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Archive for March, 2014

Women’s Contraceptive Rights Under Affordable Care Act Under Assault

Tuesday, March 18th, 2014

supcourt_building

As the deadline for coverage under the Affordable Care Act looms on March 31,  the U.S. Supreme Court gets set to hear  2 cases next week on March 25 which set to deny women birth control coverage by their employer health insurance under the Affordable Care Act.  The cases represent another chapter in history to deny women their reproductive rights using religion as the basis.

 

One of the  cases to be heard on March 25, 2014  is Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. which asked for an exemption to the Affordable Care Act’s (“ACA”) requirement that certain for profit corporations provide contraception to their employees.  Hobby Lobby has stores nationwide and was started by  a religious  family  who states the ACA requirement violates their strict religious beliefs.   Hobby Lobby is a secular private for profit corporation.  They are not exempt under the law.  And the government argues that the ACA does  not place any burdens to individuals such as the Green family. The government further asserts that Hobby Lobby is not a person exercising religious beliefs but a for profit corporate employer. The government argues the Religious Freedom Restoration Act does not apply to Hobby Lobby, a corporation for profit.

And while there are exemptions for churches and houses of worship  under this specific mandate,  other non-profit affiliate groups like church run hospitals and parochial schools are not exempt. Another joint case is Little Sisters of the Poor, a Catholic charity providing services to the elderly that contends it should not be required to provide contraceptives even through a third party’s insurer, even without the employer’s involvement. Somehow, Little Sisters of the Poor claims that it still violates their religious rights even if they are not involved in the process.

 

In advance of the Supreme Court’s hearing, national religious leaders consisting of Christian, Jewish, Unitarian, Universalist and Muslim leaders released and signed a joint statement affirming that equal access to contraceptives through insurance coverage is a moral good.  The leaders who support religious freedom under which the Hobby Lobby cases argue is against their religious freedom, stated:

 

“We support religious freedom.  Religious freedom means that each individual has the right to exercise their own beliefs and the right not to have others’ beliefs forced upon them. We believe no employer has the right to deny the women who work for them basic health care. Individuals must have the right to accept or reject the principles of their own faith without restrictions.”

The group of religious leaders called on  the Supreme Court to respect the beliefs and values of everyone’s faith by safeguarding equal access to contraception for those whose conscience leads them to use it.  These religious leaders are evidence that major religious leaders of differing theological approaches support birth control for those who choose to use it. It’s a matter of choice.

The full  text of the statement can be found on www.religiousinstitute.org/faithleaders4bc

And one of the most compelling supporters of contraceptive rights under the Affordable Care Act is the  National Coalition of American Nuns who have filed a petition with the Supreme Court  supporting a  woman’s freedom to use birth control and not be hampered by her employer in her choice to do so. Sister Donna Quinn head of the National Coalition of American Nuns says it isn’t religious freedom when a woman can beheld hostage by the  owner of a business.  Sister Donna Quinn adds:

 “We know that religious freedom means that each person has the right to exercise their own religious beliefs; religious freedom cannot mean that an individual or a corporation gets to impose their religious beliefs on their employees.”

There are approximately 50 other cases pending on the same issue as the Hobby Lobby case, filed by other for profit corporations.  And the outcome of the cases being heard on March 25 will have far reaching impact if the government loses.  The case could jeopardize access to affordable birth control for millions of women.  And it could also prove dangerous for freedoms of other groups.  First, it will likely cause more laws and lawsuits by businesses and other to deny employees and customers health benefits and other services they are entitled to under the law, all based on the business owner’s belief. And other religious parties  of based for profits corporations who are not exempt may claim religious preference  to forbid  providing HIV/AIDS medication through health insurance coverage on their religious beliefs against gays and lesbians as well as coverage of blood transfusions for religious reasons.

And as usual with the Supreme Court, it is no way to predict how the court will rule.  A ruling will not likely occur before June, 2014.  Following the oral arguments on March 25, an update will be provided.

 

Updated: March 23, 2014

DC Mayoral Scandal: How Far Will it Go?

