By Don Davis and Reuters
Abortion opponents praised Monday’s U.S. Supreme Court ruling that owners of private companies can object on religious grounds to a provision of President Barack Obama’s healthcare law that requires employers to provide insurance covering birth control for women.
But Planned Parenthood of Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota pledges to make birth control available to women even if their employers’ health plans will not pay.
The decision, which applies only to a small number of family or other closely held companies, means several thousand women whose health insurance comes via such companies may have to obtain certain forms of birth control coverage elsewhere.
In a 5-4 vote along ideological lines, the justices said the companies can seek an exemption from the so-called birth control mandate of the law known as Obamacare. The companies in the case said they did not object to all birth control but certain methods they said were tantamount to abortion, which they oppose for religious reasons.
The case, brought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood, is an important First Amendment issue, the Minnesota Catholic Conference said.
“The Supreme Court ruled correctly that the free exercise of religion is not confined to the four walls of the sanctuary,” conference Executive Director Jason Adkins said. “Religious liberty means the ability to live your faith in every aspect of your life. People do not give up their religious freedom when they open a family business. They should not have to check their values and religious convictions at the door when they enter the marketplace.”
Minnesota Rep. Steve Drazkowski, R-Mazeppa, said the birth control ruling and one against establishing unions for personal care attendant business owners were victories against “recent assaults on the First Amendment by President (Barack) Obama, Gov. (Mark) Dayton and Minnesota Democrats. Government should never approve laws or issue executive decisions that disregard the liberties of an individual or business.”
Planned Parenthood said it would do everything it can to maintain women’s birth control access.
President Sarah Stoesz of Planned Parenthood Minnesota, North Dakota, South Dakota said the ruling does not apply to all women, but “for women who are affected, this ruling has serious consequences.”
She said the court gave “bosses the right to discriminate against women and deny their employees access to birth control coverage. This is a deeply disappointing and troubling ruling that will prevent some women, especially those working hourly-wage jobs and struggling to make ends meet, from getting birth control.”
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said the court’s decision “jeopardizes the health of women who are employed by these companies.”
The justices ruled for the first time that for-profit companies can make claims under a 1993 federal law called the Religious Freedom Restoration Act that was enacted to protect religious liberty.
In the majority opinion, conservative Justice Samuel Alito said it was difficult to distinguish between closely held corporations and the people who own them. The religious liberty law was not intended to discriminate “against men and women who wish to run their businesses as for-profit corporations in the manner required by their religious beliefs,” he wrote.
Hundreds of demonstrators on both sides of one of the most contentious cases of the Supreme Court term converged on the courthouse, wearing costumes, chanting and carrying signs. Some demonstrators chanted, “Keep your boardroom out of my bedroom” and “Separate church and state, women must decide their fate.”
Alito wrote that the ruling applied only to the birth control mandate and did not mean companies would necessarily succeed if they made similar claims to other insurance requirements, such as vaccinations and blood transfusions.
The justice indicated that employees could still be able to obtain birth control coverage via an expansion of an accommodation to the mandate that the Obama administration has already introduced for religious-affiliated nonprofits. The accommodation allows health insurance companies to provide the coverage without the employer being involved in the process.
In her dissent Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, writing for the liberal wing of the court, cautioned that the decision opened the door to companies opting out of laws.
“In a decision of startling breadth, the court holds that commercial enterprises, including corporations, along with partnerships and sole proprietorships, can opt out of any law … they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs,” she wrote.
The case has no bearing on the broader fate of the healthcare law and does not affect the vast majority of what the government estimates to be 29.7 million women who currently receive birth control coverage as a result of the law.