Dear SCOTUS: Women Are People, Too

Jul 11, 2014

This week the Supreme Court ruled, again, that corporations are people – and essentially that women are not. In an impressive misuse of legal theory, a fundamental misunderstanding of science and anatomy, and a blatant disregard for the rights of women, the Supreme Court decided in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby that “closely held” for-profit corporations have religious rights and can use them to prevent employees from getting the health care they need.

The decision rests on some shaky presumptions. After all, corporations don’t go to church. They can’t pray. And yet they apparently can have a religion. In the case of Hobby Lobby, that’s one religion.  What’s more, Hobby Lobby, the “closely held” corporation in question, is no mom and pop enterprise. It’s an enormous profit making business that owns nearly 600 stores in 47 states, employs 13,000 workers, and generates more than $3 billion in revenue.  

Standing in the way of women accessing birth control in the name of “religious liberty” is a perversion of that idea. The free exercise of religion does not give us the right to impose our religious beliefs on other people or to use religion to discriminate. Most Americans believe that private companies, like Hobby Lobby, should be required to provide their employees with health insurance that covers the cost of contraception.

This decision will have real implications for real people – and not only employees themselves, but also the children and families of employees. And with the definition of “closely-held corporation” applying to over 90% of businesses in the United States, and with such companies hiring more than half of the American workforce, this may affect far more women than initially understood. Women’s health decisions should be up to us and our doctors, not our bosses.

This ruling continues a troubling trend in our country, and in the courts, of twisting our laws to serve powerful interests and not the people. In the vein of Citizens United and McCutcheon, this case threatens the very foundations of democracy: If large corporations can get out of obeying laws passed by our elected representatives by claiming they violate the business’ religion, elections become a lot less meaningful.

Hobby Lobby sets a dangerous precedent for a range of issues and protections that impact my constituents. The floodgates are open – and as a young woman and brand new mom- serving in elected office, I will be working to do everything I can to be sure that women in Montana have access to the health care they need.

Representative Ellie Hill is a third term member of the Montana Legislature representing Missoula, the Young Elected Officials Network at People For the American Way Foundation, and a new mom.