On Monday, June 30, The Supreme Court ruled in an unprecedented case that some corporations are allowed to opt out of new health care requirements, specifically supplying employees with birth control, due to religious beliefs. The case marks the first time that the justice has allowed a profit-seeking business to hold religious beliefs under federal law.
Under the new health care law signed by President Barack Obama back in 2010, contraception is to be supplied by company health insurance plans at no extra cost. The ruling, which the justice passed 5-4, upheld that the ability to opt out of a law is allowed only to corporations which are controlled by only a few people, or ones where there is “no essential difference between the business and its owners.” The case in question dealt with arts-and-crafts store Hobby Lobby, and Oklahoma-based store which has more than 15,000 full-time employees in over 600 craft stores in 41 states. It is so far the largest company to be involved in such a lawsuit. Justice Samuel Alito, who wrote the majority opinion, states, “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,” noting that the ruling refers specifically to contraceptives only.
Alito and 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 religious, not-for-profit organizations, where these groups tell the government that the coverage violates their religious beliefs. Then, the group’s insurers can take on the responsibility of providing contraceptives. The court maintains that a profit-seeking company could not claim violating of religious beliefs in the same situation.
Justice Anthony Kennedy, another member of the majority, asserts that the administration can easily find a new way to provide contraceptives. “The accommodations works by requiring insurance companies to cover, without cost sharing, contraception coverage for female employees who wish it.”
In a dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said, “[the ruling] discounts the disadvantages religious-based opts outs imposed in others, in particular, employees who do not share their employer’s beliefs.”
Under the health care laws, nearly 50 companies have sued over covering contraceptives, specifically products like Plan B, ella, and intrauterine devices (IUDs). Some religious affiliated hospitals, charities, and colleges have also filed lawsuits regarding contraception provisions. Some argue that the lawsuit will have no impact on working women seeking contraceptives. A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that, before the new health care provisions, 85 percent of large employers in America already included contraception in their coverage.
Mark Holloway, director of services at insurance broker the Lockton Companies, predicts that most business will not want to cause controversy by mixing religion with their employee benefit plans. “Most employers view health insurance as a told to attract and retain employees, he said, “women employees want access to contraceptive coverage and most employers don’t have a problem providing that coverage.”