Hobby Lobby wins in narrow ruling

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from MSNBC,

The Supreme Court has ruled in a narrow 5-4 decision that a closely-held company can be exempt from the contraceptive coverage under the Affordable Care Act.

The closely watched case pitted the administration and its allies, including women’s health advocates, against the religious right, which has repeatedly accused President Barack Obama of waging a war on religion in the public square.

The Obama administration had provided exemptions for the law for houses of worship and an accommodation for religious nonprofits (the subject of pending litigation) but not for for-profit corporations.

The Religious Freedom Restoration Act, the law at issue in the case, has never been applied to for-profit entities. The Court had to decide whether corporations even have religious exercise rights – making the beliefs of the employer synonymous with the entire company – and weigh that question against the potential harms to the employees.

Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood objected to a handful of contraceptives that they speculate can block a fertilized egg, which is neither documented in the science nor the medical definition of abortion. Other for-profit plaintiffs object to any birth control coverage at all.

The case was the first time the Affordable Care Act returned to the nation’s highest Court since it was first largely upheld as constitutional, and was argued by current Solicitor General Don Verrilli and former Bush administration solicitor general Paul Clement.

Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood got two very different results at the appeals court. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals declared of Hobby Lobby that “such corporations can be ‘persons’ exercising religion.” In ruling on Conestoga’s bid for exemption from the requirement, the Third Circuit disagreed: “For-profit secular corporations cannot exercise in religious exercise.”

Kyle Duncan, lead attorney on the Hobby Lobby case and general counsel at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty, told msnbc earlier this year. While employers can’t stop their employees from using birth control (including paying for it with their wages), Duncan said, “Their moral objection is being made to participate in the process.”

At oral argument, as hundreds of women rallied outside in support of birth control access, Paul Clement argued, “This is not about access to the contraception, it’s who’s going to pay for the government’s preferred subsidy.” Justice Elena Kagan, for her part, had a different answer: ”Congress has made a judgment and Congress has given a statutory entitlement and that entitlement is to women and includes contraceptive coverage, and when an employer says, no, I don’t want to give that, that woman is quite directly, quite tangibly harmed.”

The contraceptive benefit was widely seen as a political win for Obama in the 2012 election, galvanizing single women to go to the polls. Democrats are hoping a similar strategy pays off in key elections this fall.

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