The Supreme Court on Monday weakened Obamacare's controversial contraception mandate, ruling 5-4 that some employers cannot be forced to cover birth control as part of their health insurance plans. The majority opinion, written by conservative Justice Samuel Alito, said such a mandate infringes on religious freedom, and therefore can be waived by certain business owners.
But in a blistering, 35-page dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor, lambasted the majority opinion—delivered by five male justices—as "a decision of startling breadth" that would allow corporations to "opt out of any law … they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs."
The majority view "demands accommodation of a for-profit corporation's religious beliefs no matter the impact that accommodation may have on third parties who do not share the corporation owners' religious faith—in these cases, thousands of women employed by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga or dependents of persons those corporations employ," wrote Ginsburg, a stalwart member of the Court's liberal wing.
She continued: "Persuaded that Congress enacted the (Religious Freedom Restoration Act) to serve a far less radical purpose, and mindful of the havoc the Court's judgment can introduce, I dissent."
Ginsburg's opinion reasons that religious groups exist to serve the explicit interests of their adherents, while for-profit companies serve a fundamentally different purpose. Bucking the majority, Ginsburg sides with the Obama administration's claim that for-profit companies do not possess religious rights under the RFRA.
Granting them such rights, Ginsburg contends, could allow employers to trample over any number of health care needs in the name of religious objection.
Would the exemption the Court holds RFRA demands for employers with religiously grounded objections to the use of certain contraceptives extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah's Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations (Christian Scientists, among others)?
To further illustrate her floodgates point, Ginsburg cites retired Justice John Paul Stevens's opinion in the 2010 campaign finance ruling Citizens United v. FEC that claims corporations "have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires."
"The Court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield," Ginsburg concludes, "by its immoderate reading of RFRA."
Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer wrote a brief, separate dissent stating that, while they agree with Ginsburg that "the plaintiff's challenge to the contraceptive coverage requirement fails on the merits," they do not join to a section of Ginsburg's dissent about claims under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.
Ginsburg, Sotomayor, and Kagan comprise the entirety of the bench's female justices.
Monday's decision was the most highly anticipated of the Court's term, as the challenge to the contraception mandate—filed by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties, two for-profit companies—was viewed as another attempt to undercut President Obama's signature legislative achievement. It was also seen as the latest referendum on an ongoing battle over women's reproductive rights, an issue that continues to draw intense interest in Washington and around the nation.