The Internet was abuzz on Monday, June 30, 2014, with news of the latest decision to come from the Supreme Court of the United States (SCOTUS). The Court ruled on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, a case that challenged certain requirements for employers under the Affordable Care Act. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) required that all employers must provide insurance packages that cover basic preventative health care for employees, which includes contraception for women.
Two corporations, nationwide craft store Hobby Lobby and Pennsylvania company Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., challenged the requirements all the way up to the Supreme Court. Owners of the companies claimed that covering contraception that prevents a fertilized egg from attaching in the uterus violates their religious beliefs that life begins at conception. The owners of Hobby Lobby are evangelical Christians and the owners of Conestoga are Mennonite. The question before the court was whether an employer has religious rights that allow it to refuse to provide certain mandated benefits for employees.
The Pro-Employer Decision
In a 5-4 decision (with all of the female justices dissenting), the Supreme Court held that companies owned by religious families can claim religious freedom in order to exempt themselves from providing certain benefits to employees, such as insurance that covers contraception. The decision caused concern among many American employees who wondered what other types of benefits they could now be denied due to corporation owners’ religious beliefs.
For example, some medical treatments that violate the beliefs of other religions include the following:
Anesthesia, gelatin-coated pills, and intravenous fluids that may be partially derived from pigs; and
Additionally, many Christian Scientists believe all medical care should be avoided, so will Christian Scientist business owners be able to opt out of providing any health insurance coverage at all?
Justice Alito stated in his majority opinion that the decision applied only to contraception and not to other medical benefits, however, that premise is expected to be challenged as being discriminatory against certain religions. To protect Christian beliefs regarding abortion, but not the beliefs of Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Scientists, Muslims, or other religions, means that the government is favoring one religion over others, which is unconstitutional. Therefore, many people are calling the decision a “slippery slope” or “minefield” in which countless challenges to required benefits under the Affordable Care Act may arise in the future. In the meantime, if a Hobby Lobby or Conestoga employee wishes to use an IUD for contraception, she will have to pay nearly a month’s worth of her salary to do so, as her insurance will not cover it.
Employees of companies with Christian owners who are against abortion may be wondering how the Hobby Lobby decision may affect them and their benefits. Additionally, many company owners may begin to wrongly deny benefits to employees, believing they are justified under the Supreme Court decision.