Court backs businesses in birth control case

Court backs businesses in birth control case
The U.S. Supreme Court ended its session June 30 by siding with business owners who objected to a legal requirement that they help pay the cost of some birth control for employees.
     The case revolved around an Affordable Care Act provision requiring large employers to offer workers health coverage – including contraception. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. of Oklahoma, run by David and Barbara Green, and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. of Pennsylvania, headed by CEO Anthony Hahn, sued the government, citing religious objections to specific types of contraception that ends life after conception.
     The Greens are outspoken about their Christian faith. Hahn is a Mennonite.
     In a 5-4 decision, justices ruled that employers cannot be forced to cover contraception. In the process, justices ignited a long-simmering national debate over reproductive rights.
     The Religious Freedom Restoration Act “prohibits the federal government from taking any action that substantially burdens the exercise of religion unless that action constitutes the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito in the majority opinion. Justices John Roberts, Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy concurred. (Kennedy filed a separate concurring opinion.) 
      In the dissenting opinion, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg sharply disagreed, writing that the court had "ventured into a minefield … by its immoderate reading of RFRA (the Religious Freedom Restoration Act).” 
      The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga "would override significant interests of the corporations’ employees and covered dependents," Ginsburg wrote, in an opinion joined by justices Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan (Breyer and Kagan disagreed with a part of Ginsburg’s opinion). "It would deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage that the ACA would otherwise secure.”
       As the opinion blinked onto computer screens across the country, groups affected by the ruling, as well as conservative and liberal activists, were ready to go with statements and online petitions. Here are four: 
  • Hobby Lobby’s website carried a message from the store’s co-founder, under the bold headline:  “A victory for Americans who seek to live by faith.” 

     “Our family is overjoyed by the Supreme Court’s decision," said the statement by Barbara Green, co-founder of Hobby Lobby. "Today the nation’s highest court has re-affirmed the vital importance of religious liberty as one of our country’s founding principles. The Court’s decision is a victory, not just for our family business, but for all who seek to live out their faith. We are grateful to God and to those who have supported us on this difficult journey.”

  • Planned Parenthood was ready with an online petition opposing the decision.  

     The petition said: “The five justices who ruled against women's health today are out of step with most Americans — the public overwhelmingly supports the birth control benefit by a nearly two-to-one margin. Justice Ginsburg spoke for us in her powerful dissent when she said, “[The court's decision] would deny legions of women who do not hold their employers' beliefs access to contraceptive coverage."

  • The United States Conference of Catholic Bishops issued a statement under the headline: "A Great Day for the Religious Freedom of Family Businesses."
     The bishops’ statement said: “We welcome the Supreme Court’s decision to recognize that Americans can continue to follow their faith when they run a family business. In this case, justice has prevailed, with the Court respecting the rights of the Green and Hahn families to continue to abide by their faith in how they seek their livelihood, without facing devastating fines. Now is the time to redouble our efforts to build a culture that fully respects religious freedom.
    “The Court clearly did not decide whether the so-called ‘accommodation’ violates RFRA when applied to our charities, hospitals and schools, so many of which have challenged it as a burden on their religious exercise. We continue to hope that these great ministries of service, like the Little Sisters of the Poor and so many others, will prevail in their cases as well.”
  • The headline was different for another group, Catholics for Choice: "Supreme Court Hands Reins to Religious Extremists." 

     “Today’s ruling by the Supreme Court is a devastating blow to real religious liberty in America,” said Jon O’Brien, president of Catholics for Choice. “The claim that institutions or corporations have a conscience or religious liberty is disingenuous and offensive. Conscience and religious liberty rights belong properly to individuals. The majority of Catholics use and support contraceptive coverage. The majority of Catholics support real religious liberty for all. The majority of Catholics will be disappointed by this ruling.
     “These cases are about far more than birth control or access to healthcare. At stake are the religious liberty rights of all workers in the United States—their right to live their lives according to their own beliefs and consciences, and their freedom from having their employers’ beliefs forced upon them. This ruling is just the tip of the iceberg, with similar lawsuits from nonprofit organizations like the Little Sisters of the Poor and the Eternal Word Television Network (EWTN) in the pipeline. While today’s cases were about providing birth control through health insurance plans, the Supreme Court has shown that it will not protect the religious liberty of employees." 


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