SCOTUS Sides With Hobby Lobby to Weaken Obamacare Mandate

The Supreme Court said companies don’t have to cover birth control if it violates their religious beliefs.

Hobby Lobby supporters react to the U.S. Supreme Court decision, June 30, 2014 in Washington, DC.
National Journal
Sam Baker
June 30, 2014, 6:28 a.m.

Obama­care’s con­tra­cep­tion man­date in­fringes on re­li­gious liberty and must be waived for some busi­ness own­ers, the Su­preme Court said in a 5-4 rul­ing Monday.

Cer­tain em­ploy­ers can­not be forced to in­clude con­tra­cep­tion in their health care plans if do­ing so would vi­ol­ate their re­li­gious be­liefs, the Court said. The justices did not strike down the birth-con­trol man­date al­to­geth­er, but their de­cision will weak­en the policy’s reach.

Writ­ing for the ma­jor­ity, Justice Samuel Alito said the de­cision ap­plied only to closely held cor­por­a­tions, like the two firms that filed this chal­lenge.

Re­lated: Gins­burg: ‘Rad­ic­al’ Hobby Lobby Rul­ing May Cre­ate ‘Hav­oc’

How deeply the Court’s de­cision un­der­mines the con­tra­cep­tion man­date will de­pend largely on how busi­ness own­ers re­spond. Wo­men’s-rights ad­voc­ates have said a rul­ing in Hobby Lobby’s fa­vor could af­fect mil­lions of wo­men, al­though birth con­trol re­mains a pop­u­lar and par­tic­u­larly cost-ef­fect­ive be­ne­fit.

The fur­thest-reach­ing im­plic­a­tions could come farther down the road; the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion and its al­lies have warned that com­pan­ies will rely on the rul­ing to seek ex­emp­tions from anti-dis­crim­in­a­tion laws.

“So an­oth­er em­ploy­er comes in and that em­ploy­er says, ‘I have a re­li­gious ob­jec­tion to sex-dis­crim­in­a­tion laws.’ And then an­oth­er em­ploy­er comes in: ‘I have a re­li­gious ob­jec­tion to min­im­um-wage laws.’ And then an­oth­er, fam­ily leave; and then an­oth­er, child-labor laws,” Justice Elena Kagan said dur­ing or­al ar­gu­ments in March.

Alito sought to blunt that pos­sib­il­ity in Monday’s rul­ing, writ­ing that al­low­ing com­pan­ies to opt out of the Af­ford­able Care Act’s con­tra­cep­tion man­date did not ne­ces­sar­ily al­low them to opt out of oth­er health care re­quire­ments.

The chal­lenge to the con­tra­cep­tion man­date was filed by two for-profit com­pan­ies — Hobby Lobby and Con­es­toga Wood Spe­cial­ties — whose own­ers ob­ject on re­li­gious grounds to some forms of birth con­trol.

Obama­care re­quires for-profit com­pan­ies to in­clude a defined set of pre­vent­ive ser­vices in their health care plans without any cost-shar­ing — such as co-pays or de­duct­ibles — for em­ploy­ees. On the ad­vice of an ex­pert sci­entif­ic pan­el, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion in­cluded con­tra­cep­tion as one of the re­quired pre­vent­ive ser­vices.

The broad­er pre­ven­tion man­date still stands, and con­tra­cep­tion is still part of it. The Court’s rul­ing only means that com­pan­ies must be able to seek an ex­emp­tion from the cov­er­age re­quire­ment on re­li­gious grounds.

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