Supreme Court strikes down birth control mandate for closely held companies

In a 5-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court voted in favor of Hobby Lobby, ruling that closely held corporations cannot be required to provide contraception coverage.

The high court said the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) requires the government give closely held--family-owned--companies the same protections already provided to nonprofit organizations. It also said the government failed to show the contraceptive mandate is the least restrictive way to ensure free access to birth control, according to Scotusblog.

Craft store chain Hobby Lobby founder David Green told NBC last year that he believes providing benefits for morning-after pills and intrauterine devices tantamount to abortion complicity.

Religious-affiliated groups, such as Catholic hospitals, have filed a separate string of lawsuits. CNN Newsroom suggested the Hobby Lobby decision could set a precedent for the nonprofit cases.

Today's narrow strike down of the birth control mandate came with several qualifications.

  • The government could pay for contraceptive coverage so women receive it, according to Justice Kennedy's concurring opinion. Scotusblog noted it's "extremely likely" the Obama administration will pay for the coverage and prevent a substantial gap in coverage for women covered under objecting companies' health insurance plans.
  • This morning's decision relates to only the contraceptive mandate and does not mean insurance mandates for blood transfusions or vaccinations fail if they go against an employer's religious beliefs.
  • The ruling does not provide a shield for employers to conceal illegal discrimination as a religious practice, Scotusblog noted.
  • Regarding the issue of whether larger, publicly traded corporations have a religious "belief" within the meaning of RFRA, the Supreme Court limits its holding to closely held corporations.

Meanwhile, a large majority of Americans--69 percent--believes insurers should have to include contraception coverage in all health plans, according to an April survey of 2,000 people published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. Almost 80 percent of female respondents supported mandated birth control, compared to 64 percent of men, FierceHealthPayer previously reported.

For more:
- here's the Supreme Court decision (.pdf)
- check out live blogging from Scotusblog
watch the video of CNN Newsroom