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Court: Religious rights trump birth control rule

By Mark Sherman

Associated Press

LAST UPDATED: 10:18 a.m. HST, Jun 30, 2014

WASHINGTON >> A sharply divided Supreme Court ruled Monday that some companies with religious objections can avoid the contraceptives requirement in President Barack Obama's health care overhaul, the first time the high court has declared that businesses can hold religious views under federal law.

The justices' 5-4 decision, splitting conservatives and liberals, means the Obama administration must search for a different way of providing free contraception to women who are covered under the health insurance plans of objecting companies.

Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his majority opinion, over a dissent from the four liberal justices, that forcing companies to pay for methods of women's contraception to which they object violates the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. He said the ruling is limited and there are ways for the administration to ensure women get the birth control they want.

But White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the decision creates health risks for women, and he said Congress should take action to make sure they get coverage.

"President Obama believes that women should make personal health care decisions for themselves rather than their bosses deciding for them," Earnest said. "Today's decision jeopardizes the health of the women who are employed by these companies."

Contraception is among a range of preventive services that must be provided at no extra charge under the health care law that Obama signed in 2010.

Two years ago, Chief Justice John Roberts cast the pivotal Supreme Court vote that saved the law in the midst of Obama's campaign for re-election. On Monday, Roberts sided with the four justices who would have struck down the law in its entirety, holding in favor of the religious rights of closely held corporations, like the Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby chain of arts-and-craft stores that challenged the contraceptives provision.

Hobby Lobby is among roughly 50 businesses that have sued over covering contraceptives. Some, like the two involved in the Supreme Court case, are willing to cover most methods of contraception, as long as they can exclude drugs or devices that the government says may work after an egg has been fertilized.

But Monday's ruling would apply more broadly to other companies that do not want to pay for any of the 20 birth control methods and devices that have been approved by federal regulators.

Alito said the decision is limited to contraceptives. "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," he said.

He suggested two ways the administration could deal with the birth control issue. The government could simply pay for pregnancy prevention, he said. Or it could provide the same kind of accommodation it has made available to religious-oriented, not-for-profit corporations.

Those groups can tell the government that providing the coverage violates their religious beliefs. At that point, creating a buffer, their insurer or a third-party administrator takes on the responsibility of paying for the birth control. The employer does not have to arrange the coverage or pay for it. Insurers get reimbursed by the government through credits against fees owed under other provisions of the health care law.

That accommodation is the subject of separate legal challenges, and the court said Monday that profit-seeking companies could not assert religious claims in such a situation.

Justice Anthony Kennedy, who was part of the majority, also wrote separately to say the administration can solve its problem easily. "The accommodation works by requiring insurance companies to cover, without cost sharing, contraception coverage for female employees who wish it," Kennedy said. He said that arrangement "does not impinge on the plaintiffs' religious beliefs."

Houses of worship and other religious institutions whose primary purpose is to spread the faith are exempt from the requirement to offer birth control.

In a dissent she read aloud from the bench, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg called the decision "potentially sweeping" because it minimizes the government's interest in uniform compliance with laws affecting the workplace. "And it discounts the disadvantages religion-based opt-outs impose on others, in particular, employees who do not share their employer's religious beliefs," Ginsburg said.

Leaders of women's rights groups blasted the decision by "five male justices," in the words of Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund.

The administration said a victory for the companies would prevent women who work for them from making decisions about birth control based on what's best for their health, not whether they can afford it. The government's supporters pointed to research showing that nearly one-third of women would change their contraceptive if cost were not an issue; a very effective means of birth control, the intrauterine device, can cost up to $1,000.

The contraceptives at issue before the court were the emergency contraceptives Plan B and ella, and two IUDs.

A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 85 percent of large American employers already had offered such coverage before the health care law required it.

Most working women will probably see no impact from the ruling, corporate health benefits consultants expect. Publicly traded companies are unlikely to inject religion into their employee benefit plans, said Mark Holloway, director of compliance services at the Lockton Companies, an insurance broker that serves medium-sized and growing employers.

"Most employers view health insurance as a tool to attract and retain employees," said Holloway. "Women employees want access to contraceptive coverage, and most employers don't have a problem providing that coverage. It is typically not a high-cost item."

It is unclear how many women potentially are affected by the high court ruling. Hobby Lobby is by far the largest employer of any company that has gone to court to fight the birth control provision.

The company has more than 15,000 full-time employees in more than 600 crafts stores in 41 states. Hobby Lobby is owned by the family of David Green, evangelical Christians who also own Mardel, a Christian bookstore chain.

The other company is Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. of East Earl, Pennsylvania, owned by a Mennonite family and employing 950 people in making wood cabinets.


Associated Press writers Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Jessica Gresko and Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this report.

