Attempting to expand religious expression protections without significantly disrupting the rules that govern for-profit corporations, the Supreme Court on Monday ruled that the Obama administration must exempt closely-held firms like Hobby Lobby from a rule requiring large companies to help pay for their employees’ birth control.
The ruling is a loss for reproductive rights advocates who have balked at the notion that some businesses can pick and choose which contraception methods to cover. While it’s a victory for Christian conservatives opposed to the contraception rule, the ruling skirts the broad ramifications that could have come from shielding all for-profit firms from laws that interfere with religious beliefs.
Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. — two privately-held, for-profit companies — sued the United States government over a provision in the Affordable Care Act that requires companies with more than 50 employees to provide comprehensive health coverage (including contraception) or pay a fine. Hobby Lobby’s owners, David and Barbara Green of Oklahoma, say they have strong objections based in their Christian faith to providing health care coverage for certain types of contraception. The Pennsylvania-based Hahn family, the Mennonite owners of Conestoga Wood Specialties, had the same complaint.
The Obama administration already exempts nonprofits with religious affiliations, such as Catholic universities, from the contraception coverage rule.
For Christian conservatives, the Obamacare rule represents the threat of government overreach. However, granting all for-profit firms the freedom of religious expression could have opened the floodgates for unprecedented corporate protections. Such a ruling, the administration argued, could have interfered with laws that ban gender discrimination, minimum wage and overtime laws, or mandated health coverage for vaccinations, to name a few.