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Editorial: Much ado about contraceptives

Published 9:39am Wednesday, July 2, 2014

Talk about overreach.

The Supreme Court ruled Monday 5-4 that “closely held” (read: family-owned) for-profit corporations could opt out of the contraceptives portion of the employees’ health care plans offered under the Affordable Care Act.0702.supreme.court

It was a narrow ruling, in that it was a small aspect of a widespread law regarding the entire health care industry.

But the shrill reaction by supporters and opponents of contraceptives is out of hand. They have made the overreach. One side is making it seem like women now have to return to being barefoot and pregnant while the other side seems like, well, women have to return to being barefoot and pregnant. It must a bad and a good thing, depending on the political persuasion of the protester.

One side has been quick to portray the Obama administration was way off base with Obamacare all because of the contraceptives provision. It’s like they are ready to take this narrow ruling and win over a generation of Americans, even though Obamacare has been upheld by this very same Supreme Court. The other side is as mad as hornets, as though one minor loss after a long string of victories is the end of America as we know it.

By any standard, the decision could have been worse for either side. After all, the Obama administration already allowed exemptions for religious nonprofit organization. This ruling only expands that for some companies, and the federal government might end up picking up the contraceptives tab for those employees anyway.

The Supreme Court’s conservative side could have ruled to wipe out coverage of all contraceptives. But it didn’t. It found what appears to be a happy medium between the new law and its interpretation of religious freedom found in the First Amendment.

The greater issue is not about contraception at all. It’s the notion that a corporation has religious beliefs. The ruling, written by Justice Samuel Alito, even reinforces the long-held legal stance that a corporation is a fictional entity. So now fictional entities have religion? As silly as that notion may seem to some people, it is near and dear to others. Debate over rights, no matter the side, are nothing to scoff at.

On one hand, why allow fictional entities formed primarily to prevent personal liability in group, for-profit endeavours the same rights as individual people? After all, these fictional entities don’t go to prison like individual people, and the Constitution’s preamble says in big letters, “We the people.” On the other hand, if you formed a company, would you want to give up the rights you had as an individual? Probably not. They view the company as a group method for their personal decisions and actions. So it’s a tough line to draw.

The debate over whether corporations have the same rights as people — corporate personhood — is one of the major arguments of our age. The Citizens United vs. FEC ruling in January 2010 only got the ball rolling. It will be interesting to see where the ball stops.