In a 5-4 decision Monday morning, the Supreme Court ruled that for-profit corporations are like people and can hold religious views and therefore have a religious objection to the Affordable Care Act provision requiring companies to cover contraceptives for women. They can opt out of the ACA-mandated insurance coverage under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
The ACA already provides exemptions for churches and religious nonprofits—but providing exemptions for for-profit corporations is an historic measure. (Read the decision here.)
Justice Alieto, writing for the majority, noted that Hobby Lobby Stores, a craft chain store based in Oklahoma owned by an evangelical family with 13,000 employees, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a small cabinet maker owned by a Mennonite family, “have sincere Christian beliefs that life begins at conception and that it would violate their religion to facilitate access to contraceptive drugs or devices that operate after that point.” In other words, despite scientific documentation backing them up, they believe that birth control—preventing conception by stopping sperm from fertilizing an egg, is essentially the same as abortion—and therefore the government requirement to provide reproductive health insurance coverage violated their religious freedom.
Alieto also refutes the dissent by Justice Ginsburg that “for-profit corporations and other commercial enterprises can ‘opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.’” And he says the ruling only applies to the specific contraceptives at issue and does not extend to a for-profit corporation whose religious owners might not believe in providing coverage for healthcare needs such as blood transfusions. Additionally, Alieto wrote that the decision does not provide a "shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice,"
Pro-Life advocates are hailing the ruling as a “landmark decision for religious freedom.” Republican Senator Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, for instance, praised the ruling. ”Today’s Supreme Court decision makes clear that the Obama administration cannot trample on the religious freedoms that Americans hold dear,” McConnell said in a statement.
“If the Court will not protect women’s health care, Democrats will,” said Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid. Pro-choice and other groups—including some LGBT groups—find the SCOTUS ruling “deeply troubling.”
“Today’s majority ruling disregards decades of case law that drew a protective line between free religious expression and religious dominance of others. It is a radically dangerous decision that invites more misguided actions contrary to essential protections for employees, customers and the public,” Jennifer C. Pizer, Lambda Legal Senior Counsel and Director, Law and Policy Project, said in a statement. “It is imperative that the U.S. Congress amend the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act to withdraw the blessing the Court mistakenly has given these companies to impose their beliefs on working women.
“Today’s ruling is about the ACA and women’s reproductive health and rights. But, some may mistake this narrow ruling as a wide open door for religious liberty exemptions from other statutes that protect employees and the public,” Pizer added. “Today’s opinion says doing so would be incorrect. However, recent mistreatment of LGBT people in employment and other commercial settings still makes this extremely troubling. A business owner’s religious objection to a worker’s same-sex spouse or a customer’s LGBT identity is not acceptable grounds for discrimination. It is more important than ever that states and Congress enact strong, clear nondiscrimination protections for LGBT people.”