By Melinda Carstensen
The Supreme Court ruled in a 5-4 decision today that family-owned corporations don’t have to insure contraceptives if they interfere with their religious beliefs.
Obama’s Affordable Care Act had required companies to cover birth control under their insurance plans, but the high court said that rule violated a 1993 federal law protecting religious freedom.
Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma City-based chain of arts and crafts stores, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a cabinetmaker in Pennsylvania, challenged the 2010 health reform law. They objected to certain forms of covered birth control, such as the morning-after pill and intrauterine devices, which have the potential to work even after contraception, clashing with their religious values.
President Bill Clinton signed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) to restrict the government from interfering with someone’s religious freedoms when furthering its interests. The high court said that ruling also protected “closely held” corporations owned by a few people.
Both companies argued that insuring birth control placed a “substantial burden” on their religious practices. Hobby Lobby, for instance, said it would have been subject to $26 million in annual fines if it stopped offering insurance entirely.
“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.
Proponents of Obama’s health care law say that requiring companies to cover birth control can help reduce unintended pregnancies, and ensure that “women have equal access to health care services.”
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg addressed all but one of six men in the Supreme Court in a vehement, 35-page dissent.
“The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would … deny legions of women who do not hold their employers' beliefs access to contraceptive coverage,” Ginsburg wrote.
“Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community."
Alito addressed liberal justices’ concerns in his majority ruling.
“We do not hold, as the principal dissent alleges, that for-profit corporations and other commercial enterprises can opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs,” Alito wrote.
“And we certainly do not hold or suggest that RFRA demands accommodation of a for-profit corporation’s religious beliefs no matter the impact that accommodation may have on … thousands of women employed by Hobby Lobby.”
He also said his opinion applied only to contraceptives, and wouldn’t eliminate other types of insurance coverage like blood transfusions or vaccinations if they conflict with an employer’s values, or “provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice.”Do you think companies, religious or not, should be required to insure birth control? Did the Supreme Court get it right?