News / USA

    US Supreme Court Backs Companies on Birth Control Mandate

    US Supreme Court Lets Private Companies Deny Birth Control Coveragei
    X
    June 30, 2014 10:45 PM
    The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that some U.S. business owners with religious objections may deny contraceptive coverage as part of the universal employee health insurance now required by law. The decision is seen both as a landmark in nation's foundational guarantee of religious liberty for all, and at the same time a significant setback to President Obama's health reform law -- a centerpiece of his presidency. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.
    Related video story by VOA's Jerome Socolovsky, "US Supreme Court Lets Private Companies Deny Birth Control Coverage"
    VOA News

    In one of the most closely watched cases of the year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that American business owners with religious objections may deny contraceptive coverage as part of universal employee health insurance now required by law.

    The decision is seen both as a landmark ruling in this nation's foundational guarantee of religious liberty for all, and at the same time a major setback to President Barack Obama's reform commonly known as Obamacare, a centerpiece of his presidency.

    The court said that the government has failed to show that the mandate is the least-restrictive means of advancing its interest in guaranteeing cost-free access to birth control.

    Demonstrators stand on the steps outside the Supreme Court in Washington, June 30, 2014.Demonstrators stand on the steps outside the Supreme Court in Washington, June 30, 2014.
    x
    Demonstrators stand on the steps outside the Supreme Court in Washington, June 30, 2014.
    Demonstrators stand on the steps outside the Supreme Court in Washington, June 30, 2014.

    In the Burwell v Hobby Lobby case, the evangelical Christian owners of an arts-and-crafts chain refused to cover certain forms of contraception such as the morning-after pill in their employee health plan, arguing that would make them complicit in abortions.

    The government and other opponents argued that such contraceptives do not induce abortions, and said that it was the employee's right to decide whether to use contraceptives, and which kind.

    It is unclear how many women potentially are affected by the high court ruling.

    The Hobby Lobby chain of arts-and-crafts stores is by far the largest employer of any company that has gone to court to fight the birth control provision. Hobby Lobby has more than 15,000 full-time employees in more than 600 crafts stores in 41 states.

    The company is owned by the Greens, an evangelical Christian family who also own Mardel, a Christian bookstore chain.

    Birth control mandate

    In the 5-4 decision, the court said the ruling applies only to the birth control mandate and does not mean companies would necessarily succeed if they made similar claims against other insurance requirements, such as vaccinations and blood transfusions.

    The court also stressed that its ruling applies only to corporations that are under the control of just a few people in which there is no essential difference between the business and its owners.

    Justice Samuel Alito wrote for a majority that included the Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Stephen Breyer, and Elena Kagan dissented.

    In the majority opinion, Alito indicated that employees could still be able to obtain the birth control coverage via an accommodation to the mandate that the Obama administration has already introduced for religious-affiliated nonprofits.

    The accommodation allows health insurance companies to provide the coverage without the employer being involved in the process.

    Numerous news crews wait outside the Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on several key cases yet this term, in Washington, June 25, 2014.Numerous news crews wait outside the Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on several key cases yet this term, in Washington, June 25, 2014.
    x
    Numerous news crews wait outside the Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on several key cases yet this term, in Washington, June 25, 2014.
    Numerous news crews wait outside the Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on several key cases yet this term, in Washington, June 25, 2014.

    The case brought to the forefront thorny questions of religious freedom and reproductive rights, along with enduring politicking over the health care law, itself broadly upheld by the Supreme Court in 2012.

    The nine-member court met for a final time Monday to release decisions in its two remaining cases before the justices took off for the summer.

    Reaction to ruling

    Shortly after the decision, the White House released a statement saying that the ruling on contraception coverage jeopardizes the health of the women employed by the companies that brought the suit. 

    The White House also said it would work with Congress to ensure the women affected by the ruling have the same access to contraception.

    Outside the court on Monday, Hobby Lobby lawyer Adele Keim said, “We are overjoyed" by the ruling.

    “This is a great day for religious liberty. Religious liberty is not just a right for Americans. It’s a universal human right,” said Keim, who also is counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, the law firm that represented Hobby Lobby.

    Religious libery is “protected in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. And today the U.S. Supreme Court, in a very narrow and balanced ruling, said individuals don’t lose that fundamental human right just because they go into business with the rest of their family,” she added.

     “The court says specifically it’s just limited to birth control. And do you know why? Because the government in this case has other ways to get people birth control,” Keim said. “The American government spends $300 million a year to provide birth control for free and at low cost to American women. The court said, look why can’t they just continue doing that?”

    The Rev. Barry Lynn, executive director of Americans United for the Separation of Church and State, said, “This really turns the idea of religious freedom on its head. Religious freedom is what individuals believe, what relationship they have with their God, their spiritual leader.

