WASHINGTON — The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 Monday that closely held, for-profit businesses do not have to provide health insurance coverage for contraceptives that violate their religious beliefs. The decision — in cases involving Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties — applied to the so-called contraceptive mandate in the Affordable Care Act.
The majority opinion was written by Justice Samuel A. Alito and joined by Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony M. Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. Kennedy wrote a concurring opinion.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a dissenting opinion joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor. Justices Stephen G. Breyer and Elena Kagan joined most of Ginsburg’s dissent, though not the section that addressed whether for-profit companies could bring claims under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).
The court’s holding states:
“This decision concerns only the contraceptive mandate and should not be understood to hold that all insurance-coverage mandates, e.g. for vaccinations or blood transfusions, must necessarily fall if they conflict with an employer’s religious beliefs. Nor does it provide a shield for employers who might cloak illegal discrimination as a religious practice.”
Here are excerpts from the opinions:
“In holding that the (Health and Human Services contraceptive) mandate is unlawful, we reject HHS’s argument that the owners of the companies forfeited all RFRA protection when they decided to organize their businesses as corporations rather than sole proprietorships or general partnerships. The plain terms of RFRA make it perfectly clear that Congress did not discriminate in this way against men and women who wish to run their businesses as for-profit corporations in the manner required by their religious beliefs.
“Since RFRA applies in these cases, we must decide whether the challenged HHS regulations substantially burden the exercise of religion, and we hold that they do. The owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients. If the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions, and if they do not comply, they will pay a very heavy price — as much as $1.3 million per day, or about $475 million per year, in the case of one of the companies. If these consequences do not amount to a substantial burden, it is hard to see what would.”
“There are other ways in which Congress or HHS could equally ensure that every woman has cost-free access to the particular contraceptives at issue here and, indeed, to all FDA-approved contraceptives.
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