The Hobby Lobby case going before the Supreme Court will hopefully shed new light on what, to my mind, might be one of the most disturbing avenues of attack opened by the anti-choice movement: laying claim to women’s wallets along with their uteruses. The most disturbing thing about this new movement is that it seems not to be firing up people on the left in the same way as red tape attacks shutting down abortion clinics seems to do. But in a way, it’s really just as bad, because the religious right is experimenting with legal avenues to establish the “right” to control women’s private finances, and there’s a strong possibility that they are going to get away with it.
At stake right now are insurance plans. Brick by brick, anti-choicers are trying to create the illusion that it’s perfectly reasonable for strangers who disagree with your private religious views regarding contraception and abortion to determine for you what kind of coverage you can buy. The attack is two-fold: On the contraception front, corporations and other employers are claiming that they should be the decider and not their employees on what kind of coverage the employees’ insurance plans cover, even though those plans belong to the employee and not the employer, since the employee earned the insurance coverage just as surely as she earned her paycheck. On the abortion front, anti-choicers are claiming, successfully in 23 states now, that insurance companies should be banned from selling policies that include abortion coverage, on the grounds that the woman who uses that coverage is pulling from a pool that everyone has paid into, and, well, there’s a bit of magical thinking that justifies believing your premium is “tainted” if a dollar that you paid into the pool ends up being paid to an abortion provider.
It’s an argument that assumes if money has ever passed through the pocket of an anti-choicer, they get to retain control over it no matter who else legally has control of it now. This is not how transfer of control of funds works with anything else, as I explain in this week’s podcast. If I give you anything, it belongs to you and not me. But anti-choicers are arguing that when it comes to reproductive health coverage, that rule should be suspended. If they pay an insurance company, then they should retain control over the money that belongs to the insurance company, even when the insurance company is offering a service to another person, who also purchased coverage.
By the same logic, if an anti-choicer shops at a pharmacy, that pharmacy should not be able to sell birth control pills. After all, a pharmacy may take an anti-choicer’s money and provide, say, heart medication. And then they may take the money they made that day and buy some more drugs to sell, including birth control pills. That bundle of money will have the dollars in it that the anti-choicer used to buy heart medication. Are we going to see anti-choicers start claiming that pharmacies should be banned from selling contraception because, as with insurance, anti-choicers have a special privilege to continue to control dollars even after they relinquished control over them? I expect that we will. Maybe not with pharmacies, but if insurance coverage is subject to this logic, as they do with all other things, anti-choicers will start casting around for a way to expand the scope of control, specifically control over women.
Right now, the focus is on insurance companies, for one reason only: Obamacare. The repeated media discourse around what health insurance is and does has given anti-choicers a unique opportunity to inject their ideas about how they deserve to control what women do with their own private finances. Right-wing lies about how the new health-care law is “socialized” medicine has confused enough people that they think we’re debating how tax money is spent and not private insurance plans. An opportunity to increase the scope of control has presented itself, and they are taking it to the limit.
And they could very well get away with it. After all, they’ve had smashing success in the past with the nonsense claim that anti-choicers retain a special right to control money after it’s been relinquished to another party, via taxes. The public defense of laws like the Hyde Amendment, which bans federal money from being spent on abortion, has never been that legislators get to determine what the government does and doesn’t spend money on, using their constitutional power to write budgets, even though that’s the legal mechanism that makes it work. The argument is always forwarded in public by the right as this: Because anti-choicers pay taxes, they get to retain control over that money. Never mind that the government has all sorts of programs that various groups don’t like. Anti-choicers have successfully secured in the public mind that they, unlike everyone else, have a special right to retain control over money after they’ve relinquished it.
That’s why we should be very afraid that they will get away with expanding that nonsense argument to insurance companies. Once the claim has been established that an anti-choicer retains control over a dollar after he’s given it to someone else—whether a private entity like an insurance company or a public entity like the government—there’s no reason not to expand it to other institutions. Like pharmacies. Or, and this is where I really start to worry, banks.
After all, banks work on the exact same principle as insurance companies. You give them a certain amount of money and it’s not like they put it in a little vault with your name on it. They put it into a pool that everyone pays into and invest it. Your bank account is just what they agree they owe you if you pull it out, just as your benefits are what the insurance company agrees to pay out in exchange for your premiums. Indeed, your insurance plan is much like your bank account: you pay in, you have a little number so they keep track what you’re owed, and you can withdraw what you’re owed from a common pool at certain times based on a prior agreement. And, of course, your deposit is guaranteed even if the bank loses money on their investments because of insurance.
If one account-holder gets to say how all the other accounts are used at an insurance company, then what’s to stop them from trying the same stunt with banks? It’s hard to imagine how that would work, since banks don’t ask you what you’re using it for when you withdraw cash. But banks pay your debts for you, as insurance companies do, in ways beyond just giving you cash you can walk over to the person you want to give money to. They honor checks. They have credit and debit cards. It would be very easy for banks to refuse transactions for abortion or contraception. After all, Obamacare is just a bunch of federal regulations on insurance companies. Banks are also subject to a bunch of federal regulations—and their money is backed by insurance—creating the same sense of justification that anti-choicers have when interfering with insurance coverage.
If nothing else, it’s easy to imagine anti-choicers pressuring legislators to force banks not to hold accounts for abortion providers.
If a common pool means that your insurance plan is controlled by an anti-choicer, then it’s a quick leap to make the same argument about banks. That may seem ludicrous now, but it was ludicrous just a few years ago to imagine that employers would try to opt out of federal labor law based on “religion.” Yet that’s exactly what the Hobby Lobby case going in front of the Supreme Court is about. If that door opens, it’s not a leap to fear banks are next. After all, we are talking about fanatics who spend all day every day seeking for new ways to gain control over women’s lives. Bank accounts are going to be attractive prey, and now they’re building up the legal argument to gain control over them.