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8082062424 wrote:
Obama must be throwing a fit in his office lol
on June 30,2014 | 05:26AM
st1d wrote:
along with his squad of bafoons from the service employees international union. scotus made two wise decisions in these issues.
on June 30,2014 | 06:52AM
Winston wrote:
In his office? More likely he through his putter into a water hazard.
on June 30,2014 | 07:31AM
waikiicapt wrote:
Once again the AP editors and the Red Star Advertiser does their part, in miscommunication to their readers what the "win" actually was. For those who actually read the article, and scrolled way down half way thru, you'll see this statement; "The contraceptives at issue before the court were the emergency contraceptives Plan B and ella, and two IUDs." Here again the RSA and AP both side step the facts. The Hobby Lobby owners specified they did not want to pay for drugs that specifically induced abortion, like the morning after pill. They NEVER were opposed to paying for or providing birth control pills. Once again, the liberal media agenda driven effort raises it's ugly head and prints a headline and story less filled with facts and more about promoting hate to an American citizen or business that does not share their political or social viewpoint. Whatever happened to being a real journalists where facts mattered and your opinion stayed out of the "news."
on June 30,2014 | 02:53PM
BlueDolphin53 wrote:
Good ruling. Rights will always conflict on some level. In this case, the right of a woman to control her body vs. the right of religious freedoms on taking an innocent life. No brainer.
on June 30,2014 | 07:23AM
JoyinHI wrote:
Birth control such as the pill does not take a life. This ruling could actually increase the demand for abortions.
on June 30,2014 | 02:33PM
waikiicapt wrote:
No it won't and that is a foolish statement. If you understood the issue, you would know better.
on June 30,2014 | 02:45PM
Wonderful_World wrote:
Now the "War on Women" criticism begins...
on June 30,2014 | 08:03AM
ryan02 wrote:
I don't understand how a corporation can hold a religious belief. I'm not talking about a sole proprietor or a partnership, or some other entity that is treated the same as an individual for tax or liability purposes (in which case, I agree with the Supreme Court). But a corporation is a separate entity. How can it hold a religious belief?
on June 30,2014 | 08:50AM
Cricket_Amos wrote:
The ruling was limited to corporations that are similar to a sole proprietor in that the owners are a family that run them hands-on.
on June 30,2014 | 10:25AM
HawaiiCheeseBall wrote:
Hobby Lobby still covers Viagra, I wonder if they screen if the relations assisted with the product is limited to opposite sex couples who are married? After all providing the product for gay people any other person having relations outside of holy matrimony could be a violation of their beliefs.
on June 30,2014 | 01:37PM
Ronin006 wrote:
Most contraceptives are used for recreational sex. All should be deleted from the health care law except when competent medical authorities (i.e., licensed physicians) determine they are necessary for valid medical reasons only. Otherwise, women or their male partners should use their own money to pay for contraceptives.
on June 30,2014 | 09:28AM
HanabataDays wrote:
Insurers already pay for Viagra and Cialis, and have for a number of years. By your logic, they must also stop paying for those since those are truly about recreational sex. No double standard!
on June 30,2014 | 10:00AM
Ronin006 wrote:
Correct. Engaging in sex is not a medical necessity. Men should pay for Viagra, Cialis and such things to engage in sex just like women should pay for contraceptives to avoid the consequences of sex. No double standards.
on June 30,2014 | 11:48AM
ryan02 wrote:
I don't have a problem with that, if childbirth isn't covered either. Having a child is just as much a "choice" as not having one. Let the women chose what they want to pay for themselves -- birthcontrol, abortion, or childbirth. And hold men liable for half the cost of that.
on June 30,2014 | 12:52PM
dontbelieveinmyths wrote:
As opposed to unrecreational sex?
on June 30,2014 | 01:35PM
Jerry_D wrote:
Obama is just whacked, period. It's come to the point (with me, at least) that I'll oppose ANYTHING Obama tries to peddle, simply because it's Obama and he's already established himself as being a worthless president. I'm simply riding the next two years out and hoping for a complete overhaul of the Oval Office come 2016.
on June 30,2014 | 09:59AM
cojef wrote:
You will get Hillary so if you like her, you will be happy.
on June 30,2014 | 10:45AM
Ronin006 wrote:
Hillary? Not so fast. The most recent polls show her support in key 2016 presidential election matchups below 50 percent for the first time. When she wakes up to the fact that the numbers are not going her way, she will announce some health problem has caused her to not seek the presidency in 2016.
on June 30,2014 | 11:53AM
HanabataDays wrote:
The Supremes have "split the baby" with this one. They've created two separate classes of "human corporations", arbitrarily (and it IS arbitrary) saying one class of these "humans" can indulge their "personal" religious philosophy and the other class can't. So in effect, this is a reprise of separate-but-equal -- and that concept was decisively struck down decades ago. This'll only get more interesting!
on June 30,2014 | 10:02AM
Cricket_Amos wrote:
Leaders of women's rights groups blasted the decision by "five male justices," This is the kind of racist-sexist screed that leads nowhere.
on June 30,2014 | 10:25AM
st1d wrote:
bet she was swilling in her hypocritical pen when seven male justices ruled that killing innocent unborn babies was the american thing to do 55 million baby deaths ago.
on June 30,2014 | 02:05PM
cojef wrote:
Family and closely held corporations have benefited from this ruling in that it is deemed that corporate entities may express their religious intentions and do not have comply with the ACA relating health insurance for its workers.
on June 30,2014 | 10:42AM
AhiPoke wrote:
I'm not quite sure what the dissent is about. I thought organizations, like planned parenthood, provide free contraception on request. I think the statement "Today's decision jeopardizes the health of the women who are employed by these companies." is a ridiculous overstatement. I doubt that in most cases this is a healthcare decision. BTW, I okay with companies paying for contraceptives.
on June 30,2014 | 02:16PM
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