Will the Rights of Fictional “Persons” Trump Actual People?

reproductive-choice-button-0580Should the rights of a disembodied, fictional “person” trump the rights of someone whose actual body and well-being could be gravely affected by a court ruling?

That’s a question the Supreme Court will be answering later this month.

Through the magic of legal fiction corporations have gained personhood. And now the “person” that is Hobby Lobby Inc. argues (without evidence) that some forms of birth control may cause abortion, making the Affordable Care Act’s free contraceptive directive a threat to (his? her?) religious tenants.

That this judicial question is under consideration is remarkable. Arguments before the court had centered on whether corporations can hold religious views. But what if a woman’s beliefs — or lack thereof — allow for contraception? Why must she follow the dictates of her employer instead her own conscience?

Where there’s a conflict between the rights of fictional bodies and actual bodies, surely the latter should win out. 

A woman may be severely harmed when birth control is not financially accessible. She may suffer emotionally, physically or financially from pregnancy and the costs of raising a child. Not to mention, merely earning a living will become more difficult with children in tow. Some will seek abortions. Or, desperate women will die or suffer serious health consequences after going to back alley abortionists — or while trying to perform the procedure on themselves.

Should corporations have more rights than people?

Should corporations have more rights than people?

Meanwhile, even as Hobby Lobby worries that some types of contraception may cause abortion (don’t forget, without evidence), we know that free birth control leads to big drops in abortion and teen birth rates. A study conducted by the Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis found the annual abortion rate of study participants dropping in the range of 62-78 percent between 2008 and 2010. And while the birth rate of US girls ages 15-19 was 34.3 per 1,000 , the birth rate of study participants dropped to 6.3 per 1,000.

But how did we end up in a place where fictional “people” just might end up with more rights than actual people?

Maybe because most of us tend to see the world through the eyes of the powerful. And that’s because powerful groups are better able to get their ideas across by funding think tanks and lobbyists, and by paying high-priced attorneys. The more powerful among us can also more easily gain media attention and get their voices heard over the religious and political pulpits. Some may even have friends on the Supreme Court.

And then their perspective becomes conventional wisdom — which may not be so wise, after all.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on June 18, 2014, in feminism, politics/class inequality, psychology, reproductive rights, sexism, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 20 Comments.

  1. it’s not just Hobby Lobby. The Little Sisters of the Poor are fighting the contraception benefit for their employees, almost all of whom are low-paid women pressed for both time and money. I have the numbers and the real-life consequences for the women who pay for an employer’s ‘morality’ here — http://www.emancipationconversation.com/2014/01/25/that-slutty-woman-taking-care-of-grandma/

  2. First off, I vote girlsuele for US Congress. Is that possible?

    Thank you for pointing out how ridiculous their stated logic is, saying they oppose abortion while trying to take away the contraceptives that actually lower the abortion rate. It makes me wish I used to shop at Hobby Lobby so that I could now stop.
    Citizens United showed that the Supreme Court has no soul, now this case will show whether or not they have a brain.
    In other news: beautiful day outside!

    • “It makes me wish I used to shop at Hobby Lobby so that I could now stop.”

      I’ve thought the same thing.

      And yes, Girlsuel for Congress. She’d do a much better job. Or maybe I’ll move to Australia.

  3. As a side note other scary attempts to set forth corporative rights above those of individuals, such as elements of the TTIP US-EU trade agreement. The ISDS part, enabling any company to bring a case to the country hosting its investments thus opening the door for active political pressure on another country (to change the legal system in favour of the company’s interest).

    Now that’s the preweekend paranoia settling in…

  4. I did not know about this case. Really disturbing but simultaneously unsurprising given the world that we live in today. That said, I think it’s important that this case is happening and that people like you are shedding light on what it could mean if it does go in favor of the “fictional” person.

    “And then their perspective becomes conventional wisdom — which may not be so wise, after all.” So true and disturbing.

  5. If this passes trough US supreme court I don’t think it’ll bode well. Judicial bodies is a common structure within many countries’ legislation (inlucding my own) but it should always be limited to aspects that are important for running a business such as economic disputes, quarrels related to taxation etc.

    Applying rights related to related tenants or other areas normally considered part of peoples (i.e. physical judicial bodies) conviction is a mistake. A group of people working together within the framwork of a judicial body always have more power than any single of us, and I think this type of legislation will be detrimental to the judicial security of commoners.

    • “it should always be limited to aspects that are important for running a busines”

      So true. But the conservative majority we have might just want to find any excuse they can to limit women’s rights. Such that corporations are people… Women not so much.

      • Yup, but just not women’s rights, everyones rights may be at stake if corporations are allowed to act as people to the full extent. No offense, but what are you guys doing with your country? 😉 Trying to pull trough acts that will probably be detrimental to the economy in the long run doesn’t seem like a good idea. These perspectives have so many implications in wider perspectives than “just” women’s rights. This is off topic so I’ll make it very brief; the set of values (as represendted by the judicial system) is extremely important in terms of the society’s ability to create (material) values in a longer timeframe. Society’s giving into conservative values will eventually loose the battle of economic superiority, and the U.S is no exception.

        I know it’s not enough to to make a proper statement backed up by research, but China officially became a bigger economy in terms of debt (and thus activity backed up based on that debt) just recently. Since it’s measured in debt it is of course a discussion in itself whether it’s viable or not (which is not relevant here) – it may blow, but remains a reminder of the relationship between values and the ability to create (material) values. Personally I don’t think it’s a coincidence that China has moved onto a more liberal path the past decades. There’s still a lot to be done conserning human rights in China but their communist base seems more liberal than ever, which have sparkled economic initiatives and created one of the worlds largest economies.

        In short, seemingly small changes to legislation can have devastating implications on a society and I’ll probably never understand why americans are so eager to risk that – especially in the wake of a serious economic crisis.

      • Yes, it’s way beyond women’s rights, of course. This is just one manifestation. I work with a group called Move to Amend which is working to change the constitution to say corporations aren’t people.

        What wrong with US? Legalized bribery (big campaign contributions) that leaves corporate “people” with more rights than actual people. So I’m working to diminish the pull of big money, too. Go to my “about” page and you’ll see I work with Common Cause on this.

      • Sounds good. The ALEC part in the commoncause about page is scary reading, wouldn’t be surprised if something like that was discovered here either, who knows what happens beyond closed doors. On of the great challenges about corporations is probably that many of them span globally enabling them to “shop” for the best judicial conditions that suits the various initiatives. If one country’s legislation doesn’t allow something, simply try another one…

      • Its a difficult problem to tackle for sure. May need to get creative.

  6. There are no words. Vive la revolution.

  7. This is just beyond silly, birth control might offend a corporations religious view? Whhhhaaaat? I am so glad we have universal health care here, though the current government is doing everything it can to chip away at it and privatise it.

    Just from a pragmatic point of view I’d have thought corporations would be all for birth control, to reduce the amount of maternity leave taken, something else they like to complain about.

    I hope common sense prevails and Hobby Lobby loses this case!

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