    “It is not what giant corporations or even small corporations think the bible or any other holy Scripture tells them to do,” Lynn said. “This allows some companies in America already to nullify, to just wipe out federal law that protects women, protects religious minorities, and protects those who do not have the power.

    “This is really a miserable ruling. It is not as broad immediately in its impact as some of us were concerned it might be. But it still is a blow against the rights of conscience of American women. It still creates this totally fictional corporate conscience for at least some kinds of corporations in the United States,” he said.

    “Over the next few days there’ll be lots of conversations about what to do to correct these damages,” Lynn said. “They could be executive actions by the administration. They could be new legislation. Amendments to the constitution, anything that will guarantee that individual religious freedom is protected but this phony corporate religious freedom is destroyed.”

    Tricky legal questions

    In determining the case, the Supreme Court had to consider two tricky legal questions.

    One was whether for-profit corporations have a right to religious freedom similar to what the U.S. Constitution gives to citizens.

    The other was, even if that's not the case, whether business owners' religious rights come before those of their employees.

    The victory by Hobby Lobby could have wide-ranging implications, and may even give license to discrimination, said Caroline Frederickson of the left-leaning American Constitution Society.

    Experts said the controversy is particular to America's system of employer-provided health insurance, and would not be an issue for business owners in a single-payer system in which the state provides health care services.

    Poll results

    A recent Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll found that a majority of Americans oppose letting employers, based on their religious views, exclude certain contraceptives from workers' insurance coverage.

    The poll asked whether employers should be able to choose what forms of contraceptives their health plans provide based on their religious beliefs. Of those responding, 53 percent disagreed and 35 percent agreed. Of those surveyed, 12 percent said they did not know.

    The poll found that 40 percent strongly disagreed and 13 percent somewhat disagreed with the idea that employers should be able to choose what forms of contraceptives their health plans provide based on their religious beliefs.

    It found that 20 percent strongly agreed and 15 percent somewhat agreed with the idea.

    The Reuters/Ipsos poll of 10,693 people, conducted April 28-June 20, has a credibility interval of plus or minus 1.1 percentage point.

    Union fees case

    The Supreme Court also ruled Monday that in-home care workers in Illinois who are paid by the state are not similar enough to government employees to be compelled to pay union dues.

    The court held on a 5-4 vote that plaintiff Pamela Harris and others who provide in-home care for family members and others with disabilities were not full-fledged public employees who could be forced to pay union dues to a public employees union.

    The decision left intact the court's 1977 ruling in Abood v. Detroit Board of Education. That ruling said unions could collect such compulsory dues used for non-political activities under collective bargaining agreements.

    • Reporters run from the courthouse with paper copies of the U.S. Supreme Court decision for the Hobby Lobby ruling, in Washington, June 30, 2014.
    • A demonstrator in support of abortion and contraceptive rights chants after the Hobby Lobby ruling outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, June 30, 2014.
    • A protester dressed as a copy of the Bible joins other demonstrators outside the U.S. Supreme Court in Washington, June 30, 2014.
    • Michael Hichborn kneels and prays as he joins demonstrators while waiting for the Supreme Court decision on the Hobby Lobby case outside the Supreme Court, in Washington, June 30, 2014.
    • Demonstrators react to hearing the Supreme Court decision on the Hobby Lobby case outside the Supreme Court, in Washington, June 30, 2014.
    • Lori Windham, the attorney representing Hobby Lobby, stands outside the Supreme Court following the decision on the Hobby Lobby case, in Washington, Monday, June 30, 2014.

    Jerome Socolovsky contributed to this report from Washington. Some information for this report provided by Reuters and AP.

    You May Like

    Video Democrats Clinton, Kaine Offer 'Very Different Vision' Than Trump

    In a jab at Trump, Clinton says her team wants to 'build bridges, not walls'; Obama Hails Kaine's record; Trump calls Kaine a 'job-killer'

    Turkey Wants Pakistan to Close Down institutions, Businesses Linked to Gulen

    Thousands of Pakistani students are enrolled in Gulen's commercial network of around two dozen institutions operating in Pakistan for over two decades

    AU Passport A Work in Progress

    Who will get the passport and what the benefits are still need to be worked out

    This forum has been closed.
    Comment Sorting
    Comments
         
    by: Steve from: Latham, NY
    June 30, 2014 1:17 PM
    Wonderful decision indeed! Does not prevent ANYONE from getting contraception. Focus on the issue.
    In Response

    by: James Gray from: USA
    June 30, 2014 9:44 PM
    It's becoming more evident that America is becoming a corporate state. Individual rights, such as the freedom from the religion of a few in a position of power, are no longer protected under the constitution as our founders intended. The United States of America is in serious trouble. Not from terrorism from the middle east, but from extremest within our own borders who wish to impose their own misguided and superstitious beliefs on the the majority. YOUR VOTE IS POWER . Restore our constitutional right to be free from religious oppression. The "supreme" court has become corrupted by those who wish to divide us.they would have us fight amongst each other as they still us blind of our resources and the founding principals of this once great idea of a nation.

    by: art valla from: Seattle, WA
    June 30, 2014 10:56 AM
    Well, that's it. No more blood transfusions for my employees. Faith healing only!

