The U.S. Supreme Court ruled today that “closely held” companies could opt out of conceptive insurance coverage under the Affordable Care Act (ACA; Obamacare) saying they could claim a religious exemption to the provision.
The 5-4 conservative-led ruling spoke specifically to two for-profit corporations – mid-west’s Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., a craft-store chain, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a producer of wood cabinets based in Pennsylvania. Both companies are “closely held,” meaning their ownership shares a common-core Christian belief.
Justice Samuel Alito Jr., who wrote the majority opinion, said the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) – which sates the federal government cannot burden one’s independent religious exercise – applied to “closely held” corporations that are for-profit and established on principles directly related to a religious foundation.
The decision did not immediately seem to be broad sweeping, as many opponents and supporters have assumed. Instead, the Court’s ruling likens to apply only to companies that employee more than 50 persons and can argue a deeply held religious belief is in violation via the ACA. This equates to roughly a few dozen other companies across the U.S, of which also challenged the ACA provision but did not see their case make it to the Court.
The ruling only pertains to a small provision of Obamacare, but is perhaps the paramount ruling that has dealt the biggest blow to the highly controversial law to date.
In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the latter argued the use of contraceptive measures would be equivalent to authorizing abortion or interfering with conception, the moment when many fundamental Christians believe life beings. To counter, the United States (through Burwell, Secretary of Health and Human Services) argued the RFRA applies only to the owners of the “closely held” companies and not to that of the for-profit corporation as a whole since the company provides the coverage, not the individual.
The 35-page dissenting opinion, coming from Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, joined in short-form by the remainder of the liberal-leaning justices, called the decision a” startling breadth,” saying it allows companies the choice “to opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.”
The ruling allows Hobby Lobby and Conestoga to opt out of covering all Food and Drug Administration-approved contraceptive measures in their employee health coverage. Owners of the two companies have said their religious belief excuses them from providing contraception measures such as Plan B and intrauterine devices (IUD) – referred to as “abortifacients” in corporate health plans.
Opponents of today’s Court opinion say the decision will likely set a precedent for other “closely held” organizations that want to restrict coverage for other medical procedures that contradict religious beliefs to come forward. This is the first time in the Court’s history have companies been allowed to declare a firmly held religious belief, a measure opponents fear could expand far beyond the ACA’s boundaries given time.
Today’s ruling is a bit concerning on a few different levels.
First of all, it is likely no surprise to many the Court came to this conclusion. We’ve seen the Court abandon its fundamental establishment of being a non-political entity. She has become very polarized, with 5-4 decisions more of a norm when deciding social and cultural mainstream issues.
The Supreme Court
Today’s decision though is a slobber-knocker to the Court’s credibility. The four female Justices on the bench brought forth the dissent. These justices just happen to be liberal leaning, as already mentioned, and Jewish. Gender and religion at play, perhaps?
Just last week, mind you, the Court OK’d a town meeting’s practice of opening meetings with a Christian prayer in Town of Greece v. Galloway et al – another notch in the congestive, moral majority’s bedpost. In fact, the Court’s actions of late tend to show religion – and now gender – being paramount issues that create the great divide.
Must we remember, the employer has the right to deny healthcare coverage to any employee. The ACA, though, does require employers with 50 workers to provide the minimum level of health insurance or pay a fine of $2,000 per employee, the basis of the argument of this case. Some employers, especially those in larger brackets, have found the fine would actually offset as a savings when compared to comprehensive coverage, something the ACA does not adequately address nor likely anticipated. Healthcare, then, becomes an incentive for hire compared to a company’s competition, which may not offer said healthcare coverage.
Since this option openly exists, it would only make sense the Court would present this alternative to Hobby Lobby’s complaint. But that was not the case today. Even further, the Court did not side with the counterclaim that such a complaint would withstand the Court’s strict scrutiny test, right? No. The majority did not argue that contraceptive measures could reduce the number of unwanted or unintended pregnancies, thus minimizing the need for abortions or abandoned babies. The argument an employer’s providing of contraception can reduce both the economical and logistical barriers in place for women were blatantly ignored.
While the ruling does not explicitly state so, I would fear that this opinion could eventually usher an era of companies requesting an expansion of the RFRA to apply to other unwanted coverage. Thousands of female employees were ultimately denied a right to choose what happens in the bedroom – a decision that should not be brought to light in the mainstream.