Religion and Politics in the US

Welcome to RelPol, a student peer reviewed online magazine. This magazine is part of the assessment for the module "In God We Trust" @ the University of Hull.

Who can claim religious exemption for providing birth control?

my body my choice


The Obamacare reforms; formally known as the Affordable Care Act were signed into Law by President Barack Obama on 23th March 2010. The Presidents goals for the improvements to American health care were, to give more people access to health insurance that is more affordable, and to improve the quality of available insurance. On the surface, these reforms were to benefit many Americans, but that was before many religious organizations accused the state of crossing the line between church and state.

Some beneficial outcomes of the reforms made by President Obama in 2010 strengthen consumer rights to fair access to healthcare; no insurance company can now refuse to cover individuals if they are known to have pre-existing medical conditions. The marketplace website, which offers a range of healthcare options, gives consumers more choice and encourages health insurance providers to compete for business that has the effect of driving down prices of cover.

The Obamacare reforms also brought the requirement for large companies with over fifty full-time employees to provide healthcare insurance. Businesses with over this limit failing to provide health care insurance could be fined up to three thousand dollars per day per employee. Furthermore, this controversial move to force employers to start insuring the people who work for them has created tensions between the state and religious organizations. This is because, under the reforms made by Obamacare, access to preventive care such as birth control had been made mandatory under the health care plans.

A large textile retail business with over 500 stores in America, Hobby Lobby, decided to break the law by refusing to make available some kinds of birth control under the employee health care plan, facing possible fines of up to 1.3 million dollars per day. This refusal was due to the owner’s strict evangelical Christian beliefs that abortion goes against God. Providing certain birth control pills, such as the morning after pill in their opinion induces abortions and ends possible human life. Hobby Lobby argued that been forced to make these drugs available was against the First Amendment to the United States Constitution that states “It forbids Congress from both promoting one religion over others and also restricting an individual’s religious practices”, but does this extend into the day to day workings of the corporation they operate.

The ruling from the Supreme Court of the United States was corporations didn’t have religious freedom under the first amendment. However, if the business is termed closely held by owners of certain religious belief, then a third party would have to make contraception available. Ronald J. Colombo from Hofstra Law states that “Hobby Lobby” is a “for-profit business corporations, and the government believes that such entities are excluded from our nation’s religious liberty protections”  (Colombo, 2013). The final decision made by the Supreme Court of allowing a religious exemption for closely held corporations gives authority to religious beliefs over the law.

The Guttmacher Institute (Institute, 2015) which conducts research into American women and contraceptive use, found that 99% of women aged 15-44 who have had sexual intercourse have used a contraceptive method at least once. Contraceptive use remains strong among woman belonging to different religious denominations, with 99% of sexually experienced women both Catholic and Protestant having used some form of contraception. This research clearly shows a need in American society for easier access to forms of contraception without the upfront costs as large proportions of American women religious or not are using contraceptive as a form of birth control.

The ruling made by the Supreme Court in the case of Hobby Lobby has opened a can of worms for wider American society and its institutions with the question of where religious exemptions stop. After the Supreme Court came to a conclusion surrounding Hobby Lobby. The more recent legal case of Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell (Fund, 2013). Highlights how the legal ruling in the Hobby Lobby was not followed with non-profit organizations with the example of the religious charity who go by the name of the Little Sisters of the Poor, who are committed to helping old and poor individuals in their hour of need. The sisters were forced to use their healthcare coverage to provide abortion-inducing drugs and, therefore, go against their religious beliefs or pay massive fines. This was due to the government deciding that this organization was not religious enough to claim exemption created by the Hobby Lobby case.

A Fox News debate hosted by Sean Hannity (Hannity, 2015) discussed the issue of religious organizations running institutions such as universities, and whether those institutions have the right to refuse in providing contraception under their student health care plans. The debate started after a student, Sandra Fluke, studying at the Catholic George Town University, was refused contraception like the morning after pill, under the university’s student health plan. With the can of worms opened by the Supreme Court in Hobby Lobby’s case, would religious exemption apply to public institutions like universities, and if so what knock on effects would this have for the students and users.

Within the different areas of American society, one question that remains from the Hobby Lobby case is who can claim a religious exemption and for what reasons. Professor Katherine Franke from Columbia Law School argues that “the majority opinion provides no limiting principle” (Goldberg, 2014), private and public organizations whether for profit or not, are challenging the religious exemption ruling to find that some make the grade and others don’t. On the other hand, research shows that a large percentage of American women are using contraception religious or not.

Obamacare policy and law reforms have created many advantages for American healthcare. President Obama has stated that sixteen million Americans have gained health care coverage; Insurance premiums can no longer be more for a woman than for men. And healthcare insurance premiums have risen at the lowest rate for years, and if premiums had of continued to increase at the old rate then Americans would be paying on average $1800 more for healthcare coverage. Does religion still have a place in deciding if these reforms work within religious teaching and, as a result, affecting the lives of many Americans religious or not?

Word Count: 1033



Colombo, R. (2013). The First Amendment, corporations and religious freedom. [online] Constitution Daily. Available at: [Accessed 2 Nov. 2015].

Colombo, R. (2015). First Amendment. [online] LII / Legal Information Institute. Available at: [Accessed 6 Nov. 2015].

Fund, B. (2013). Little Sisters of the Poor v. Burwell -. [online] Becket Fund. Available at: [Accessed 13 Nov. 2015].

Goldberg, D. (2014). In contraception ruling, Alito seizes on an Obama exception. [online] Available at: [Accessed 19 Nov. 2015].

Government, U. (2013). About the Law. [online] Available at: [Accessed 2 Nov. 2015].

Hannity, S. (2015). Sean Hannity hosts a fiery birth control debate.. [online] YouTube. Available at: [Accessed 12 Nov. 2015].

Institute, G. (2015). Contraceptive Use in the United States. [online] Available at: [Accessed 17 Nov. 2015].


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s


This entry was posted on December 2, 2015 by in Uncategorized, Vol 3, 2015/16.
%d bloggers like this: