Hobby Lobby Wins, Women Lose: Religious Employers Don’t Have to Pay for Your Birth Control

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The Justices of the US Supreme Court sit for their official photograph on October 8, 2010 at the Supreme Court in Washington, DC.
Men vs. Women. Photo: Tim Sloan/AFP/Getty Images

The Supreme Court decided in favor of evangelical-owned crafts store Hobby Lobby in its big decision today, ruling 5-4 that “closely held corporations” — that is, when five or fewer people own at least 50 percent of the company — “cannot be required to provide contraception coverage” if it goes against their religious beliefs. While the decision is a loss for Obamacare and women across the country, SCOTUS Blog reports, “It is extremely likely that the Obama administration will by regulation provide for the government to pay for the coverage. So it is unlikely that there will be a substantial gap in coverage.”

Still, Justice Ginsburg, joined by Sonia Sotomayor, wrote a 35-page dissent calling the majority ruling, made entirely by men, a “decision of startling breadth.” Justices Kagan and Breyer each wrote dissenting opinions as well.

The majority relied on the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act, and ruled that closely held corporations, even if they are for-profit like Hobby Lobby, are afforded the same rights to religious objections as nonprofits, such as churches: “Any suggestion that for-profit corporations are incapable of exercising religion because their purpose is simply to make money flies in the face of modern corporate law.” In other words, corporations are people, and they might just be religious.

“The owners of the businesses have religious objections to abortion, and according to their religious beliefs the four contraceptive methods at issue are abortifacients,” wrote Justice Samuel Alito for the majority. “If the owners comply with the HHS mandate, they believe they will be facilitating abortions, and if they do not comply, they will pay a very heavy price — as much as $1.3 million per day, or about $475 million per year, in the case of one of the companies. If these consequences do not amount to a substantial burden, it is hard to see what would.”

But according to initial analysis, the ruling is a narrow one. Again, from SCOTUS Blog: “The Court makes clear that the government can provide coverage to the female employees. And it strongly suggests it would reject broad religious claims to, for example, discriminate against gay employees.”

The full decision can be read here.