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Supreme Court reaches landmark decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby

SCOTUS upholds religious corporation's rights to deny employees birth control through health care packages

By Marissa Piccolo
On July 1, 2014

Monday the Supreme Court of the United States struck down the Obamacare mandate requiring Christian family-owned corporations to pay insurance coverage for contraceptives in a 5-4 ruling.

            The Affordable Care Act passed by Congress in 2010 allows the Department of Health and Human Services to determine what preventative care for women is required to be covered by employers. All Food and Drug Administration approved contraception was included in the act and businesses who deny coverage face fines of up to $100 daily.

            On Sept. 12, 2012, the Green Family, owners of Hobby Lobby Stores, INC., filed a complaint in the United States District Court for the Western District of Oklahoma, reading, “The Green Family’s religious beliefs forbid them from participating in, providing access to, paying for, training other to engage in, or otherwise supporting abortion-causing drugs and services.” 

            The Green Family members are Evangelical Christians and argued that Hobby Lobby is a Christian-family based business.

“The Green family believes they are obligated to run their business in accordance to their faith,” the complaint read. “Commitment to Jesus Christ and to Biblical principles is what gives their business endeavors meaning and purpose.”

            The contraceptive mandate would mean that the Green Family would either “violate their deeply-held religious beliefs” to provide contraceptive coverage or face fines and penalties. 

            The historic case ruled in the Green Family’s favor.  Hobby Lobby Inc. and other Christian companies now are not required to provide contraceptive coverage to their employees. Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority decision, claiming that the Obamacare contraceptive mandate violated the family’s religious freedom.

The decision read: “The Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 prohibits the, ‘Government [from] substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability.’”

            As amended by the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act of 2000, RFRA covers ‘any exercise of religion, whether or not compelled by, or central to, a system of religious belief,’” the decision read.

            The majority of the Supreme Court did not believe the contraceptive mandate was enough of a “compelling governmental interest” to require Hobby Lobby to provide coverage and violate their religious beliefs.

            Considered a victory for religious freedom advocates and the pro-life community, the decision has raised controversial questions both about the rights of employees and the definition of a religious business.

            “Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith,” said Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg in the dissenting opinion, “Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community.”

            Groups such as NARAL Pro-Choice America and Planned Parenthood consider the decision a massive setback for both women’s reproductive rights and health.

 “This Supreme Court decision reminds us that we have a lot of work left to do in our fight for equality for women,” tweeted Connecticut Lieutenant Governor Nancy Wyman.

            Justice Ginsburg dissented on the decision making clear her belief that contraception is a woman’s choice.

            “Any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby’s plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will bet he woman’s autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults,” Ginsburg wrote.

            “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield,” said Ginsberg.

Time will tell if the Burwell v. Hobby Lobby decision will become a defeat for Obamacare and open the door for the ability of more businesses to opt out of ACA mandates. Democrats in Congress have hinted at a legislative response to challenge the Supreme Court decision.

“I will work with my colleagues and the administration to protect this access, regardless of who signs your paycheck,” said Washington Senator Patty Murray.

            Being a public and secular university, there will be no impact on the contraceptive coverage for UConn employees.  The same may not be true for workers at religious colleges. For example, Boston College stirred controversy last year when stating, “Because of the moral values that Boston College espouses, University Health Services, by policy, does not provide material for the purpose of preventing conception or counsel that would encourage abortion.” Hobby Lobby’s victory may give colleges the authority to deny employee’s contraceptive insurance coverage at well. 

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