Justices: Can't make employers cover contraception

In a controversial move, the Supreme Court ruled Monday that some corporations can hold religious objections that allow them to opt out of the new health law requirement that they cover contraceptives for women.
AP Wire
Jun 30, 2014

The justices' 5-4 decision is the first time that the high court has ruled that profit-seeking businesses can hold religious views under federal law. And it means the Obama administration must search for a different way of providing free contraception to women who are covered under objecting companies' health insurance plans.

Contraception is among a range of preventive services that must be provided at no extra charge under the health care law that President Barack Obama signed in 2010 and the Supreme Court upheld two years later.

Two years ago, Chief Justice John Roberts cast the pivotal vote that saved the health care law in the midst of Obama's campaign for re-election. On Monday, dealing with a small sliver of the law, Roberts sided with the four justices who would have struck down the law in its entirety.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion. The court's four liberal justices dissented.

The court stressed that its ruling applies only to corporations that are under the control of just a few people in which there is no essential difference between the business and its owners, like the Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby chain of arts-and-craft stores that challenged the provision.

Alito also said the decision is limited to contraceptives under the health care law. "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," Alito said.

He suggested two ways the administration could ensure women get the contraception they want. It could simply pay for pregnancy prevention, he said.

Or it could provide the same kind of accommodation it has made available to religious-oriented, not-for-profit corporations. Those groups can tell the government that providing the coverage violates their religious beliefs. At that point, the groups' insurers or a third-party administrator takes on the responsibility of paying for the birth control.

The accommodation is the subject of separate legal challenges, but the court said Monday that the profit-seeking companies could not assert religious claims in such a situation.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was part of the majority, also wrote separately to emphasize that the administration can solve its problem easily. "The accommodation works by requiring insurance companies to cover, without cost sharing, contraception coverage for female employees who wish it," Kennedy said. He said that arrangement "does not impinge on the plaintiffs' religious beliefs."

Houses of worship and other religious institutions whose primary purpose is to spread the faith are exempt from the requirement to offer birth control.

In a dissent she read aloud from the bench, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called the decision "potentially sweeping" because it minimizes the government's interest in uniform compliance with laws affecting the workplace. "And it discounts the disadvantages religion-based opt outs impose on others, in particular, employees who do not share their employer's religious beliefs," Ginsburg said.

The administration said a victory for the companies would prevent women who work for them from making decisions about birth control based on what's best for their health, not whether they can afford it. The government's supporters pointed to research showing that nearly one-third of women would change their contraceptive if cost were not an issue; a very effective means of birth control, the intrauterine device, can cost up to $1,000.

The contraceptives at issue before the court were the emergency contraceptives Plan B and ella, and two IUDs.

Nearly 50 businesses have sued over covering contraceptives. Some, like those involved in the Supreme Court case, are willing to cover most methods of contraception, as long as they can exclude drugs or devices that the government says may work after an egg has been fertilized. Other companies object to paying for any form of birth control.

There are separate lawsuits challenging the contraception provision from religiously affiliated hospitals, colleges and charities.

A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 85 percent of large American employers already had offered such coverage before the health care law required it.

Most working women will probably see no impact from the ruling, corporate health benefits consultants expect. Publicly traded companies are unlikely to drag religion into their employee benefit plans, said Mark Holloway, director of compliance services at the Lockton Companies, an insurance broker that serves medium-sized and growing employers.

"Most employers view health insurance as a tool to attract and retain employees," said Holloway. "Women employees want access to contraceptive coverage and most employers don't have a problem providing that coverage. It is typically not a high-cost item."

It is unclear how many women potentially are affected by the high court ruling. Hobby Lobby is by far the largest employer of any company that has gone to court to fight the birth control provision.

Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby has more than 15,000 full-time employees in more than 600 crafts stores in 41 states. The Greens are evangelical Christians who also own Mardel, a Christian bookstore chain.

The other company is Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. of East Earl, Pa., owned by a Mennonite family and employing 950 people in making wood cabinets.

Comments

GH55

The contraceptives at issue before the court were the emergency contraceptives Plan B and ella, and two IUDs.
Not all contraceptives!
Bad article!

truthhurts

Good! go buy a rain coat with your own quarter

LIAMD

No doubt, pay to play on your own dime. Birth control is not a right it's a personal choice

Mystic Michael

What many of you dittoheads still fail to grasp is that female birth control medication is used for much, much more than simply preventing pregnancy, and is fact used to treat all manner of female hormonal disorders and related conditions. In other words, it's actual medicine, used to treat actual, bona fide medical conditions. My guess is that your failure to comprehend is a result of ignorance, plus an overly prurient interest in what you deem to be illicit sex.

In actual fact, adolescent girls and young women are often prescribed birth control pills for irregular or absent menstrual periods, menstrual cramps, acne, PMS, endometriosis, and for Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. Girls who are diagnosed with PCOS are often prescribed oral contraceptives to lower their hormone levels and regulate their menstrual periods.

