Earlier today Philly.com posted my column on last year’s FDA ruling that Plan B One-Step could be sold over-the-counter without age restrictions. The column was already in progress when yesterday’s Supreme Court decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. was handed down. Even though the column discusses a non-prescription drug, which isn’t covered by the Affordable Care Act, Philly.com thought it timely enough to publish it today.
There are a number of excellent columns and blog posts about the implications of this decision not just for contraception but health care in general (for example, see this one at Nursing Clio), so my observations will come from my expertise as a historian of childhood and youth. One of my Facebook friends mentioned the case of Commonwealth v. Twitchell. The case involved parents who were were convicted of involuntary manslaughter because their son died of a bowel obstruction when they relied on the Christian Science practice spiritual healing rather than seeking medical care. (there were several other similar cases involving Christian Scientists during the 1980s and 1990s involving parents were prosecuted for murder, manslaughter, or child neglect). Although the Twitchell’s conviction was overturned on a technicality, the prosecutors’ office observed, “the law is now clear: parents cannot sacrifice the lives of their children in the name of religious freedom.”
In her dissent from the majority opinion in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote, “Would the [religious] exemption…extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations[?]…Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision.”
Children are covered either by their parents’ health insurance or the state (Medicaid). The state has a duty in loco parentis to care for child health and welfare. Now that corporations (or at least certain kinds of corporations) have the same religious freedoms as individuals, what happens in the case of a child or adolescent who dies because their parents’ employer objects to their treatment on religious grounds? Will a corporation’s religious freedoms trump the health needs of the child? Or will the law eventually decide that, like parents, corporations can’t sacrifice the lives of children in the name of religious freedom either? Just wondering.