WASHINGTON (KMOX/AP) — The Supreme Court says corporations can hold religious objections that allow them to opt out of the new health law requirement that they cover contraceptives for women.
The justices’ 5-4 decision Monday is the first time that the high court has ruled that profit-seeking businesses can hold religious views under federal law. And it means the Obama administration must search for a different way of providing free contraception to women who are covered under objecting companies’ health insurance plans.
Contraception is among a range of preventive services that must be provided at no extra charge under the health care law that President Barack Obama signed in 2010 and the Supreme Court upheld two years later.
Josh Hawley, an associate professor at the University of Missouri School of Law, was on a team of about 15 lawyers working on Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby Inc.
In an interview with KMOX’s Mark Reardon, Hawley said the case isn’t a question of employers telling their employees what they had to do or not do.
“Justice Kennedy seemed very interested, very concerned about the government’s position that religious employers couldn’t even get into court, is what the government is arguing,” he said. “Justice Kennedy is also focused, as many of the justices were, on the alternative means the government has to subsidize these four abortion-inducing drugs that are at the center of this case. The justice asked several times, ‘Doesn’t the government have other ways to subsidize these drugs?’ That’s what we’re talking about here—this mandate makes the business subsidize the drugs, pay for the drugs.”
Hawley said at the heart of the case is the fact that the government has other ways to deliver these drugs, and it can’t show that it has a compelling interest in making religious objectors deliver the drugs.
Two years ago, Chief Justice John Roberts cast the pivotal vote that saved the health care law in the midst of Obama’s campaign for re-election.
On Monday, dealing with a small sliver of the law, Roberts sided with the four justices who would have struck down the law in its entirety.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion. The court’s four liberal justices dissented.
The court stressed that its ruling applies only to corporations that are under the control of just a few people in which there is no essential difference between the business and its owners.
Several justices worried at the argument in March that such a decision would lead to religious objections to covering blood transfusions or vaccinations.
“We apply to any kind of religious claim that’s brought, this uniform, neutral, legal standard that has been in place for over 20 years in federal law, and under that legal standard, it’s highly unlikely that claims like that would succeed because it’s pretty likely that in those cases, the government can show for life-saving medical procedures and antibiotics that it has a very compelling interest in making sure those procedures are available,” Hawley said. “The problem in this case is the government just hasn’t shown that they have a truly compelling interest in making businesses pay for these abortion-inducing drugs.”
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