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movementi
    X
    July 22, 2016 11:49 AM
    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video In State of Emergency, Turkey’s Erdogan Focuses on Spiritual Movement

    The state of emergency that Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has declared is giving him even more power to expand a purge that has seen an estimated 60,000 people either arrested or suspended from their jobs. VOA Europe correspondent Luis Ramirez reports from Istanbul.
    Video

    Video Scientists in Poland Race to Save Honeybees

    Honeybees are in danger worldwide. Causes of what's known as colony collapse disorder range from pesticides and loss of habitat to infections. But scientists in Poland say they are on track to finding a cure for one of the diseases. VOA’s George Putic reports.
    Video

    Video Wall Already Runs Along Parts of US-Mexico Border

    The Republican Party’s presidential nominee, Donald Trump, gained the support of many voters by saying he would build a wall to keep undocumented immigrants and drugs from coming across the border from Mexico. Critics have called his idea impractical and offensive to Mexico, while supporters say such a bold approach is needed to control the border. VOA’s Greg Flakus has more from the border town of Nogales, Arizona.
    Video

    Video New HIV Tests Emphasize Rapid Results

    As the global fight against AIDS intensifies, activists have placed increasing importance on getting people to know their HIV status. Some companies are developing new HIV testing methods designed to be quick, easy and accurate. Thuso Khumalo looks at the latest methods, presented at the International AIDS conference in Durban, South Africa.
    Video

    Video African Youth with HIV Urge More Support

    HIV, the virus that causes AIDS, is the top killer of teens in sub-Saharan Africa. But many youths say their experience with the virus is unique and needs to be addressed differently than the adult epidemic. VOA South African Correspondent Anita Powell reports.
    Video

    Video Poor Residents in Cleveland Not Feeling High Hopes of Republican Convention

    With the Republican Party's National Convention underway in Cleveland, Ohio, delegates and visitors are gathered in the host city's downtown - waiting to hear from the party's presidential candidate, Donald Trump. But a few kilometers from the convention's venue, Cleveland's poorest residents are not convinced Trump or his policies will make a difference in their lives. VOA's Ramon Taylor spoke with some of these residents as well as some of the Republican delegates and filed this report.
    Video

    Video Pop-Up Art Comes to Your Living Room, Backyard and Elsewhere

    Around the world, independent artists and musicians wrestle with a common problem: where to exhibit or perform? Traditional spaces such as museums and galleries are reserved for bigger names, and renting a space is not feasible for many. Enter ArtsUp, which connects artists with venue owners. Whether it’s a living room, restaurant, office or even a boat, pop-up events are bringing music and art to unexpected places. Tina Trinh has more.
    Video

    Video With Yosemite as Backdrop, Obama Praises National Parks

    Last month, President Barack Obama and his family visited some of the most beautiful national parks in the U.S. Using the majestic backdrop of a towering waterfall in California's Yosemite National Park, Obama praised the national park system which celebrates its 100th anniversary this year. He talked about the importance of America’s “national treasures” and the need to protect them from climate change and other threats. VOA’s Julie Taboh reports.
    Video

    Video Counter-Islamic State Coalition Plots Next Steps

    As momentum shifts against Islamic State in Iraq, discussions are taking place about the next steps for driving the terrorist group from its final strongholds. Secretary of State John Kerry is hosting a counter-IS meeting at the State Department, a day after defense ministers from more than 30 countries reviewed and agreed upon a course of action. VOA Pentagon correspondent Carla Babb reports.
    Video

    Video Russia's Participation at Brazil Olympic Games Still In Question

    The International Olympic Committee has delayed a decision on whether to ban all Russian teams from competing in next month's Olympic Games in Brazil over allegations of an elaborate doping scheme. The World Anti-Doping Agency recently released an independent report alleging widespread doping by Russian athletes at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. So far, only Russian track and field athletes have been barred from the Summer Games in Brazil. VOA's Zlatica Hoke has more.
    Video

    Video Scotland’s Booming Whisky Industry Fears Brexit Hangover

    After Britain’s vote to leave the European Union, Scotland’s government wants to break away from the United Kingdom – fearing the nation’s exports are at risk. Among the biggest of these is whisky. Henry Ridgwell reports on a time of turmoil for those involved in the ancient art of distilling Scotland’s most famous product.
    Video

    Video Millennials Could Determine Who Wins Race to White House

    With only four months to go until Americans elect a new president, one group of voters is getting a lot more attention these days: those ages 18 to 35, a generation known as millennials. It’s a demographic that some analysts say could have the power to decide the 2016 election. But a lot depends on whether they actually turn out to vote. VOA’s Alexa Lamanna reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora