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Whose burden is it anyway?

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The legal analysts assure us that the U.S. Supreme Court ruling on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby does not impose any burden on employees who want access to contraceptive coverage. This was reinforced, they say, with the Wheaton College v. Burwell case three days later. Employees, the analysts say, will get their contraceptives from the insurance company. The employees won’t even notice any change.

I have come to believe that this whole public discussion has become a burden for employees. I can’t help but fear that these discussions in a work environment will have a chilling effect on the personnel choices of employees. If I were a woman who wanted access to contraception and worked for a company or religious nonprofit that has publicly stated it doesn’t want women using contraceptives, am I going to feel safe in that environment? Would I fear for my job? What if my doctor tells me my contraception isn’t an abortifacient, but my employer tells me it is? Can I use it? Would I forgo contraception to keep my job? Isn’t the fact that I have to think about this a burden already?

We’ve seen in recent months Catholic school teachers forced to examine their personal lives because of new morality clauses and ministerial clauses in teacher contracts. Will the next draft of contracts ask about contraceptive usage? Is that far-fetched?

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Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg got it right in her dissent: “Importantly, the decisions whether to claim benefits under the plans are made not by Hobby Lobby or [co-plaintiff] Conestoga, but by the covered employees and dependents, in consultation with their health care providers. … Any decision to use contraceptives … will be the woman’s autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults.” That is where the decisions should lie.

The Supreme Court ruled that Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties were “substantially burdened” by the Affordable Care Act mandate and are entitled to an accommodation. The legal analysts tell us that the court didn’t have to weigh the burden on employees. But I have to wonder if that’s right. I’ve got to ask, whose burden is it anyway?

This story appeared in the July 18-31, 2014 print issue under the headline: Whose burden is it anway? .

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