Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood not forced to supply contraception in employee medical insurance benefits

 On June 30, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that Hobby Lobby, an American hobby supply chain, and Conestoga Wood, a custom cabinet maker, cannot be compelled to provide abortion-inducing drugs in their insurance plans. The 5-4 majority decision in Hobby Lobby Stores v. Burwell and Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Burwell found that closely-held for-profit corporations are protected by the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) when it comes to exercising religion. The majority of the Court found that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) mandate, in implementing the Affordable Care Act – or Obamacare as it is popularly known – poses a substantial burden on religious freedom. Under the mandate, insurance plans must cover contraception and sterilization.

“The owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients,” stated the ruling. “If the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions, and if they do not comply, they will pay a very heavy price – as much as $1.3 million per day, or about $475 million per year, in the case of one of the companies. If these consequences do not amount to a substantial burden, it is hard to see what would.”

Even assuming that the HHS mandate furthers a compelling interest on the part of the government, it would still fail the least-restrictive means test, which requires that the government’s goals that may curtail constitutional rights be enacted in the least restrictive way possible. According to the majority decision written by Justice Samuel Alito, a better option would be for the government to directly pay for employees’ contraception or to use the accommodation already in place for religious non-profits.

The dissenting opinion by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg (and signed by Judge Sonia Sotomayor) claims that this “decision of startling breadth” will allow corporations to decline to follow laws against the owner’s religion. Ginsburg argues that any religious exemptions should not burden third parties. Another dissent by Justices Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan has no opinion as to whether corporations such as Hobby Lobby are protected by RFRA, but concurs with the other sections of Ginsburg’s dissent.

The accommodation available to religious non-profits requires employers to note down their religious objections so that their insurance companies provide the employees with the contraception for free. Critics have argued that the costs, however, would still be passed down to the business in question. On July 3, shortly after the Hobby Lobby decision, the Supreme Court granted an injunction to Wheaton College against the accommodation.

“All Americans can be thankful that the Court reaffirmed that freedom of conscience is a long-held American tradition and that the government cannot impose a law on American men and women that forces them to violate their beliefs in order to hold a job, own a business, or purchase health insurance,” said Tony Perkins, president of the Family Research Council, in a press release.

“These cases underscore the critical need for laws protecting Americans’ freedom of conscience. The anti-life mandate the Obama Administration tried to impose on these families is evidence of Big Abortion’s manipulative agenda, as they move from choice to coercion,” said Charmaine Yoest, president of Americans United for Life, in a press release.

In response, Planned Parenthood is telling women to text “birth control” to a new national hotline “to report a denial of coverage or to get help accessing birth control.”

On July 9, Democratic senators Patty Murray and Mark Udall introduced the Protect Women’s Health From Corporate Interference Act, which would compel for-profit corporations to abide by the HHS mandate. Democrats believe that this bill could overturn the Supreme Court ruling because the new legislation would prioritize the HHS mandate over the RFRA, which was the basis of the decision. The Democrats currently do not have enough votes in the Senate to break a filibuster.

Hillary Clinton, the frontrunner for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016, has publicly supported the idea of rescinding the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a bill signed into law by her husband, then president Bill Clinton.