The U.S. Supreme Court issued a landmark ruling today allowing Hobby Lobby to deny coverage of certain types of contraceptives (including the Plan B morning after pill) in its employee health insurance plan. It’s a massive decision with multiple opinions and some caveats were issued on its scope. From scotusblog:
The Court says that the government has failed to show that the mandate is the least restrictive means of advancing its interest in guaranteeing cost-free access to birth control.
Justice Kennedy remarked the government could pay for the coverage of those who work for companies with religious objections. Press coverage indicates the Obama administration will move swiftly by regulation to provide it. But, the initial response is condemnation of the ruling as damaging to women’s health and a call for congressional action to repair the damage.
The court notes, too, that the decision relates, under the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act, only to closely held for-profit corporations (family owned and not publicly traded, in other words). And it takes pains to say, according to scotusblog, “that the decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to mean that all insurance mandates, that is for blood transfusions or vaccinations, necessarily fail if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs.”
The ruling was about religious objections to providing contraceptives as the federal Affordable Care Act provides. The public overwhelmingly supports coverage of contraception as part of health insurance coverage. But the case, with its establishment of a religious right in one area for employers, unavoidably suggests potential for uncounted other ways that people could claim religious exemption from government policy. The court seemed to be aware of that in stating limits on what it had ruled.
Hobby Lobby is not opposed to covering all contraception, only methods that it believes (though many scientists disagree with their view) work after fertilization, such as the Plan B pill and certain types of IUDs.
The opinion was 5-4. Kennedy joined the majority but wrote a separate opinion. It’s more personhood for corporations.
“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.”
The four-person dissent saw larger problems. From Huffington Post:
Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg filed a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor and mostly joined by Justices 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
The case involved conflicting decisions in two circuits — the Hobby Lobby case and that of a Mennonite-owned corporation, Conestoga Wood Products, in Pennsylvania.
Cecile Richards, president of Planned Parenthood, said:
“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, 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.”
Tom Cotton, the extremist Republican candidate for Senate, was quick with a news release to cheer the victory against coverage of birth control pills. He calls it a win for religious freedom, not a setback for women’s health care. He will now presumably attempt a legislative roadblock to government efforts to cover birth control pills for women who work for Hobby Lobby and its like. Lots of news releases like this one:
Amanda Metskas, president of the Secular Coalition for America, said today’s decision by the court will allow employers to impose their religious beliefs on their employees and interfere with the employees’ personal health care decisions.
Cotton is even worse than he appears. He’d favor a “personhood” amendment, giving status to a fertilized egg, a measure with enormous ill consequences, including for people seeking in vitro fertilization.
Sen. Mark Pryor defended the law’s attempt to require coverage of basic health care for women, many of whom take birth control pills for reasons other than contraception. According to Politico, Pryor
.. said he understands the “deeply held religious views” of those who brought the lawsuit. But he was still clear that he supports the requirement and compared his views on the health care law to his opponent, Republican Rep. Tom Cotton, who has been a vocal critic of Obamacare.
“At the same time I cannot support Congressman Cotton’s irresponsible plan to return to the days when women paid more than men for basic health care services,” he said.
But there was this sop today on the religious front:
The Supreme Court let stand a 9th Circuit ruling upholding a California law banning widely discredited “gay conversion therapy.” It’s a favorite of the fringe Religious Right.