The U.S. Supreme Court today ruled in favor of closely held corporations that sought an exemption to a federal law requiring employers to provide insurance coverage for contraception. The owners of the plaintiff companies – Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma-based craft supply store chain, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania furniture company – cited religious objections to contraception as a reason not to comply with the law. Hobby Lobby has a store in Manchester, New Hampshire, and a store is in development in Seabrook, New Hampshire.
At issue in today’s case is part of the Affordable Care Act that requires health plans to cover contraception without a co-pay. This law was designed to ensure women’s equality by eliminating the disparities in health care costs between men and women, and to ensure women have the ability to make decisions about whether and when to become parents, which in turns allow them to participate equally in society.
The American Civil Liberties Union, religious organizations, other civil rights and women’s health groups, business leaders, and members of Congress filed friend-of-the-court briefs arguing that the companies’ owners cannot impose their personal religious beliefs on employees to withhold coverage for health services with which they disagree.
This is a deeply troubling decision. For the first time, the highest court in the country has said that business owners can use their religious beliefs to deny their employees a benefit that they are guaranteed by law. Religious freedom is a fundamental right that the ACLU has zealously protected, but that freedom does not include the right to impose beliefs on others. In its ruling today, the Court simply got it wrong.
Women who work at Hobby Lobby and other closely held companies with religious objections to providing contraception coverage may now be denied that coverage, which will impact their reproductive health and other aspects of their lives. These women will also face dignitary harm knowing that their employers are singling out health care coverage that only women need.
The ACLU and the NHCLU will fight to ensure that all women get the contraception coverage they need and deserve. For starters, we call on Congress to rectify today’s decision.