Firm can redeem itself by offering paid parental leave
OK, Hobby Lobby. You can still fix this.
There’s one way to come out of this looking decent, walking that righteous, pious, moral path you talk about.
The Supreme Court has decided that you have the right to deny covering contraception for thousands of your female employees. Now you should provide the most fantastic, bang-up, paid and protected parental leave in the United States.
Think about it. Your craft stores can become American corporate pioneers, showcasing your Christian values by giving your more than 13,000 employees paid time off when they have children.
America ranks dead last in the world when it comes to paid parental leave, according to a recent United Nations report. Wait, actually, we are tied with Oman and Papua New Guinea, both of which also offer no paid maternity leave.
And yet here we are, a nation hostile to working families, whose highest court just ruled that corporations can skirt federal law on what health plans offer women seeking control over their reproductive lives. More babies! Less support!
“Family leave. Child care. Flexibility. These aren’t frills — they’re basic needs,” President Barack Obama said last week about America’s abysmal record on family policy. “They shouldn’t be bonuses — they should be the bottom line.”
A bonus? Monday’s decision allowing a corporation to deny federally approved benefits will make it even harder for American families who rely on the Affordable Care Act — especially those with low-wage, hourly workers employed at retailers such as Hobby Lobby.
When it comes down to it, this decision is even uglier because it is primarily an economic one, another way to beat down our nation’s struggling families. Most of the thousands of women who work in the silk flower sections or at the cash registers at Hobby Lobby are there for a steady paycheck with health care. And for many of them, health care includes contraception.
Of course, Hobby Lobby can’t stop its workers from getting a prescription for birth control pills. And if there are women in their corporate suite, they can surely afford to buy the pills or an IUD on their own. But with the cost around $50 a month for pills, $60 for a single Plan B dose and around $100 for a shot of Depo-Provera, many American workers can’t afford birth control without the help of the Affordable Care Act.
So to save money, women may start skimping, taking pills only every other day or relying on less reliable methods. And that will inevitably lead to more abortions.
About 61 percent of American women who have abortions are already mothers to at least one child, according to the Guttmacher Institute. Many of them fear that another child will devastate their fragile family, pushing them into poverty, unemployment and government assistance.
Denying them affordable birth control on religious grounds makes no sense.
It’s also funny how the righteousness melts away when it comes to money. Turns out that Hobby Lobby’s 401(k) employee retirement plan, according to documents filed with the Labor Department and written about by Mother Jones, is heavily invested in the very pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the products the company refuses to cover for its employees. Yup, Hobby Lobby has about $73 million invested in the company that makes the Plan B morning-after pill, another that makes a copper IUD, the maker of the abortion-inducing drugs and health companies that cover surgical abortions.
In her 35-page dissent, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg quoted from another case that underscores the importance of birth control to women: “The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives” (1992’s Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pennsylvania v. Casey). But the five male justices who ruled in favor of Hobby Lobby just handed employers a powerful tool to opt out of laws they don’t like. Hear that, everyone? If you want the benefits of the Affordable Care Act, you better check out the religious beliefs of your bosses.
How do they feel about your sex life? Are they cool with the monthly birth control pills you take to control your endometriosis? Do they think you or your children should be immunized, or is that against their religion? The door is now open for all that.
This was a dangerous decision and the first time that the Supreme Court has said a profit-seeking corporation can hold up religious beliefs as a way to opt out of federal law. Imagine the ways corporate America is going to twist and bend this ruling.
The only way this decision can avoid becoming a complete catastrophe is if Hobby Lobby breaks new ground with family-friendly leave policies. This company can set a standard for the rest of corporate America and follow through with some of the other stuff the Bible preaches: compassion, kindness and Jesus’ way of refusing to judge while offering aid.
Petula Dvorak is a Washington Post columnist.