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Obama's Hobby Horse: Gender Equality

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  • Betsy McCaughey, Ph.D.
    (Courtesy of Betsy McCaughey)
    Betsy McCaughy, Ph.D.
By Betsy McCaughey, Ph.D., CP Op-Ed Contributor
February 6, 2014|9:53 am

On January 28, nineteen U.S. Senators and 91 members of the House of Representatives, all Democrats, filed briefs with the U.S Supreme Court supporting the Obama administration's legal war against Hobby Lobby, a family-owned chain of craft stores that provides health insurance for employees but refuses for religious reasons to cover morning after pills such as Plan B and Ella.

Senator Patty Murray claims, "what is at stake in this case before the Supreme Court is whether a CEO's personal beliefs can trump a woman's right to access free or low cost contraceptives under the Affordable Care Act. "

Nonsense. Not one word in the Affordable Care Act guarantees that health plans cover birth control products. There is no such right. Sect. 2713 of the law says insurers must cover whatever services the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force rates A or B, and empowers the Secretary of Health and Human Services – a presidential appointee – to add others. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force doesn't call for covering birth control.

It's President Obama and his HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius who insist plans cover it .The next occupant of the White House could do the opposite. So this court battle isn't about what Senator Murray incorrectly calls a "right." Women have a constitutionally protected right to use birth control, but not to get it at work.

And access is a trumped up issue -- a straw woman.

The expensive part of getting birth control is visiting the gynecologist for a prescription, and all health plans (including Hobby Lobby's) cover that. The Hobby Lobby battle is over who pays the cost of the morning after pill – a mere $35. That's less than the cost of a haircut and blow dry, a carton of Pampers (128 count) or dinner for two at Applebee's. Definitely affordable for women at Hobby Lobby where starting pay is $17 an hour plus benefits. Poor women can get help with birth control through Medicaid, federal community health clinics and Planned Parenthood.

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So this battle is not about access. President Obama is picking this fight for political reasons. His justice department argues that saving women a small fee ($35 for the Ella pill) outweighs honoring a business owner's religious views. Fortunately, that's not what the U.S. Constitution says.

The First Amendment bars government from "prohibiting the free exercise of religion." That means freedom not only to worship but also to live and run your business according to the teachings of your faith.

That's why a federal appeals court ruled against Obama and for David Green and his wife, the owners of Hobby Lobby craft stores and its Mardel Christian book store. They try to run their businesses according to Biblical principles. They close on Sunday, forego hauling beer even when their trucks have to run empty, and refuse to provide morning after pills.

After the lower court ruled for the Greens, the New York Times called the court's decision "a warped view" because "some employers can get out of complying with the new law…"

Not with the law but with the Obama administration's regulation.

The Obama administration's take-no-prisoners stance against the Greens and other religious employers is part of a political strategy to convince the public that the Democratic Party is the champion of victimized women. Gender equality is Obama's hobbyhorse for the 2014 elections. Obama gave us a preview during his State of the Union address last Tuesday, cynically boasting that Obamacare bars insurers from charging women higher premiums than men.

Cynical, because women consume more healthcare. How horrible was it to charge them more? Prohibiting that simply shifts the costs onto men.
The Democrats' legal briefs argue that women generally have higher out of pocket health costs than men because of the cost of birth control. They say that's unfair, and their remedy is to compel employers to provide "free" birth control, no matter what the harm to an employer's religious freedom.

Thirty-five dollars for a "free" morning after pill v. respecting religious freedom. Expect the Supremes to rule that religious freedom is worth more than that.

Betsy McCaughey is a constitutional scholar, a patient advocate and health policy expert, and a former Lt. Governor of New York state. She is the founding Chairman of the Committee to Reduce Infection Deaths (also known as RID), a nationwide educational campaign to stop hospital-acquired infections. She is the author of over three hundred scholarly and popular articles, and three books, including a history of the U.S. Constitution. McCaughey can be followed @Betsy_McCaughey and www.betsymccaughey.com
 

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