Hobby Lobby ruling sparks protest in Billings over contraceptives

2014-07-22T22:03:00Z 2014-07-25T15:13:15Z Hobby Lobby ruling sparks protest in Billings over contraceptivesBy NICK BALATSOS nbalatsos@billingsgazette.com The Billings Gazette

On Tuesday, people lined the sidewalks of North 27th Street, expressing their frustration over a recent Supreme Court decision that extended religious freedoms to some corporations.

Some of the signs they held read, "Women's rights, not corporate rights" and "I stand against Hobby Lobby for religious freedom!" 

The roughly 40 protesters took to the lawns and sidewalks outside Yellowstone County District Court to voice their outrage over the decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby.

The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on June 30 that the Affordable Care Act's contraception mandate violated religious freedoms and that "closely held" corporations with religious objections could opt out of providing health plans that include birth control coverage.

The IRS defines a closely held corporation as a corporation in which five or fewer people own the majority of a company's stocks.

Event organizer Jenn Gross, of Planned Parenthood Advocates of Montana, said the event, which featured a speaker and live music, was a call to action. She said they chose to protest behind the courthouse rather than in front of Hobby Lobby because they saw downtown as a better gathering spot.

Gross wore a T-shirt supporting Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, who penned a 35-page dissent defending mandatory contraception coverage. Gross said the decision "sets a very slippery slope and precedent for corporations." She worries it has "opened the floodgates" for discrimination.

Ginsburg expressed similar concerns in her dissent, writing, "In a decision of startling breadth, the court holds that commercial enterprises ... can opt out of any law they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs."

Martha Stahl, CEO of Planned Parenthood of Montana, was the first to speak at the event. She cited the widespread affects the decision could have. She said, "99 percent of women have used birth control."

Stahl also called for the protection of women's health from corporate interference and urged the community to become more engaged in the political process.

Jessica Karjala, a candidate for State House District 48, read a prepared statement from Sen. John Walsh. And Stacey Anderson read one on behalf of Sen. Jon Tester. Both letters expressed each senator's dissatisfaction with the ruling.

Karjala referenced the Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act, a bill, which Walsh and Tester sponsored, that was introduced by Democrats earlier this month to bypass the Supreme Court's decision but ultimately failed to capture enough votes.

Speaking afterward, Karjala said the issues central to the protest were also central to her campaign.

LGBT Advocacy Coordinator for ACLU of Montana Liz Welch also spoke. Welch told the crowd that the "Hobby Lobby" decision underscored the importance of continued vigilance.

"This decision was narrow enough not to derail LGBT rights, but many are using this argument for religious liberty to try and open that door as far as they can," Welch said.

Amanda Frickle, 24, and Cari Kemp, 22, wrapped up the event with a comedic duet of "My body belongs to my nation," a parody of the folk song "My Bonnie Lies over the Ocean."

Aaron Wallace, who held a sign with the words "Ginsburg is my hero," said the message he's trying to send to the community is simple.

"Join the dissent," he said.

Copyright 2014 The Billings Gazette. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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