This Monday, June 30, the U.S. Supreme Court passed a ruling that allowed family-owned companies to refuse birth control coverage under the Affordable Care Act, on the grounds that it violates their religious beliefs. The unprecedented ruling was passed in a lawsuit filed by companies Hobby Lobby Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. Both companies claimed that the requirement to cover contraception by the Affordable Care Act went against their religous principles. So far, 50 other companies have joined the lawsuit.
Hobby Lobby Inc. is a chain of arts-and-crafts supply stores, based in Oklahoma, with more than 600 stores in 41 states and over 15,000 employees. The chain is owned by the Green family, who are evangelical Christians. In a statement released to the Associated Press, the Green family said that their “religious beliefs prohibit from providing health coverage for contraceptive drugs and devices that end human life after conception.” Conestoga Wood Specialties is a Pennsylvania-based company that makes wood cabinets, with 950 employees. The company is owned by a Mennonite family.
Both companies confirmed to the Assoicated Press they would provide coverage for contraceptives that do not involve a fertilized egg. The companies’ lawsuit involves only emergency contraceptives Plan B and ella, which they claim violate their religous principles because they work by blocking a fertilized egg’s ability to attach to the uterus.
The Supreme Court ruling, which was passed 5-4, essentially only applies to family-owned businesses. The Supreme Court asserted that the ability to opt out of certain terms of the Affordable Care Act based on religious beliefs applies only to companies controlled by just a few people, where there is no discernible difference between the business and its owners.
Justice Samuel Alito, writer of the majority opinion, asserted that the ruling refers only to contraceptives under the health care law. Alito stated to the Assoicated Press, “our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance-coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs.” Alito, along other members of the majority opinion, maintain that there are other ways women can easily receive contraceptives. He suggests that the Obama administration supplies accommodations similar to those given to not-for-profit organizations, where the group’s insurers can take on the responsibility of providing contraceptives.
Monday’s ruling marks the first time that the Supreme Court has allowed a profit-seeking business to legally hold religious views. The Affordable Care Act, a health reform law signed by President Barack Obama is 2010, includes contraception as a provision to be covered at no extra cost. The Obama administration is currently seeking new ways to provide free access to contraception to women employed by companies objecting to the health insurance provision.
A number of groups, including about 200 religious organizations, had been granted temporary exemption from the health care law that required free contraception access. Earlier this year, the Catholic Benefits Association filed a similar lawsuit refusing the birth control provision on the grounds that it violates their religious principles. Currently, the Affordable Care Act requires its health plans to supply free access to all forms of birth control, including emergency contraception.