Aspen Ideas Fest: Hillary Clinton finds high-court ruling on contraceptives ‘disturbing’

Andre Salvail
The Aspen Times
Former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton responds to a question from Aspen Institute president and CEO Walter Isaacson at the Aspen Ideas Festival last summer.
Aspen Times file photo |

Speaking in Aspen, Hillary Clinton criticized Monday’s Supreme Court decision that says corporations can cite religious objections in opting out of the new health law requiring them to cover women’s contraceptives.

Contraception is one of many preventive services that must be provided at no extra charge under the health care law that President Barack Obama signed in 2010. The Supreme Court upheld the law two years later.

Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby, a chain of retail arts-and-crafts stores, sued over four contraceptives covered in the law.

“I disagree with the reasoning as well as the conclusion,” Clinton said during an afternoon session at the Aspen Ideas Festival. “Just think about this for a minute. It’s the first time that our court has said that a closely held (corporation) has the rights of a person when it comes to religion freedom. Which means that the (corporation), closely held, often family based, not exclusively but usually, can impose their religious beliefs on their employees and of course denying women contraception as part of their heath care plan is exactly that.”

The justices’ 5-4 decision was split along so-called conservative and liberal lines, Clinton pointed out. Aspen Institute CEO Walter Isaacson interviewed the former First Lady, U.S. senator and Secretary of State about the ruling and other topics inside a packed Benedict Music Tent from 2 to 3 p.m.

Clinton said she found the court’s ruling to be “deeply disturbing.” She said that as Secretary of State, she often was adamant about including women and girls in U.S. foreign policy as a central issue when dealing with other countries, “because they’re often the canaries in the mine.”

“You watch women and girls being deprived of rights — some of them never have them, some of them lose them — and among those rights is control over their bodies, control over their own health care, control over the size of their families,” she said. “And it is a disturbing trend that you see in a lot of societies that are very unstable, anti-democratic and frankly prone to extremism where women and women’s bodies are used as the defining and unifying issue to bring together people.”

Clinton said that Americans are always going to argue over abortion, a controversial topic and a hard choice for women.

“… It’s very troubling that a sales clerk at Hobby Lobby who needs contraception, which is pretty expensive, is not going to get that service through her employer’s health care plan because her employer doesn’t think she should be using contraception,” she said.

Clinton, a potential but unannounced challenger for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, noted that one of the concurring opinions in the Hobby Lobby ruling stated that if the government wants to provide contraceptive insurance or free contraception, then the government can do it.

“That, you know, … that’s a kind of odd conclusion,” she said. “So does this mean whoever wrote that concurrence is in favor of a single-payer system for contraception? I think there are a lot of interesting questions. But before we get to the interesting questions, there should be a real outcry against this kind of decision. And there will be many more now.

“Look, many more companies will claim religious beliefs, and some will be sincere but others maybe not,” Clinton continued. “And we’re gonna see this one insurable service cut out for many, many women. There’s a lot of other things. You know there are companies that are closely held by employers who don’t believe in blood transfusion. That’s a religious belief that certain people hold. So does that mean if you have need for a blood transfusion your insurance doesn’t have to cover it? So I mean this is a really bad slippery slope.”


Clinton also discussed several topics covered in her new book, “Hard Choices,” officially released on June 10. Dozens of autographed copies were made available to Aspen Ideas Festival attendees through Explore Booksellers of Aspen.

The book encompasses her life from June 2008, when she ended her presidential campaign after it was apparent that Barack Obama would win the Democratic nomination, and flows through her four years as Secretary of State in the Obama administration. She writes of her efforts in dealing with China, Burma, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Europe, Russia, Latin America, Africa and the Middle East.

It ends with her thoughts on global human rights and possibilities for her future.

“Over the past year, as I’ve traveled around our country once again, the one question I’m asked more than any other is: Will I run for president in 2016? The answer is, I haven’t decided yet,” she says on page 595.

Following 30 minutes of discussion about her role in U.S. foreign policy, much of which is detailed in the book, Clinton fielded questions from the audience and people who followed the discussion on Facebook.

• What should be done about the growing income gap in America?

“Here at home, which has to be our primary focus, we have to have a consensus about how to deal with this. This is not an issue that is going to go away. In fact, it will only get worse unless we address it now and try to have something resembling a consensus,” Clinton said.

“So many Americans are really nervous. They feel like they are falling behind, at best maybe they are running in place. They don’t think the economy has recovered in a way that has helped them or their families. Retirement is just a dream for most people,” she continued.

“We’ve had this American dream embedded in our DNA. I’m a product of it. … I am going to become a grandmother in the fall — yes I am thrilled by it — but I want that child to have that same sense of possibility that I grew up with. Of course you have to work hard, of course you have to take responsibility, but we’re making it so difficult for people to do those things,” Clinton said.

Generally, she said, government policies toward the private sector that are predictable, that grow the economy instead of stifling it, are the key to ensuring the future of maintaining a middle-class America.

“At the end of the day, we’re all on the same team, and we’ve got to do a better job of getting our economy growing again and producing results and renewing the American dream so that Americans feel they have a stake in the future and that the economy and political system is not stacked against them,” Clinton said.

• What do you wish would have resulted from the Affordable Care Act?

“There wasn’t anything else that would pass,” Clinton said. “We wanted to try to insure more Americans, … and we wanted to expand Medicaid so that more working and poor people would get access.

“Given where we are now … at least the latest analyses I’ve been seeing are quite positive. People feel that they are getting insurance that they can rely on, at affordable prices in most cases,” she added. “The story is becoming a more positive story but there are still problems and there are still elements of it that have to be implemented. So, I think we need an evidence-based analysis … but I think the argument over repealing it is over.”