Washington, DC, United States (4E) – The Supreme Court on Monday ruled that small business owners cannot be forced to cover birth control of employees under the Obamacare if such health insurance contradicts their religious belief.
The Justices voted 5-4 for the ruling that wins for Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. exemption from the Obamacare requirement for large companies to pay for their workers’ health insurance, including birth control. The family-owned companies challenged the said Affordable Care Act mandate citing that their Christian faith is against abortion, which can be caused by contraception. They wanted their women workers to instead get contraceptives, such as morning-after pills and intra-uterine devices, from government or private insurers.
The conservative Justices led by Justice Samuel Alito cited the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA) of 1993 as basis for their ruling. RFRA prevents laws from causing undue burden to a person’s free exercise of religion.
“Protecting the free-exercise rights of corporations like Hobby Lobby, Conestoga and Mardel (a Christian bookstore) protects the religious liberty of the humans who own and control those companies,” Alito said, according to USA Today.
Alito said the owners of the said companies would be burdened if they comply with Obamacare because they would be facilitating abortion, which is against their religious beliefs, or pay the fine.
Under the Obamacare, companies that fail to provide comprehensive health coverage to workers must pay a fine of $100 per day per employee. With 13,000 employees, Hobby Lobby chain of crafts stores stands to pay $1.3 million fine per day or $475 million per year.
The healthcare law exempts religious organizations such as churches, synagogues and mosques. For non-profit groups with religious affiliations, such as universities and charities, they can sign over the health insurance of workers to private insurers, though they are challenging this requirement in court because they feel they are indirectly endorsing contraception.
The majority of the justices said women will not be denied contraceptives as they can get it from insurers.
Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg led the dissenting justices. She said other companies may seek waiver from covering other types of health care for workers, such as vaccines or blood transfusions.
In reaction to the ruling, the White House issued a statement warning that the decision will jeopardize the health of women employees in some corporations.
Hobby Lobby co-founder Barbara Green said the ruling is a victory for both family businesses and “all who seek to live out their faith.”
“Americans don’t have to surrender their freedom when they open a family business,” USA Today quoted Conestoga CEO Anthony Hahn as saying.
Reproductive rights advocates, meanwhile, said the ruling discriminates against women.
Louisiana Republican and potential 2016 presidential candidate Gov. Bobby Jindal said the court made clear that “religious beliefs are more important than the whims and demands of government.”
House Speaker John Boehner (R-Ohio) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Flor.) reiterated that Obamacare is flawed and should be repealed and replaced.
Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Tex.), another possible 2016 candidate, dubbed the decision as a “landmark victory for religious liberty” and that Americans “can’t be forced to surrender their religious freedom once they open a business.”
House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) said the decision prevents Americans from making their own health decisions.
Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) said she will “protect women’s access to health care” by finding a legislative remedy.