Supreme Court: Obamacare Contraception Mandate Rejected

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WASHINGTON – The Supreme Court ruled Monday that closely held companies cannot be required to pay to cover some types of contraceptives for their employees, ending its term with a narrow legal and political setback for a controversial part of President Barack Obama’s health care reform law.

In a 5-4 decision, the high court’s conservatives essentially ruled that some for-profit corporations have religious rights.

The owners of Hobby Lobby, furniture maker Conestoga Wood Specialties and Christian bookseller Mardel argued that the Affordable Care Act violates the First Amendment and other federal laws protecting religious freedom because it requires them to provide coverage for contraceptives like the “morning-after pill,” which the companies consider tantamount to abortion.

The decision, which comes two years after the justices narrowly preserved the Affordable Care Act and its key funding provision, could serve as a primer for other pending challenges to the health law.

Read the Supreme Court Ruling

The issue before the justices was whether Obamacare could mandate contraception coverage specifically for certain businesses that object for religious reasons.

“This case isn’t that practically important, except for the employees and businesses involved. There just aren’t a huge number of those,” said Thomas Goldstein, publisher of and a Washington appellate attorney.

“But everyone can agree the social questions presented — about when people can follow their religious convictions, and when people are entitled to contraception care — are truly important,” he said.

Contraception mandate

The section of law in dispute requires for-profit employers of a certain size to offer insurance benefits for birth control and other reproductive health services without a co-pay.

A number of companies equate some of the covered drugs, such as the so-called morning-after pill, as causing abortion.

The specific question presented was whether these companies can refuse, on the sincere claim it would violate their owners’ long-established moral beliefs.

The First Amendment says that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof.”

“How does a corporation exercise religion?” asked Justice Sonia Sotomayor at March’s oral arguments, summarizing perhaps the key constitutional question at hand.

“This is a religious question and it’s a moral question,” added Justice Samuel Alito, suggesting the businesses have such a right. “You want us to provide a definitive secular answer.”

Conestoga, Hobby Lobby

The justices have a good deal of discretion to frame the competing issues and could reach a limited “compromise” through narrow statutory interpretation.

They could conclude individual owners can make the religious freedom claim, bypassing the corporate rights argument, but still give female workers the flexibility to get covered drugs.

The court weighed two related appeals from Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania cabinet maker, and Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma-based retail giant that will have more than 700 arts-and-crafts stores nationwide by year’s end.

Both corporations emphasized their desire to operate in harmony with biblical principles while competing in a secular marketplace. That includes their leaders’ publicly stated opposition to abortion.

The case presented a complex mix of legal, regulatory, and constitutional concerns over such thorny issues as faith, abortion, corporate power, executive agency discretion, and congressional intent.

Health law impact

The political stakes are large, especially for the future effectiveness of the health law, which marks its fourth anniversary this year.

The botched rollout last fall of, the federal Obamacare website, has become another political flashpoint along with other issues that many Republicans say proves the law is unworkable.

They have made Obamacare a key campaign issue in their fight to overtake the Senate, and retain control of the House.

Supporters of the law fear a high court setback on the contraception mandate will lead to other healthcare challenges on religion grounds, such as do-not-resuscitate orders and vaccine coverage. More broadly, many worry giving corporations religious freedom rights could affect laws on employment, safety, and civil rights.

The abortion link

The Hahn family, owners of Conestoga, and the Green family, owners of Hobby Lobby, said some of the mandated contraception prevent human embryos from being implanted in a woman’s womb, which the plaintiffs equate with abortion.

That includes Plan B contraception, which some have called the “morning after” pill, and intrauterine devices or IUDs used by an estimated 2 million American women.

A key issue for the bench was interpreting a 1993 federal law requiring the government to seek the “least burdensome” and narrowly tailored means for any law that interferes with religious convictions.

Monday’s decision comes two years after the justices allowed the law’s “individual mandate” to go into effect.

That provision requires most Americans to get health insurance or pay a financial penalty. It is seen as the key funding mechanism to ensure near-universal health coverage.

Under the Affordable Care Act, financial penalties of up to $100 per day, per employee can be levied on firms that refuse to provide comprehensive health coverage. Hobby Lobby, which has about 13,000 workers, estimates the penalty could cost it $475 million a year.

The church-state issue now in the spotlight involves rules negotiated between the Obama administration and various outside groups. Under the changes, churches and houses of worship are completely exempt from the contraception mandate.

Other nonprofit, religiously affiliated groups, such as church-run hospitals, parochial schools and charities must either offer coverage or have a third-party insurer provide separate benefits without the employer’s direct involvement. Lawsuits in those cases are pending in several federal appeals courts.

Second generation

Monday’s decision could signal how the court will approach other lawsuits against the health care law.

“We’re now getting the second generation of challenges to Obamacare — about the actual adoption of the statute, and its core provisions,” said Goldstein. “We’re probably going to see cases over the next five to ten years, as more and more details about the law get put into effect.”


  • Chad P.

    So I’m still a little confused on this issue. If a woman who works for one of these companies(and has insurance through them) can they not get birth control through their insurance? Or was it all about the no co-pay for the employee?

  • William Denison

    The Supreme Court is taking this nation down the same road as those are on in the middle east. If your not a member in a cult you lose your rights and sooner or later will lose your head by these very kinds of cult members. Why would ANY woman be a member of such groups and be so willing to give up their rights? I have a great for those women. The next time you shop at Hobby Lobby so to make your little scraps books make one of youself being sold out to a cult.

    • Right Wing Patriot

      Religous freedom won out today versus the godless government. Hobby Lobby didn’t oppose abortion if one of thier employess wanted to get the procedure….they opposed PAYING for it. Besides, a person does not have to work for Hobby Lobby. I for one will give them as much business as possible.

    • Mary

      Check out what the president of Interfaith Alliance ( said about this. You’ll be glad you did.

  • William Denison

    Cult : A religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader.

  • do ur job

    It’s called a free market system, people do not have to work or frequent a business if you do not agree with their philosophy.

  • Mary

    The president of the interfaith alliance ( who also is a Baptist pastor said it perfectly check it out.

  • Randy Graven

    So now ,according to the Supreme Court, corporations not only are inividuals and entitled to buy the poiticians with unlimited campaign contributions they can now dictate religion,too. How wonderful.

  • William Denison

    What people have forgotten is there’s NO PROOF there even is a god . The thought that our highest court is using this hoax to make policy in this country is really screwed up. The next thing you know those who believe in Big Foot will be able to control what kind of meds someone else can take.

  • Chad P.

    My religion is against paying taxes! Think I have a lawsuit against the IRS on my hands!!!!!!!!!

  • Cheryl Bolden

    So did they ask for those two procedures not to be included in the plan or did they just condemn all their female employees to not having “birth control”? Does everyone know that the pill is used to treat a number of female medical issues over surgery? In their religious beliefs do they believe in birth control? There are large faith organizations who do not. I also want to know if they cover Viagra for men in their health plans.

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