The Supreme Court of the United States has just announced its decision in the much-anticipated Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case. In the case, Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma based chain, challenged the Affordable Care Act (ACA) ruling that required all companies to provide contraception coverage to their employees. Hobby Lobby, a Christian company, objected to this part of the law on religious grounds, citing their belief that providing certain forms of contraception would make them complicit in what they viewed as abortion. According to the USA Today:
The companies say that intrauterine devices (IUDs) and morning-after pills cause abortions by blocking a fertilized egg from implanting in the uterus. That is disputed by groups that lobby for reproductive rights, who contend the drugs and devices prevent fertilization from occurring.
Thus, Hobby Lobby brought their case in front of the Supreme Court to challenge what they felt as a government imposed challenge to their religious freedom.
This morning’s 5-4 ruling contended that closely held corporations (those with 5 or less persons holding more than 50% of the companies stocks) are not required to provide contraceptive coverage to their employees if doing so challenges their religious beliefs. This was in part due to the fact that the RFRA (Religious Freedom Reformation Act), which is designed to protect individual’s religious freedom, is carried over to closely held corporations as well. This means that corporations are able to object to aspects of ACA, which they feel challenges their religious beliefs, specifically in the case of contraceptives. According to ABC News, “The justices’ 5-4 decision Monday is the first time that the high court has ruled that profit-seeking businesses can hold religious views under federal law.” This further pushes forward the fact that corporations are individuals when it comes to the court of law. Yet, the court was also cautious to note that the current ruling only covers the issue of contraceptives. As is pointed out on CBS News:
Alito made several points to lay to rest concerns that corporations would take unfair of advantage of his ruling.
“In any event, our decision in these cases is concerned solely with the contraceptive mandate,” he wrote. “Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs. Other coverage requirements, such as immunizations, may be supported by different interests (for example, the need to combat the spread of infectious diseases) and may involve different arguments about the least restrictive means of providing them.”
Some speculate that this ruling, though an initial defeat for the Obama administration, will force the administration to look into other options for providing government funded contraception.
The direct impact on consumers is uncertain at this point. Since the Obama administration will more than likely continue to push for government provided contraceptives means that consumers who wish to receive government funded contraception will more than likely be able to do so.
“Supreme Court exempts Hobby Lobby from Obamacare contraception mandate” (Stephanie Condon, CBS News)
“Justices: Can’t make employers cover contraception” (Mark Sherman, Associated Press– Appears on ABC)
“Justices rule for Hobby Lobby on Contraception Mandate” (Richard Wolf, USA Today)