The hysteria and outrage over Monday’s ruling in the Hobby Lobby religious freedom case were dizzying, particularly given what many deem to be a very narrow decision by the court.Yet, from the response on social media — the Twitter hashtag “notmybossesbusiness” generated some tweets of incoherent logic — to the, I’ll admit, catchy chanting outside the U.S. Supreme Court (“Keep your rosaries off my ovaries!”), and the breathless abstractions of pundits and armchair judicial analysts, the uninformed observer might confidently assume that gender equality in America had been set back decades. Unfortunately, women did take it on the chin this week, albeit not in the way some “feminists” would have us believe. Instead, the perpetuation of the utterly absurd narrative that the court’s ruling was the moral equivalent of unfettered female victimization (a sentiment nicely condensed by this melodramatic tweet: “This is conservatives version of Sharia law against American women!”), sadly suggests more about the challenges facing free-thinking women in America than the court’s careful and limited decision ever could. The hyperbolic response to Hobby Lobby illustrates quite clearly how women are not the explicit casualties of five men on the Supreme Court, but have become the implicit victims of a burgeoning and ubiquitous paternalistic state, one they are increasingly expected to rely on to “provide” the necessities that make them ever more beholden to the government. If that seems like a particularly controversial assertion, or one that offends your feminine sensibilities — good! Women should be outraged by the notion that the state is insidiously usurping territory once occupied by husbands, partners, families and — dare I say it — ourselves. Yet we increasingly invite the government to enter into our lives and decry any attempts to limit its intrusion. Nothing illustrates this better than the left’s outrage at Monday’s decision.Contrary to much of the misinformation flooding the airwaves, the court did not ban or limit the ability of any woman to access contraceptives of any kind. Neither did it strike down the Health and Human Services regulation that requires some companies to provide certain “essential health benefits,” including the 20 FDA-approved forms of birth control, to female employees. In fact, the five men in the court’s majority opinion went so far as to assume that the cost-free availability of contraceptives is a compelling government interest and probably one that enhances female freedom. What the justices did determine was that forcing the owners of closely held, for-profit companies to violate their religious beliefs, when the government has other viable means of ensuring that women can access birth control, posed a legitimate problem for religious freedom.That seems reasonable, particularly since religious freedom applies to all Americans — women included.Yet many are arguing in the wake of the decision that women’s health, if not women’s rights altogether, are in tremendous danger because the court did not force some employers to provide certain no-cost contraception, something that most women could afford to purchase, in some form, for themselves and did before 2012. But in only two years, we’ve come to rely on a benefit that we’ve now mistaken as a right.Still, Sen. Patty Murray called the decision “a dangerous precedent,” one that “takes us closer to a time in history when women had no choice and no voice.” Unfortunately, what she and those who share her sentiments fail to realize is that the dangerous precedent we are setting is our growing reliance on government, at the cost of real freedom. And for those women who are mistaking independence for dependence on the state, the ultimate damage to their rights will be particularly dire. Posting on her Facebook page, a friend of mine wrote of the Hobby Lobby decision, “When I say God help us, I mean it.” If Monday’s ruling helps us veer off our current path toward government paternalism, my guess is that he already has.
Cynthia M. Allen is a Star-Telegram editorial writer/columnist. 817-390-7166. Twitter: @cjmallen12