Supreme Court Sides with Hobby Lobby on Contraceptive Coverage
Monday the U.S. Supreme Court issued a ruling in two cases, collectively known as the Hobby Lobby case, in which the Justices were asked to decide whether requiring a corporation to provide insurance coverage that includes contraception under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) is a “substantial burden” on the corporation, and violates Christian business owners’ religious freedom rights. The Court ruled that closely held for-profit corporations are exempt from complying with the ACA contraception mandate based on religious belief.
The Court expressly attempted to limit the implications of this ruling by explaining, “The principled dissent raises the possibility that discrimination in hiring, for example on the basis of race, might be cloaked as religious practice to escape legal sanction. Our decision today provides no such shield.”
“For the first time in our Nation’s history,” said Constitutional Accountability Center (CAC) President Doug Kendall, “the Supreme Court has ruled that for-profit corporations have religious rights and have accorded them religious exemptions. Despite their attempts to qualify that ruling, it opens the floodgates to claims by corporations for religious exemptions.”
“As Justice Ginsburg explained in a powerful dissent,” continued CAC Civil Rights Director David Gans, “the Court puts claims of corporations over those of its employees and allows a corporation’s owners to override the Federal rights of its employees, many of whom have a different set of religious beliefs.”
CAC Chief Counsel Elizabeth Wydra said, “While the Court purports to limit its ruling to closely-held corporations on this issue only, the majority opinion invites a number of ‘me too’ religious objections by other companies on matters ranging from anti-discrimination law to other medical procedures such as blood transfusions or vaccinations.”
“This divisive ruling is disgraceful, and will go down as one of the worst decisions in the history of the Supreme Court,” said Truth Wins Out Executive Director Wayne Besen. “Because of this decision, business owners will have enormous leverage to impose their religious beliefs in the workplace, and to coerce employees into abiding by them. The court has decided, as in Citizens United, that corporations are people. The sooner this ruling is reversed the better it will be for America.”
“Religious groups have a long-established first amendment ability to operate according to their own beliefs,” said Human Rights Campaign (HRC) Legal Director Sarah Warbelow. “Instead of protecting religious liberty, this ruling gives license for businesses to use their personal beliefs as a reason to deny people access to basic, yet crucial medical services.”
“Today’s majority ruling disregards decades of case law that drew a protective line between free religious expression and religious dominance of others. It is a radically dangerous decision that invites more misguided actions contrary to essential protections for employees, customers and the public,” Pizer said. “It is imperative that the U.S. Congress amend the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to withdraw the blessing the Court mistakenly has given these companies to impose their beliefs on working women.”
Adding, “Today’s ruling is about the ACA and women’s reproductive health and rights, But, some may mistake this narrow ruling as a wide open door for religious liberty exemptions from other statutes that protect employees and the public. Today’s opinion says doing so would be incorrect. However, recent mistreatment of LGBT people in employment and other commercial settings still makes this extremely troubling. A business owner’s religious objection to a worker’s same-sex spouse or a customer’s LGBT identity is not acceptable grounds for discrimination. It is more important than ever that states and Congress enact strong, clear nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people.”
The ruling came in two cases challenging the ACA’s requirement that FDA-approved contraception be among the basic preventive health care services included in insurance coverage for employees, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores andConestoga Wood Specialties Corporation v. Burwell. Lambda Legal, joined by GLMA: Health Professionals Advancing LGBT Equality and Pride at Work AFL-CIO, had filed a friend-of-the-court brief in these cases urging the Supreme Court to reject arguments made by these for-profit companies that they should be allowed to block their employees’ access to ACA-required insurance coverage for contraception because the companies’ owners claim birth control violates their religious beliefs.
The brief argued that large for-profit corporations like Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Products should follow the same rules as other companies that sell products to the general public and should not be free to impose their owners’ religious views on their employees or selectively block group-health plan coverage in order to interfere with their employees’ private decisions about family planning and other medical treatment.
“Today’s decision by the Supreme Court sets a dangerous precedent and takes us closer to a time in history when women had no choice and no voice. When 99 percent of women report having used birth control at one point in their life, allowing their boss to call the shots about their access to this critical health service should be inconceivable in this day and age,” said U.S. Senator Patty Murray (D-WA). “Your health care decisions are not your boss’s business – period. Since the Supreme Court decided it will not protect women’s access to health care, I will. In the coming days I will work with my colleagues and the Administration to protect this access, regardless of who signs your paycheck.
Murray added, “Every American deserves to have access to high quality health care coverage and each of us should have the right to make our own medical and religious decisions without being dictated to or limited by our employers. Contraceptive coverage is supported by and benefits the vast majority of Americans who understand how important it is for women and families.