Supreme Court Ruling on Birth Control Coverage

Supreme Court Rules Family Owned Companies Don’t Have to Cover Birth Control

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled family-owned companies are not required to comply with a part of the Affordable Care Act that requires them to cover contraception so long as it violates their religious principles.

The ruling, which came down June 30, held that requiring employers to provide access to contraception violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.

Five Catholic, male justices decided the ruling, and all three female members of the court—justices Sotomayor, Ginsburg, and Kagan—opposed the ruling. Advocates for women’s health were shocked by the ruling, which appears to be a major setback for women’s rights advocates like Justice Ginsburg.

In her dissenting opinion, Justice Ginsburg called the opinion “a decision of startling breadth.” While the ruling technically applies only to “closely held” companies—meaning family-owned companies—Ginsburg points out that even candy maker Mars Inc. (70,000 employees) and Walmart Inc. (1.3 million employees) would qualify as closely held.

The 5-4 decision came in response to lawsuits filed by Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp, two family-owned corporations that argued the birth control provision of the Affordable Care Act violated their religious freedoms.

Hobby Lobby was undoubtedly at the center of the case. The arts and crafts chain is owned by the Greens, a family of evangelical Christians based in Oklahoma. The company employs more than 15,000 full-time employees in 600 stores in more than 40 states. Conestoga is a Mennonite-owned company based in Pennsylvania with nearly 1,000 employees. Dozens of other businesses joined the lawsuit as well.

Both companies were opposed to the birth control provision because it deals with contraception that blocks a fertilized egg’s ability to attach to the uterus. The Associated Press reported that both companies stated they would be willing to cover contraception that does not involve a fertilized egg.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion, saying, “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.” However, the ruling certainly raises the possibility of challenges from other family-owned companies; these companies now have grounds to argue that certain laws violate their religious beliefs as well.

Legal analyst Lisa Bloom argues that this decision opens the door for Chik-fil-A to claim an exemption from employment discrimination laws and fire LGBT employees, as well as Jehovah’s witnesses to claim exemption from covering blood transfusions, and Christian Scientists to claim exemption from covering vaccinations.

The Affordable Care Act, signed into law in 2010, states that contraceptive care must be provided at no extra cost. The birth control provision is meant to protect working women from unintended pregnancy; as Justice Ginsburg pointed out in her dissent, the cost of “an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month’s full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage.”

Since the start of the Supreme Court process, more than 200 Catholic employers, organizations, and archdioceses have been granted exemptions from the provision, pending the Court’s decision.

Visit the SCOTUS Blog for more information about Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.