It's not a "personal choice" for them to develop cysts on their ovaries, any more than it's a personal choice for you to develop prostate cancer.

ILoveMyCountry

They are only not going to cover 4 of the "birth control" meds. The 4 that could very well cause the death of a baby. Do some research. They pay for the rest of them!

Lanivan

I just got done reading all your replies to my comments. There is not a word in your efforts that deserves so much as a brief thought, but I will refute your apparent ignorance about the 4 contraceptives in the Hobby Lobby case.

None of the 4 contraceptives are designed to abort an implanted fertilized egg. They create conditions that do not allow implantation, and/or make it difficult for fertilization to take place. Without implantation, there is nothing to abort. I've done lots of research. You, on the other hand, have not.

The ruling was expanded by the Supreme Court the day after the announcement to cover all forms of birth control. I've researched this in-depth. You obviously did not.

Hobby Lobby doesn't "pay" for the pills. The insurance company carrier that Hobby Lobby does business covers the cost, and the employees "pay" the insurance premium through their work. Got it?

Oh, by the way, I oppose abortion. That's why I think birth control, and free birth control to poor women, is the best way possible to cut down on the number of abortions. Isn't that what we all want?

Lanivan

The Roberts Court majority opinion just allowed "closely-held" corporations - which makes up an estimated 90% of all US corporations - to hold religious beliefs that trump women's rights, despite the fact that the act of incorporation is supposed to create a separate, legal entity that allows legal protection to it's owners. Part of the trade-off is that there are certain restrictions for the legal protection of incorporation. But the right-wing dominated, politicized Roberts Court appears to now be saying that not only do these separate legal entities have a right to religious beliefs, but that these religious beliefs are more important than the religious beliefs of the people they employ, and the employees freedom to choose whether or not to partake of any or certain contraceptives based on employees religious beliefs.

owell

They can partake in any contraceptive they would like based on nothing at all expect their choice. Fluke and the rest of the s@@@@ can pay for their own self gratification. I will keep paying for my own lotion and tissues. No different.

Barry Soetoro

Hey now! Sandra Fluke was a good girl just trying to make some extra money for law school!

Lanivan

Actually, it was Rush Limbaugh that catapulted Sandra Fluke into popularity and stardom. Seems it was a very bad move on his part, as I understand Rush's popularity with the advertisers tanked and continues to tank to this day. Poor Rush has to offer all manner of freebies to entice advertisers to stay, but they ain't bitin'.

Barry Soetoro

I'm just surprised you can write "s@@@@" and escape the heavy handed moderation around here.

Mystic Michael

From what I've seen, the moderation around here has been hands-off, or nearly nonexistent. IMO, they really need to tighten up the idiot filter.

ILoveMyCountry

What about the BABIES rights?! It was a bill signed by Bill Clinton himself that helped this go through. Only 4 meds won't be paid for and they are meds that would cause a baby to be aborted. Barry can pay for them! You're ridiculous! Plus, they sell that plan B crap over the counter... To very young girl... No questions asked. Very sad, actually.

ILoveMyCountry

Babies rights?

Vladtheimp

1. The decision is made under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which simply referred to "person" in its definitional section.

2. The "Dictionary Act" which the Supreme Court uses for definitions unless legislation provides a contrary definition (U.S. Code › Title 1 › Chapter 1 › § 1) defines "person" as "the words “person” and “whoever” include corporations, companies, associations, firms, partnerships, societies, and joint stock companies, as well as individuals;"

3. Here is what one of the authors of RFRA stated:

"The Religious Freedom Restoration Act,. . . . would restore the compelling interest test for evaluating free exercise claims. It would do so by establishing a statutory right that adopts the stand­ards previously, used by the Supreme Court. In essence, the act codifies the requirement for the Government to demonstrate that any law burdening the free exercise of religion is essential to fur­thering a compelling governmental interest and is the least restric­tive means of achieving that interest.

The act creates no new rights for any religious practice or for any potential litigant. Not every free exercise claim will prevail. It simply restores the long-established standard of review that had worked well for many years and that requires courts to weigh free exercise claims against the compelling State interest standard. Our bill is strongly supported by an extraordinary coalition of or­ganizations with widely differing views on many other issues. The National Association of Evangelicals, the American Civil Liberties Union, the Coalitions for America, People for the American Way, just to name a few, support the legislation. They don’t often agree on much, but they do agree on the need to pass the Religious Free­dom Restoration Act because religious freedom in America is damaged each day the Smith decision stands.

Thus, the Court simply interpreted the Statute as it was written by Congress. Congress could have (and still can) define corporations out of the Act, if that is the will of the people. Of course, the provision of contraception was not included in the Affordable Care Act (Obamacare) because it would not have passed the House and the Senate. Contraception was added, lawlessly, by Queen Sebelius and the bureaucrats at Health and Human Services.

