Former Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton called Monday's Hobby Lobby ruling by the U.S. Supreme Court "deeply disturbing" and said there should be "a real outcry against this kind of decision."
In a 5-4 ruling, the court said Monday that Christian business owners who have religious objections to birth control can decline to provide their employees with insurance coverage for some contraceptives. Such coverage was otherwise required under the new healthcare law.
"This is a really bad slippery slope," Clinton said during a question-answer session with Walter Isaacson at the Aspen Ideas Festival on Monday afternoon.
"It's the first time that our court has said that a closely-held corporation has the rights of a person when it comes to religious freedom, which means that the … corporation's employers can impose their religious beliefs on their employees," she said. "And, of course, denying women the right to contraception as part of their healthcare plan is exactly that. I find it deeply disturbing that we are going in that direction."
Clinton, who was at the festival promoting her book "Hard Choices," added that abortion was "a hard choice" and that the politics of the issue would always be controversial. But she said she feared that many more companies will claim religious beliefs as an excuse not to provide contraceptive coverage and would deprive many Americans of that benefit.
"It is very troubling that a sales clerk at Hobby Lobby who needs contraception, which is pretty expensive, is not going to get that service through her employer's healthcare plan because her employer doesn't think she should be using contraception," Clinton said.
The Oklahoma City-based Green family, founders of the Hobby Lobby chain, had made the case that certain forms of contraception destroy a fertilized egg, making them akin to an early abortion. Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr. said that forcing companies like Hobby Lobby to arrange for insurance coverage that covers those forms of contraception "demands that they engage in conduct that seriously violates their religious beliefs."
"If the owners comply with the [contraceptive] mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions," Alito wrote, "and if they do not comply, they will pay a very heavy price — as much as $1.3 million per day, or about $475 million per year…. If these consequences do not amount to a substantial burden, it is hard to see what would."
Hobby Lobby and two other companies had challenged the mandate under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which was signed into law by President Clinton. The 1993 law prohibits the government from "substantially burden[ing] a person's exercise of religion" unless the government can prove that the requirement is driven by "a compelling governmental interest" and is "the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest."
But the former secretary of State said Monday that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act her husband signed had very different protections in mind.
"The reason that was passed and Bill signed it in the '90s was because, at that point, there were legitimate cases of discrimination against religions," she said. "This is certainly a use that no one foresaw."