Tuesday, March 11th, 2014

 

Photo by David Brooks

Photo by David Brooks

As the DC primary mayoral race heats up with 3 weeks to go before the April 1 election, the U.S. Attorney’s office is heating up its potential case against Mayor Vincent Gray. One day before the DC State of the District Address given by Mayor Gray on March 11, businessman Jeffrey Thompson was in court pleading guilty to a conspiracy involving an alleged  shadow election campaign with the mayor in 2010 and other prominent unnamed and named politicians  stemming from 2006- 2012, including the 2008 presidential primary  campaign and  Michael Brown’s 2006 campaign for mayor.

 

According to the government’s case   outlined in a 33 page document, against Jeffrey Thompson presented in federal court, Mayor Gray knew about the shadow campaign that contributed over $650,000 to his campaign and coordinated the shadow campaign with Thompson. Thompson also funded a “street team” shadow campaign in the amount of over $600,000 for a 2008 presidential primary candidate, presumably Hillary Clinton without her knowledge, in Texas, Indiana, Pennsylvania and North Carolina. Thompson faces as much as two years to as little as 6 months in federal prison, if he cooperates.  And the judge said prosecutors have discretion to reduce any punishment for Jeffrey Thompson to home confinement. Mayor Gray went on the offensive and labeled Thompson a liar.   Thompson’s next court date is May 15.

 

These are just some of the allegations presented by the government on Monday, March 10:

 

  • Jeffrey Thompson influenced DC union and local elections.
  • Thompson paid Michael Brown $200,000 in 2006 to drop out of the mayor’s race. Brown has already pled guilty.
  • Jeffrey Thompson met with Jeannie Clark Harris and Vernon Hawkins to plan a shadow campaign for the 2010 DC mayoral election. Hawkins and Harris have already pled guilty.
  • Federal prosecutors allege DC Mayor Gray met with Thompson about campaign financing and agreed  “to keep support secret”
  • Thompson disbursed $1.4 million to at least 15 DC candidates.
  • Shadow campaign funds for Mayor Gray’s campaign purchased “yard signs”, “door knockers”, “catering” and other campaign expenses.

 

 

So what does all this mean for Mayor Gray?  It is highly likely that the US Attorney’s office intends to file charges or an indictment against Mayor Gray at some time in the near future with the assistance and cooperation primarily of Jeffrey Thompson.  Gray vehemently denies any allegation of wrong doing.  And in looking at the case, one may wonder why the Mayor does not drop out of the mayoral race. One newspaper has already retracted its endorsement of Mayor Gray following the Thompson plea.  Others still support the mayor as he is innocent under the law of any wrongdoing until proven guilty.  But Mayor Gray may very well have the last hurrah in what may seem to some to be an overwhelming case against him.

 

Jeffrey Thompson received a more than generous plea deal from the government, perhaps too generous.  He received the sweetheart deal in large part because any potential case against Mayor Gray needed the testimony and cooperation of Jeffrey Thompson.  And while this may be jumping ahead, Mayor Gray is making the right move to go on the offensive against the government’s case and brutal allegations against him.

 

The government’s plea deal with Thompson, while a very generous one for businessman Jeffrey Thompson, may become quite problematic to the government if a jury ever has to assess it in a case against Mayor Gray.  Thompson admitted to corrupting national and local elections for many years by funneling illegal money into those campaigns, including Mayor Gray’s campaign.  Through the actions of Jeffrey Thompson, many elections were corrupted by his actions and outcomes may have been affected.   And for all the wrong that Thompson did for many years, he could end up with spending as little as 6 months confined to his home at the discretion of the US Attorney’s office.  While I applaud the efforts of Thompson’s attorneys in procuring such a sweet deal for Thompson, I also wonder if it will undermine any case against Mayor Vincent Gray.  And the deal itself suggests to me as a former prosecutor, that any case against Mayor Gray cannot be made without Jeffrey Thompson. In other words, the government’s case likely rests on the testimony of Jeffrey Thompson.

And in his State of the District Address, Gray defiantly denounced the government’s claims and asserted:  Who do you believe? And that sums up the potential problem for any future government case against Mayor Vincent Gray—a case of credibility of Jeffrey Thompson who will now likely be viewed as someone who will  say anything  or “sing like a bird” to avoid a prison term.  And so, Thompson’s credibility may sink the government’s ship if it sails to a trial.

UPDATED March 13, 2014

 

Washington, DC based Debbie Hines is a trial lawyer and former prosecutor who appears frequently in local, national and international media addressing issues on race, gender and class.  She also contributes to the Women’s Media Center and the Huffington Post.