Supreme Court Ruling for Hobby Lobby Explained
In one of the their two last rulings before taking a three month break, the Supreme Court of the United States issued a ruling along ideological lines (i.e. 5-4) in favor of “closely-held” corporations’ ability to deny female employees health plans that cover certain methods birth control, specifically those that are used after conception: “morning-after” pills and intrauterine devices.
Hobby Lobby, a “family business” that has hundreds of stores, employs tens of thousands of people, and operates in more than 45 states, challenged that the minimum coverage standards required by the Affordable Care Act infringed on their right to religious freedom because they see these post-coital birth control methods as identical to abortion. According to their Facebook page, Hobby Lobby owners the “Greens do not oppose all forms of birth control,” and “currently offer 16 of 20 FDA-approved contraceptives covered under ACA as part of our comprehensive employee health plan.”
Hobby Lobby now joins a small (but growing) club of organizations who already enjoy an exception – and in some cases, far less restrictive – to the “birth control mandate.” Explicitly religious employers, like churches, are already exempt due to religious freedom claims. Also, religious non-profit organizations also have an exemption to the rule. Also, insurance plans that deny birth control coverage could still be allowed if they meet the criteria for “grandfathering.” According to the U.S. District Court in 2013, “roughly a third of America’s population…[is] exempt from the contraceptive mandate.”
This ruling coincides with previous SCOTUS rulings in favor of corporations’ personhood, most notably the Citizens United decision. If the court believes a corporation has free speech with respect to political donations, it makes sense that the same court would also rule that they have a right to free religious expression.
If anything, this ruling underscores not so much a problem with religion or even SCOTUS, but the antiquated practice of employer-provided healthcare. It began as a response to government-imposed wage controls during World War II. It was ruled by the War Labor Board that “fringe benefits” such as health insurance or paid leave, were not part of the wage controls. After the war, the political pushback against President Truman’s national healthcare plan led to the employer-provided system we “enjoy” today.