suggesting that they and the Obama administration were stepping on the First Amendment rights of business owners. The overall message, however, remained the same: Employers’ religious rights were more important than women’s health, and business owners can have the right to block certain health care services from their workers based on their personal religious beliefs.
According to recent polling, however, this narrative does not actually reflect the mainstream views of the business world. A new poll commissioned by the Center for American Progress and the Small Business Majority and completed by Greenberg Quinlan Rosner Research found that the majority of small business owners interviewed—62 percent—believe that employers should be required to offer insurance that covers birth control even if it conflicts with owners’ religious beliefs. More importantly, these findings are consistent across gender, race, political affiliation, religious identification, and even geography.
In the poll, 48 percent of the respondents identify as Republican or Republican-leaning; nearly half of these respondents, 49 percent, believe that personal religious objections should not interfere with their employees’ access to contraception through their employer-provided health insurance. Those who identify as an Independent or a Democrat demonstrate even higher levels of support for this question: 64 percent and 82 percent respectively. This is one of the first polls proving bipartisan support among employers themselves for the idea that working women’s access to reproductive services should be protected from employer-imposed beliefs.
In addition, a sizable majority, or 62 percent, of the small business owners polled who identify as Catholic also express support for employer-provided insurance coverage of contraception. Despite the Catholic Church’s doctrinal stance against contraception and reproductive rights, this poll suggests that many Catholic employers do not believe that their personal beliefs should affect their employees’ access to birth control. Respondents who identify as Protestant, 53 percent, and the total number of small business owners who consider themselves Christian regardless of denomination, 59 percent, also agree that their religious objections should not interfere with contraception coverage.
Given these findings, support for corporate religious freedom only serves to perpetuate a false, unrepresentative view of small business owners’ beliefs—and does so at the expense of working women. Contrary to some of the divisive rhetoric, many small business owners understand the importance of women’s reproductive health and respect the boundary of employer-employee relations. Small business owners understand that employees have a right to basic health care services without religious interference, and they support working women’s right to access birth control through their employer-provided insurance.
Although the Hobby Lobby decision stands, the federal government has made accommodations to cover women who will lose their contraception coverage because of the ruling. Last week, the Departments of Health and Human Services, or HHS, Treasury, and Labor issued final rules so that employees at companies such as Hobby Lobby will have all contraceptives paid for when the rules go into effect in a couple of months. These new rules will simply require businesses to file a form or write a letter rather than cover the costs of contraceptives; employees will still be able to get coverage, even if the employers object. While it is positive that these employees will have coverage for all birth control methods, the fact remains that a majority of small business owners—a group incorrectly labeled as conservative, both fiscally and socially—are fine with covering contraception for their employees, even if they have religious objections.
Finally, there is no doubt that some closely held for-profit companies will file lawsuits against the federal government’s new rule, even though it simply requires these companies to complete some paperwork. In the nonprofit cases objecting to the accommodation, five circuit courts have ruled that filling out a form or sending a letter to HHS does not constitute a burden on their religious liberty. Let’s hope that women don’t have to wait for similar decisions in future for-profit cases in order to retain coverage.
Julisa McCoy is an intern with the Women’s Health and Rights Program at the Center for American Progress. Donna Barry is the Director of the Women’s Health and Rights Program at the Center.
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Director, Women's Health and Rights Program