Supreme Court Rules In Hobby Lobby Case, Dealing Blow To Birth Control Coverage
A divided Supreme Court ruled 5-4 on Monday that closely held corporations cannot be required to provide contraception coverage for their employees.
In an opinion authored by Justice Samuel Alito, the court ruled in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Burwell that the Obama administration has failed to show that the contraception mandate contained in the Affordable Care Act is the "least restrictive means of advancing its interest" in providing birth control at no cost to women.
"Any suggestion that for-profit corporations are incapable of exercising religion because their purpose is simply to make money flies in the face of modern corporate law," Alito wrote, adding that by requiring religious corporations to cover contraception, "the HHS mandate demands that they engage in conduct that seriously violates their religious beliefs."
The Affordable Care Act contains a provision requiring most employers to cover the full range of contraception in their health care plans at no cost to their female employees. The Obama administration had granted an exemption for churches and accommodations for religious hospitals, schools and nonprofits, but for-profit companies were required to comply with the coverage rule or pay fines.
Hobby Lobby, a Christian-owned craft supply chain store, and Conestoga Wood Specialties Store, a Pennsylvania wood manufacturer owned by a family of Mennonites, challenged the contraception mandate on the grounds that it violates their religious freedom by requiring them to pay for methods of contraception they find morally objectionable. The owners of those companies believe some forms of birth control -- emergency contraception and intrauterine devices -- are forms of abortion because they could prevent a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus.
Monday's opinion was written narrowly so as only to apply to the contraception mandate, not to religious employers who object to other medical services, like blood transfusions or vaccines.
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg filed a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor and mostly joined by Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer. Ginsburg warned in her dissent that the decision was not as narrow as it claimed to be. "In a decision of startling breadth, the Court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs," Ginsburg wrote.
Ginsburg argued that the government has a "compelling interest" in providing no-cost birth control to women. "Those interests are concrete, specific, and demonstrated by a wealth of empirical evidence," she wrote. "To recapitulate, the mandated contraception coverage enables women to avoid the health problems unintended pregnancies may visit on them and their children."
"President Obama believes that women should make personal health care decisions for themselves rather than their bosses deciding for them. Today’s decision jeopardizes the health of women that are employed by these companies."
"We will, of course, respect the Supreme Court ruling," White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday, adding that the administration will "consider the range of options available to the president."
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