In Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-4 that certain closely held corporations with religious objections cannot be required to provide health insurance coverage that includes certain types of contraception.
The Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandates that employers provide health insurance that includes coverage for contraception. Although the law exempts certain corporations owned by religious organizations, it does not exempt corporations owned by individuals who hold personal religious beliefs that do not support contraception.
The majority opinion, written by Justice Samuel Alito, stated that the contraceptive mandate substantially burdens the exercise of religion and that the government failed to demonstrate that the mandate is the least restrictive means of furthering the government’s interest. The Court noted that “[w]e doubt that the Congress that enacted [the 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.” Justice Alito’s opinion was joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Clarence Thomas, and Anthony Kennedy.
The majority clarified that the Court’s decision is limited to closely held corporations and applies only to the contraceptive mandate. The opinion noted that the decision “should not be understood to hold that an insurance coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs,” as other coverage requirements may be supported by different interests and arguments.
Writing on behalf of the Court’s four dissenting justices, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said that the ruling will enable companies to “opt out of any law (saving only tax laws) they judge incompatible with their sincerely held religious beliefs.” Justices Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Sonia Sotomayor also dissented.