My Commentary on the Hobby Lobby SCOTUS case

The case before the Supreme Court of the United States is called “Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores”. I’m not a lawyer, and I have no legal expertise. But I’ll provide my opinion as a U.S. citizen and a Roman Catholic moral theologian.

Hobby Lobby objects to the contraception mandate in Obamacare (Affordable Care Act). The law requires businesses (above a certain size) to pay for employee health care, and requires the health care plans to provide free contraception, including abortifacients. So Hobby Lobby cannot decline to offer health care plans, nor can it limit the plans that it offers to only ones that do not provide contraception and abortifacients. They are compelled by this law to pay for contraception and certain types of abortion.

Prior to Obamacare, a business could not offer any health care plans, or it could choose which plans to offer. This system allows a wide range of choices and behaviors in a pluralistic society. But when the federal government decides to intervene and force everyone to adhere to one particular point of view on a controversial issue, intolerance prevails. A business owner must either go to jail, or shut down his business (an action the courts might not permit), or be complicit in murder by means of abortifacients.

The morality of this type of law, from a Catholic Christian point of view, is clear. It is gravely immoral to force any person or organization to pay for, or offer as an option, the type of murder called abortion.

Abortion is the Leading Cause of Death in the U.S., accounting for 32.9% of total deaths. According to the FBI, there were 14,180 murder victims in 2008. If we include abortion as a type of murder, 98.84% of murders were abortions, and only 1.16% of murders were from all other types of murder. And if we include abortion by abortifacient contraception, the percentage and total number of deaths goes much higher.

And the argument that a person committing murder by means of abortifacient contraception suffers some type of injustice if the means of murder is not provided free of charge, by government order, from an employer — well, it is beyond reason and beyond absurd.

As for the legal case, some other commentators (who also are not lawyers) are claiming that Hobby Lobby Stores does not have the constitutional right to freedom of religion because it is a corporation. This claim is contrary to a long history of court cases in which SCOTUS consistently held that corporations are legal persons and therefore have constitutional rights.

The philosophical arguments, for and against this point, are interesting. Proponents of contraception and abortion claim that only individuals and religious organizations have the first amendment right to freedom of religion. This implies that corporations also do not have the right to freedom of speech and of the press, also found in the same amendment. And how do these proponents express this view? through news and entertainment corporations. They exercise a corporate right to freedom of speech, while claiming that corporations have no first amendment or other constitutional rights. What about an organization set up to promote a particular political candidate or view? Does that organization only have first amendment rights if it is a church or an individual? Certainly not.

The reason that corporations have constitutional rights is that individuals with those rights act in and through that organization. Compelling a corporation to pay for abortifacients necessarily means that individuals are compelled to perform a behavior contrary to their conscience and their religion. It is essentially the same as if a news corporation were compelled by the government to report one story, in a particular way, and to ignore a different story. The news organization would argue freedom of the press, and the government would not prevail if it argued in court that new corporations lack first amendment rights.

Here’s comedian Jon Stewart ridiculing the Hobby Lobby position. Stewart is a skilled comedian, but his lack of respect for the sincerely-held religious beliefs of other persons in society is disconcerting.

And here is an old article, on a different legal case, which argues that corporations have constitutional rights: “For a century, courts have recognized that corporations have constitutional rights.” And here’s a wikipedia quote on the subject: “The basis for allowing corporations to assert protection under the U.S. Constitution is that they are organizations of people, and the people should not be deprived of their constitutional rights when they act collectively.”

From the standpoint of Catholic ethics, it may be moral for a corporation to comply, unwillingly, with the law, in order to avoid overwhelming bad consequences, such as the loss of the business and a long jail sentence. This type of act is called remote material cooperation. But in any case, it is gravely immoral for any government to legalize any form of abortion, or to compel anyone to participate, even remotely or materially, in abortion. For abortion and abortifacient contraception are each intrinsically evil and always gravely immoral.

Ronald L. Conte Jr.
Roman Catholic theologian and
translator of the Catholic Public Domain Version of the Bible.

Roman Catholic Teaching on Abortion and Contraception
available in print (paperback, 424 pp.) and in Kindle format.

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