Supreme Court upholds Hobby Lobby challenge to contraceptive mandate
June 30, 2014
Finding that the “HHS’s contraceptive mandate substantially burdens the exercise of religion,” the US Supreme Court has ruled that the federal government cannot require private corporations to provide contraceptive coverage for their employees.
In a 5-4 decision, the Court found that the contraceptive mandate, imposed by the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) in the implementation of the Obama health-care reform, violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.
In a heavily anticipated ruling on the case of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court found that a private, for-profit corporation can profess religious beliefs, and that the contraceptive mandate would have forced some corporations to violate their religious beliefs. The ruling applies only to closely-held corporations—that is, companies that are not traded on stock exchanges. However, since most American corporations fall into that category, the Hobby Lobby decision has potentially far-reaching effects.
The majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, nevertheless cautions that the Court is not ruling against universal health-care coverage that includes contraceptive coverage. Justice Alito points out that the federal government could arrange for the coverage directly, without requiring companies to include it in their employees’ health-care programs. He also observes that the government could offer corporations the same option that is currently given to non-profit religious organizations, allowing them to opt out of contraceptive coverage for reasons of conscience and arrange for insurers to carry the costs.
Justice Alito rejected the suggestion that Hobby Lobby, and other corporations operated under Christian principles, could resolve their crisis of conscience by eliminating all health-care coverage for employees, and paying the resulting fine stipulated by the Obama health-care reform legislation. He noted that Hobby Lobby felt morally obligated to offer health-care coverage for employees, and objected only to the coverage of abortifacient contraceptives.
The Hobby Lobby decision does not directly effect the suits brought by the US bishops and a number of Catholic institutions challenging the contraceptive mandate on different grounds. Those suits—which focus on the new legal requirements for non-profit religious organizations— have not yet reached the Supreme Court.
- Justices: Can't Make Employers Cover Contraception (AP)
- Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (text of Supreme Court decision)
- Supreme Court hears Hobby Lobby case, hints sympathy for plaintiffs (CWN, 3/25)