Supreme Court rules in favor of Hobby Lobby
BY MONIFA THOMAS AND JON SEIDEL Sun-Times Media June 30, 2014 11:06PM
A celebration Chicago rally was held in Federal Plaza after The United States Supreme Court decision was positive for Hobby Lobby v. Sebelius and the related Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius on Monday, June 30. | Al Podgorski / Sun-Times Media
Updated: July 1, 2014 2:01AM
Delivering a blow to the Affordable Care Act, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that small “closely held” businesses can use religious objections to escape a requirement to cover birth control for employees.
The Affordable Care Act requires companies to cover all forms of FDA-approved contraception to women of reproductive age. Churches, other houses of worship and nonprofits with religious affiliations are exempt.
Two lawsuits argued that for-profit businesses also should be exempt if covering certain contraceptives would violate their religious beliefs, and the Supreme Court agreed in a 5-4 verdict.
The decision is the first time that the high court has ruled that profit-seeking businesses can hold religious views under federal law. And it means the Obama administration must search for a different way of providing free contraception to women who are covered under objecting companies’ health insurance plans.
The decision means that employees of those closely held corporations will have to get certain forms of birth control from other sources.
Reactions to the verdict spanned from worry over the implications to elation that religious freedoms were being protected.
“Bosses of private, for-profit businesses should not be able to interfere in women’s health decisions, and neither should the politicians who want to roll back the birth control benefit entirely, taking away insurance coverage that millions of women benefit from,” Carole Brite, president of Planned Parenthood of Illinois, said in a written statement.
But the ruling was hailed at a small rally in Chicago’s Federal Plaza attended by 60 people.
Emily Zender, executive director of Illinois Right to Life, told the crowd the other side would “tell you that I don’t exist.”
“I’m here today as proof, representing hundreds of women, thousands of women across the country, that I don’t stand for contraceptives,” Zender said. “That religious liberty is so important.”
Christopher Yep, president and CEO of Triune Health Group in Oak Brook, meanwhile, warned that the debate about Monday’s decision was too often framed as a contraception issue. “We are not concerned so much with their contraception,” Yep said, “but for their religious freedom.”
Robert Gilligan, executive director of the Catholic Conference of Illinois, also issued a statement celebrating the ruling.
“Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties have scored an important victory regarding religious conscience that we hope portends a triumph for religious-based and nonprofit employers pursuing similar lawsuits,” Gilligan said.
Critics had argued that a ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby, Conestoga and the other plaintiffs would set a dangerous precedent. For instance, the same reason could be given for not providing coverage for other medical needs such as blood transfusion and vaccines or denying spousal benefits to same-sex couples.
In its ruling, the Supreme Court said, “This decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to mean that all insurance mandates, that is for blood transfusions or vaccinations, necessarily fail if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs.”
Still, some health experts said the ruling likely does open a door for these types of religious objections.
One lawsuit was filed by Hobby Lobby Inc., an Oklahoma City-based arts and crafts chain with 13,000 full-time employees. Hobby Lobby won in the lower courts. The company has 36 stores in Illinois, according to its website.
The other case was an appeal from Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., a Pennsylvania company that employs 950 people and makes wood cabinets. Lower courts rejected the company’s claims.
Those in the lawsuits argued that certain forms of birth control, such as the “morning-after pill,” were on par with an abortion.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy writes that the federal government could remove companies from the equation, while still providing contraception to the women who work for these businesses — similar to how nonprofit religious groups are treated.
“What’s happening in the nonprofit world is that the insurer is providing the contraceptive coverage at no cost to employees,” said Susan Berke Fogel, National Health Law Program’s director of reproductive health. “This same accommodation could be extended to for-profit corporation who object to covering contraception.”
But Fogel added that it’s not known whether women are really getting the contraception they are entitled to with this accommodation.
White House spokesman Josh Earnest urged Congress to act to ensure that contraceptive care is widely available and said President Barack Obama is still reviewing the legal and practical implications of the court decision, including which companies are covered by it and how many employees are affected, the spokesman said.
Speaking at Federal Plaza in downtown Chicago after the Hobby Lobby supporters held their rally, Sen. Dick Durbin (D-Ill.) said he would introduce legislation requiring companies covered by the court ruling to disclose their intentions to their employees if they use the decision to deny or limit contraceptive coverage.
“Employees should know that, and anyone applying for a job at that company should know it as well,” Durbin said.
He said the Supreme Court ruling fits a pattern he has seen on the court of late.
“The usual, predictable five Supreme Court justices made a ruling today, in the usual predictable way, on behalf of companies and against individuals in America,” Durbin said. “Time and time again, whether it’s financing our campaigns, or protecting our most basic rights to privacy, this court always sides on the side of business. That’s wrong.”
Contributing: Associated Press