The Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Monday that family-owned corporations do not have to pay for insurance coverage for contraception under the Affordable Care Act. The case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, concerned the arts-and-crafts chain Hobby Lobby, which is owned by an evangelical Christian family, and other companies that do not want to pay for certain birth control methods for their employees. The owners of these companies argued that their religions are morally opposed to these birth control methods and therefore they should not be forced to help provide them. The court agreed: “Protecting the free-exercise rights of corporations like Hobby Lobby, Conestoga … protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control those companies,” Justice Alito wrote. Here, HeadCount’s intern team takes a look at both sides of the issue.
Pro-Hobby Lobby: The scope of this ruling is very limited:
The ruling does not apply to other insurance mandates, like those for blood transfusions or vaccinations; companies cannot refuse to provide coverage for other vital healthcare services to which they are “morally opposed.” Additionally, the ruling only applies to “closely held” companies—those in which five or fewer people own more than half the corporation—and companies with owners that have clearly established religious beliefs. Companies cannot deny coverage simply because they do not want to pay for it; they must hold a legitimate religious objection. Thus, the number of women affected by this ruling will be very small. The majority of women with private insurance work at companies that comply with the Affordable Care Act’s birth control mandate.
Con: But an outpouring of dissent followed the SCOTUS ruling:
Many fear that the ruling will engender future restrictions on coverage. Josh Earnest, the White House spokesperson, expressed the Obama administration’s dissent, saying that the “decision jeopardizes the health of women who are employed by these companies.” Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, laments that “companies will now have a license to harm their female employees” with the Hobby Lobby decision. The Guardian’s Jessica Valenti calls the decision “the targeting of women’s health and lives.”
While the majority opinion argued this ruling will not affect many woman, not everyone believes this to be true. Hillary Clinton argued against the ruling, claiming it will be a slippery slope for more corporations to not only deny coverage for contraception, but also for other medical procedures that they morally oppose. Clinton stated, “many more companies will claim religious beliefs and some will be sincere but others maybe not. And we are going to see this one insurable service cut out for many, many women.”
Pro: The ruling protects the Religious Freedom of Certain Corporations without violating the freedom of women.
Female employees are not forbidden from utilizing birth control; corporations are simply protecting their right not to subsidize, out of pocket, the use of birth control that violates their religious beliefs. This accords with the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, which asserts that the government must strive to achieve its ends without burdening the free exercise of religion. Some claim that the Affordable Care Act violates the RFRA, First Amendment, and other federal laws by requiring companies to subsidize the contraceptives certain religions consider tantamount to abortion.
Con: However, the ruling intends to protect the religious rights of employers, but it disregards the rights of the women themselves.
The decision violates First Amendment rights, as Hobby Lobby is pushing its own religious beliefs on its female employees, according to Louise Melling, the deputy legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union. Workers may not agree with their employers’ definition of conception, resulting in a conflict of beliefs. The corporations consider emergency contraceptives (ECPs) as abortifacients because they prevent implantation of a fertilized egg, but neither the FDA nor The Department of Health and Human Services agree with this distinction. Both agencies believe an abortion cannot occur until the embryo has been implanted, but Hobby Lobby and Conestoga consider conception to occur at fertilization, thus making EPCs abortifacients.
Some religious groups don’t even stand alongside Hobby Lobby, either. Sandy Soreson, the director of the United Church of Christ, says that “individuals, not for-profit corporations, should be guaranteed true religious liberty—the right to make decisions by following their own moral conscience and religious beliefs.”
Pro: Other options exist to provide women with contraception without infringing upon religious freedom.
The White House pledges to devise a solution that provides affordable contraceptives without restricting the religious freedom of corporations, so the women affected by the ruling can access the same health services. The ACA already included an escape clause for non-profit organizations with religious affiliations and these organizations have provided ways for women to access contraception without violating their own beliefs. These organizations must notify the insurer if they oppose certain contraceptives, and the insurer must then cover the cost of the contraceptives.
Con: But the decision just passes the burden to someone else.
All Hobby Lobby is doing is likely redirecting coverage payment to taxpayers. Hobby Lobby certainly asserted its morals, but some taxpayers sharing Hobby Lobby’s beliefs may now even be left in the same situation as the corporation—except the taxpayers are going to have to be responsible for coverage payments this time.