You are criticizing the Supreme Court when you should be criticizing the Congress.

EINSTEIN

Abstinence is the best method of birth control and it doesn't cost anything at all....strange that nobody even mentioned that. Should insurance companies pay the cost of condoms for men as well? This is silly....if you don't want to have children take care of it in your own way and at whatever cost it may incur to you personally. It should not be included in any insurance policy...period!

Eyebolt

Vladtheimp has the main point here...it pretty well goes back to the Dictionary Act that allows companies to be defined as a "person" and from there it is just built on by the subsequent acts.

Interesting point in the ruling though was that just like in the previous ACA case, the Supreme Court did lay more legal basis for a single payer system (of which could supply these 4 medications that were in dispute). "ACA does not create a large national pool of tax revenue for use in purchasing healthcare coverage." A single payer system would had created such a pool, but instead the ACA created guidelines for the employers plans. So just like how you can't opt out of a portion of your taxes because you don't agree with how the government spends that portion, they could create a single payer system and the companies would have to pay the taxes to contribute to the pool that pays for the very coverage they fought against.

dogbert1918

free birth control shouldn't be considered a woman's right.

Straightjacket

If life starts at conception, saying "No" is abortion!

TooMuch

But Hobby Lobby has NO PROBLEM supporting China who even in 2012 was still aborting female fetuses, has very little or no civil rights for their people, etc. but in America they don't want to pay a couple bucks to pay for birth contol. No birth control and won't want to educate or pay for these poor either. Pic bet they do pay for Viagra! Hypocrites!

Lanivan

Hobby Lobby has enjoyed billions of dollars of profits off the backs of Chinese laborers over whom the Chinese government mandates abortions and contraception. Also, in their case they list four contraceptives they deem as causing an abortive process, but which research has shown block the creation of a fertilized egg - in other words, this case was argued based on junk science. And then there is the fact that the Greens - the founders of Hobby Lobby - have invested in mutual funds that encompass companies that manufacturer the very drugs they do not approve of.

I predict Hobby Lobby will see a decline in sales and profits, and their "win" will be very short-lived.

ILoveMyCountry

You really need to get some morals. Also, I'd bye Hobby Lobby gets a lot more in sales and profits. Also, I am sure you only by 100% American made EVERYTHING, right? China owns us. China owns you... Shut your pie hole!

nextdoor

If you can't afford go to health department.

Lanivan

This was an overtly ideological Court decision that will galvanize citizens in unexpected ways. When a ruling allows the law to be bent for specific religious beliefs of specific for-profit corporations, denying very specific types of medical care, allowing corporations to claim exemptions tailored to the corporations' religious beliefs, it's time to initiate the process of amending the Constitution to prohibit SCOTUS from defining a for-profit corporation as a person.

I think that when citizens understand that corporations whose existence is wholly to generate profits now legally have sacred human religious rights that trump basic human rights, Republicans will wish for a different ruling come 2016 - and possibly 2014.

Vladtheimp

1. Ideology has nothing to do with it - it is a pure statutory construction case.

2. Only the most rabid ideologue could claim that the decision denies "very specific types of medical care." Medical care is denied to the same extent that I am denied filet mignon or a porsche because someone else won't pay for it. Let's get real.

Mystic Michael

Except that you can't die from lack of filet mignon.

ILoveMyCountry

If it weren't for their profits they wouldn't be up and running. Too bad we can't make very thing here in the U.S. That would be great, but it's not possible. Tiddlywinks in the White House is making things even worse. Do some research on your own and stop watching MSNBC

Lanivan

In the years of reading and writing comments on various forums, I've never seen so many thousands of comments opposed to this ruling. Just a bunch of rabid ideologues, apparently. Think they will forget by next fall?

People who work at HL/CWS are paying for federally-guaranteed health coverage as part of their benefit package that their employer legally can now deny them, based on medically inaccurate ideas relating to contraception and abortion, and now they can impose those inaccuracies on the people who work for them.

I own a closely held corporation, and my religious beliefs dictate that I do not approve of advanced medical treatments that I believe attempt to subvert God's plan. I don't want the insurance policy my employees pay for to cover these specific advanced medical treatments. Will you argue my case in court for me?

Straightjacket

Get a different job or pay for your own insurance, it's called freedom of choice. Why is everyone a victim in your world?

Lanivan

I'd love to have someone pay for my insurance, having cut a check every month for decades to cover private insurance, the premium of which is greater than my mortgage payment, and having the freedom to make this choice every month.

You'll notice I never once talk about victims. My concern centers on discrimination, junk science, a truly awful, sloppy, and embarrassingly political SCOTUS decision, and the subversion of the US Constitution and freedom from religion concepts.

Things you clearly can't fathom if your shallow, silly, totally off-the-mark and self-serving comment is any indication.

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