A closely divided U.S. Supreme Court ruled Monday that closely-held corporations do have the right to reject paying for contraceptives and abortion-inducing drugs if doing so violates their conscience or sincerely-held religious beliefs.
By a 5-4 ruling, the court sided with the Christian owners of arts and crafts giant Hobby Lobby and the Mennonite leaders of Conestoga Wood Specialties. Hobby Lobby in particular was fine paying for some 16 different types of birth control, but refused to cover the cost of medications that induce abortion after conception. The decision in no way prevents women from obtaining any of the drugs in question with their own money.
Writing for the majority, Justice Samuel Alito said the ruling was narrowly limited to the issues at hand and did not give blanket permission for Americans to disobey any laws they wanted by claiming it violates their conscience.
Family Research Council Senior Legal Fellow Cathy Ruse says this was not just a case about reproductive health but about the larger ideal of religious freedom.
“The right to religious freedom and the right to conscientious objection is just one of those basic fundamental rights in our Constitution. It is embraced heartily by Americans and has throughout the centuries. It is one of those freedoms where the individual gets to put his hand up and tell the government, ‘No, you’ve gone too far,'” said Ruse.
“The court didn’t create a new principle here. It sure upheld and applied one of the most cherished principles that Americans own and that is our right to conscience,” she said.
The mandate was issued by the Obama administration in early 2012, as employers were ordered to cover all costs for birth control and abortafacients for women. The fierce backlash led the Obama campaign and like-minded allies to accuse opponents of waging a war on women during that year’s campaign.
On Monday, NARAL Pro-Choice America blasted the decision.
“Today’s decision from five male justices is a direct attack on women and our fundamental rights. This ruling goes out of its way to declare that discrimination against women isn’t discrimination,” said NARAL President Ilyse Hogue in a statement.
“Allowing bosses this much control over the health-care decisions of their employees is a slippery slope with no end. Every American could potentially be affected by this far-reaching and shocking decision that allows bosses to reach beyond the boardroom and into their employees’ bedrooms. The majority claims that its ruling is limited, but that logic doesn’t hold up. Today it’s birth control; tomorrow it could be any personal medical decision, from starting a family to getting life-saving vaccinations or blood transfusions,” she said.
Ruse is dismissing the pro-choice denunciation out of hand.
“To NARAL, I would say stop being hysterical, but I don’t have much hope that they will because that is their modus operandi,” she said.
In her comments outside the Supreme Court, Ruse said this was not a major setback for women but is one that further liberates women and Monday should be a day of celebration for them. In fact, she says women have been leading the charge against the mandate.
“Of all the plaintiffs that have filed lawsuits against the mandate, many of them are in fact women: women who run non-profits like the Little Sisters of the Poor and others but also business women who are part of small family businesses have filed suit to stop the mandate. One-third of all business plaintiffs who have filed suit against the mandate are women. This is a big win today for women in business and women job creators,” said Ruse.
Ruse also points out that as a myriad of judges heard challenges to the HHS mandate, a solid majority have sided with the challengers, although all three female justices on the Supreme Court voted to uphold it. She also says public opinion polls show women to be very uncomfortable with the mandate.
Beyond that, Ruse says there was a “perverse incentive” behind the mandate. She says instead of trying to champion women, the administration was really trying to saddle them with fewer options and higher health care costs.
“This mandate, and it’s perverse incentive to dump employees into the exchanges is not good for women at all. It means that women would face losing their trusted doctor, their trusted medical specialist, their trusted pediatrician who has cared for her children all their lives. That is not good for women, not to mention the spike in premiums and the sky-high deductibles that people face when they’re forced into the exchanges,” said Ruse.
In a concurring opinion, Justice Anthony Kennedy made a clarification that could take some of the jubilation out of Hobby Lobby supporters, by pointing out there was nothing stopping the government from footing the bill and making sure there is no cost to women for contraceptives or abortafacients.
Ruse says that twist would not be welcome, but she says it’s still a better option than forcing people of faith to spend money directly in ways they find morally objectionable.
“We are forced to fund things through our taxes that we disagree with all the time. It’s not good. It shouldn’t be that way, but that is already in play,” she said.
“It’s a far better result to make the government pay for it themselves. They already pay for contraceptives and abortion-causing drugs in the tens of millions with our tax money all across the country in Title X clinics. We don’t love that, but it’s happening. They already have an easy means to do it because they’re already in the business. So why conscript these unwilling employers and make them pay for it out of their pockets,” said Ruse.