This morning, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the Affordable Care Act cannot force closely held companies to pay for contraceptives through employee insurance plans if the owners object to birth control on religious grounds. Burwell v. Hobby Lobby (U.S. 2014)
In a 5-4 ruling on party lines, the Court held that the Religious Freedom and Restoration Act (RFRA) doesn’t require private companies to cover birth control methods like the morning-after pill and intrauterine devices, the use of which objectors had characterized as similar to abortion.
The Affordable Care Act requires insurance plans to cover preventive health care services for women, including some 20 contraceptive products approved by the Food and Drug Administration. But many private companies object to the requirement, saying it violates their religious rights under RFRA by forcing them to engage in conduct that violates their sincerely held religious beliefs.
Federal law says the government cannot substantially burden a person’s exercise of religion unless it’s done in the least-restrictive way to accomplish a legitimate government interest. In addition to holding that closely held companies meet the definition of “person,” the Court held that the government failed to show “that it lacks other means of achieving its desired goal without imposing a substantial burden on religion.”
The Hobby Lobby case originated here in the Tenth Circuit. Several other pending cases will continue to threaten the viability of health care reform for the foreseeable future.