WASHINGTON, D.C. – It was not a sweeping decision, but many new questions have been raised with this week’s ruling from the U.S. Supreme Court that said some “closely held” or family-owned businesses do not have to offer their employees contraceptive coverage if it conflicts with owners’ religious beliefs.
Such coverage is mandated in the Affordable Care Act.
The Supreme Court’s decision was 5-4 on cases from Hobby Lobby along with a furniture maker and a Christian bookseller. Those companies had challenged the provision in the health care law — claiming it violated the First Amendment and other federal laws that protect religious freedom by requiring coverage for birth control despite moral objections.
West Virginia was one of the 20 states to join an amicus brief from Ohio and Michigan to support those businesses.
“I think this decision got it right,” said Patrick Morrisey, state Attorney General. “When we were getting involved in this case, and I’ve been looking at this for a number of years since the passage of the ACA, we’ve squarely focused on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act and, obviously, the ability of citizens to enjoy the free exercise of religion.”
Justices took steps, in the majority opinion, to make the ruling specific. “Our decision in these cases is concerned solely with the contraceptive mandate,” Justice Samuel Alito wrote. “Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs.”
Perry Bryant, executive director of West Virginians for Affordable Health Care, said that means the ruling can only be applied to certain companies and, in some cases, specific — not all — contraceptives. “This is an important but, nevertheless, a very small portion of the Affordable Care Act. We’ll see how many companies can actually qualify for this exemption,” he said.
In the ruling, the Court said it would be up to the White House and Congress to find ways to provide coverage for the medications to women if their bosses qualify for exemptions and do not allow their insurance companies to pay for them.
Bryant said access to contraceptives is necessary for women’s health. “It is rooted in science and making sure that women have healthy babies and that they avoid unintended pregnancies and avoid abortions and complications that would come from that,” Bryant told MetroNews.
Representatives with West Virginia FREE, a pro-choice organization, said the U.S. Supreme Court made the wrong decision. “The workplace is not the venue to exercise religious discrimination and persecution,” said Sarah Brown, vice-president and secretary of the West Virginia FREE Action Fund.
“This is not the time to roll back the clocks and discriminate against women in the workplace. We have a lot of important work to do and lawsuits like this remove the focus on what is vitally important — ensuring that West Virginia women and families have affordable health care coverage.”
Two years ago, the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the Affordable Care Act, but Monday’s ruling could open the door to more legal challenges to the specific provisions within the law.
“Clearly the U.S. Supreme Court is divided and conservatives have a working majority there and so those who oppose the Affordable Care Act are finding a very sympathetic ear at the Supreme Court,” Bryant said.