The Gaping Flaw in Logic in The Supreme Court

SCOTUS-2013The recent Supreme Court decision that allows companies with ‘deeply held religious beliefs’ from being compelled to cover reproductive health services or drugs for their employees exposes some deeply unimpressive reasoning on the part of the majority, but their ill-considered earlier decisions on corporate ‘personhood’ were a sign that the majority on this court is not brimming with deep thinkers or even careful and considered justices.

I ask you to consider the proposition that there is no fundamental difference between the wages a company pays employees, and the benefits it offers; both are forms of remuneration. When a person is employed by a company who covers their healthcare, the company does not directly pay their medical bills. It pays an insurance company which manages the coverage, payments, etc. It purchases coverage.  Should that insurance company then go on to pay for a consultation with a doctor, who prescribes birth control pills (or even an abortion), the choice to take the pills is ultimately up to the individual who swallows them, and no one else. Similarly, the person who undergoes the procedure of abortion (by whatever means) is responsible for whatever moral risk that might be believed to pose.

(There is an interesting schism in American conservative thinking here, whereby contraceptive drugs or abortion procedures – which are tools by which an outcome is achieved –  are considered to be ‘the thing that kills’, whereas when it comes to guns, ‘guns don’t kill, people do’.)

But “Justice Alito said the requirement that the two companies provide contraception coverage imposed a substantial burden on their religious liberty.”  Firstly, contraception coverage is not contraception. It doesn’t encourage the act of taking contraception. It simply makes it possible, through the benefits offered by the employer, for the individual employee to choose to do so.

The company may have indirectly paid for contraceptive pills, but the religious problem is not with their purchase, but their use. The company plays no part in the decision to use them.  If there is any religious problem, it is the same one as it would be in paying that employee’s wages.

If the employee did not have contraception coverage through the company, but paid for the pills out of wages paid by the company, how would it be any less of a burden on the company’s religious liberty? It is still facilitating the purchase of those birth control pills. Whether it happens through insurance premium payment or wages, it is still indirect but has some hand in the facilitation.

Insurance coverage, like offered wages, are a condition of the employment contract. Employees can choose to work or not work for a company depending on what they are offering. Similarly, a company may offer whatever wages and whatever health coverage the law requires.

But to suggest that insurance coverage that includes contraception is MORE of a ‘burden on their religious liberty’ than paying the wages of a person who will use that money to purchase contraception is a grave flaw in logic.

Had ‘Hobby Lobby’ been engaged in a case where it petitioned not to have to pay an employee’s wages because it knew the person was going to  purchase contraception, or buy porn, or spend their wages doing any number of things they might consider morally objectionable (but not illegal), the Supreme Court would have not found for them. But the argument Alito used in his opinion enables exactly that reasoning to be upheld.

If a company can legally refuse coverage because a person might use it to do something it finds morally objectionable, then it could also refuse to pay wages, or to let the person go home – and sin.

It’s a shoddy, careless piece of thinking. Like so many.  It allows the employer to dictate the personal, ethical and moral life of the employee.