The Supreme Court ruled Monday that the Federal Government can’t make companies pay for emergency contraceptive coverage for employees that could lead to abortions, in violation of their religious beliefs. The case was brought by Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma-based retail chain owned by the Green family.
The Greens said they are willing to cover 16 of the 20 birth control methods mandated by Obamacare to its employees, but not four others because the risk of abortion goes against their religious beliefs.
“Providing these objectionable drugs and devices violates the deeply held religious convictions of the Greens — the sole owners of their family businesses — that life begins at conception,” the company’s website reads. “Yet refusing to comply with the federal mandate would subject them to an untenable choice of paying substantial fines or discontinuing the outstanding and affordable health insurance plan currently provided to their valued employees.”
The company argued that the Obamacare mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which says the government cannot place burdens on the exercise of freedom of religion. Furthermore, attorneys for the company pointed out that the Obama administration had granted an exemption for churches and accommodations for religious hospitals, schools and nonprofits, but for-profit companies were unfairly required to comply with the coverage rule or pay fines.
The majority opinion written by Justice Samuel Alito agreed with that argument.
“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.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg filed a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, 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.
Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, called the decision a blow to women’s reproductive health.
“Today, the Supreme Court ruled against American women and families, giving bosses the right to discriminate against women and deny their employees access to birth control coverage,” Richards said in a statement. “This is a deeply disappointing and troubling ruling that will prevent some women, especially those working hourly wage jobs and struggling to make ends meet, from getting birth control.”
The Obama administration failed to show that the broad contraception mandate is the least restrictive way of advancing its interest in ensuring access to birth control. The Court also ruled that the decision applies only to the contraception mandate, not other insurance mandates, such as those involving vaccinations.
Justice Anthony Kennedy noted that the government could pay for this coverage if it wants to make it available, but cannot compel a company to do so. The decision deals a big hit to the Obama administration, which defended its interpretation of the law as something that forces companies to provide all manner of birth control methods to workers.
“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.”
Earnest also called on Congress to make sure the women affected still have contraception coverage. “Congress needs to take action to solve this problem that has been created,” he said.
Senator Harry Reid said Congress will have to pick up where the Supreme Court left off after the court ruled that employers don’t have to provide contraceptives to their employees.
“If the Supreme Court will not protect women’s access to health care, then Democrats will,” Reid tweeted using #NotMyBossBusiness, after the Supreme Court ruled today that employers can’t be forced to cover contraceptives under Obamacare.
Congresswoman Dina Titus, representing Las Vegas, condemned the decision in a statement.
“Ninety-nine percent of American women will use contraception at some point in their lives. Employers should not be able to impose their religious beliefs on female employees, ignoring their individual health decisions and denying their right to reproductive care,” she wrote.
Congressman Steven Horsford, representing North Las Vegas tweeted his criticism of the ruling: “#SCOTUS Ruling today: Corporations are people. Women are not.”
Nevada’s Republicans in Congress didn’t immediately have anything to say on the ruling, their Twitter feeds and statement lists remain quiet. However Kentucky Senator Rand Paul welcomed the ruling.
“Religious liberty will remain intact and all Americans can stay true to their faith without fear of big government intervention or punishment,” said Paul. “Our nation was founded on the principle of freedom, and with this decision, America will continue to serve as a safe haven for those looking to exercise religious liberty.”
House Speaker John Boehner, said in a statement, “Today’s decision is a victory for religious freedom and another defeat for an administration that has repeatedly crossed constitutional lines in pursuit of its Big Government objectives.”