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Hobby Lobby decision deals blow to ACA

By Judith Pannebaker BCC Editor

In a 5-4 decision, the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS) struck down a provision of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) - aka Obamacare - that required employers to provide contraceptive coverage to their employees. Essentially, SCOTUS found that requiring family-owned corporations to pay for insurance coverage for contraception violated a federal law protecting religious freedom.
Burwell v. Hobby Lobby determined whether the Free Exercise Clause of the US Constitution and the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) could exempt a company from federal government regulations requiring employers to provide contraceptive coverage to their female employees if contraception is against the religious beliefs of the companies' owners. Previously titled Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby, the lawsuit was filed because of a requirement of the ACA the Affordable Care Act.
The ruling, announced Monday, June 30, affirmed that Hobby Lobby, Conestoga Wood Specialties and other privately-owned companies with five or less owners cannot be compelled to provide contraceptive coverage for their employees.
When the ACA was enacted in March 2010, the contraceptive mandate was not included in the law. At that time, the law stated health insurance plans must provide unspecified "preventive services." However, six months later, non-elected officials in the Department of Health and Human Services, led by then-HHS Secretary Katherine Sebelius, added contraceptives to the list of preventive services.
Under the ACA, employers providing health insurance to employees must cover 20 forms of birth control, including the so-called "morning after" pill. In 2012, Hobby Lobby challenged the regulation due to concerns regarding the "morning after" pill. While Hobby Lobby's health insurance plans already covers 16 forms of contraception, the company declined to cover methods of birth control that can be considered abortion inducing such as the morning after pill and IUDs. These violate some churches' doctrine on the sanctity of life.
In addition to Hobby Lobby, more than 90 cases were filed, representing 300 plaintiffs, challenging the ACA's "contraceptives mandate."
In SCOTUS's 95-page opinion written that includes a dissenting opinion by Justice Ruth Ginsberg, Justice Samuel Alito wrote: "The Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA) prohibits the 'Government [from] substantially burden[ing] a person's exercise of religion even if the burden results from a rule of general applicability' unless the Government 'demonstrates that application of the burden to the person is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and is the least restrictive means of furthering that governmental interest'."
Alito continued: "We doubt that the Congress that enacted [Religious Freedom Restoration Act] - or, for that matter, ACA - would have believed it a tolerable result to put family-run businesses to the choice of violating their sincerely held religious beliefs or making all of their employees lose their existing healthcare plans."
In conclusion, he offered: "The contraceptive mandate, as applied to closely held corporations, violates RFRA. Our decision on that statu¬tory question makes it unnecessary to reach the First Amendment claim raised by Conestoga and the Hahns." The SCOTUS ruling affirms the judgment of the Tenth Circuit in No. 13-354 and reverses the decision of the Third Circuit in No. 13-356.
Alito was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas and Anthony Kennedy.
Almost immediately, Texas' politicians weighed in on the decision.
Congressman Lamar Smith called the ruling "a victory for religious freedom across America." He added, "There are many reasons to oppose Obamacare, but the contraceptives mandate strikes at the core of our constitutional rights - freedom of religion. The President believes that universal health care is a right, and he places it above the rights of employers to freely exercise their religious beliefs."
Smith pointed out, "Only one of these is a right guaranteed by our Founding Fathers in the Constitution. The First Amendment prevents the government from establishing laws that prohibit the free exercise of religion. This decision rejects the President's overreach of authority and restores religious rights to the people."
US Senator John Cornyn said, "The decision is a victory against Obamacare's unprecedented overreach into our daily lives and the Administration's disregard for the freedom of religion that Americans cherish. All Texans and Americans have the right to practice their religious beliefs without obstruction from the federal government, and today's decision by the Supreme Court affirms that Obamacare does not trump those fundamental rights."
Regarding the Supreme Court's ruling on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Gov. Rick Perry added, "This decision is further proof that Obamacare represents one of the greatest governmental overreaches in our nation's history. Religious freedom is an intrinsic part of being American, and the Supreme Court's decision reaffirms that the government cannot mandate that anyone operate in a fashion counter to their most deeply-felt principles."
Not surprisingly, liberal organizations such as MoveOn.org saw the decision differently, calling it "... a big blow against religious freedoms [that] grants corporations even more rights intended for people."
The website continued, "Today's Hobby Lobby decision has opened the door to a brave new world of corporate abuse and discrimination under the guise of 'religious liberty.' What happens when a business wants to hang a 'No Gays Allowed' sign? Or decides that providing health insurance of any kind goes against their newfound religious convictions?"