Supreme Court Rules That Employers Can Deny You Birth Control

Arts-and-crafts retailer Hobby Lobby wins controversial case in a narrow 5-4 decision.

On Monday morning (June 30), the Supreme Court came to a close decision in the highly disputed Burwell v. Hobby Lobby case, which took on the issue of whether closely held, private businesses were required to provide insurance coverage for birth control to their employees. Hobby Lobby, an arts and crafts retailer, argued that covering contraception would violate the company's religious beliefs. And the justices supported that notion, narrowly ruling in favor of Hobby Lobby with a 5-4 vote.

The contraception mandate was originally part of the Affordable Care Act, but this ruling means that businesses like Hobby Lobby are no longer required to provide insurance that includes birth control. The decision came about after 49 for-profit companies -- notably the craft store and cabinet-makers Conestoga Wood Specialties -- argued for an exemption attributed to their religious values.

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While some of these companies objected to all forms of birth control, Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood specifically opposed IUDs and emergency contraception. Those methods, they argued, are similar to abortion in that they disrupt fertilization.

Why Does This Decision Matter?

In short, your job can now deny you and other employees birth control, which leads to real consequences for young women in the workplace. They'll have to go elsewhere for their birth control, and the most effective contraceptives are often crazy expensive (IUDs, for example, can cost up to a month's salary at minimum wage).

These circumstances could prevent women who want to use the most effective form of birth control from being able to do so, unless they can pay for it themselves or have access to other funding.

The decision is also a major turning point on the Affordable Care Act front. Because although the contraception mandate was only a small part of Obamacare, it was a critical component that garnered a huge amount of support from young women in particular. The Hobby Lobby ruling is a significant victory for those who oppose Obamacare.

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What Happens Next?

Though the ruling applies only to birth control, employers could extend the decision's logic to vaccines and other medical procedures that potentially clash with a private company's religious beliefs.

To help combat this, Justice Samuel Alito wrote in the majority opinion that the "decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs. Other coverage requirements, such as immunizations, may be supported by different interests (for example, the need to combat the spread of infectious diseases) and may involve different arguments about the least restrictive means of providing them."

In other words, there will be cases where religious values may conflict with an employee's medical needs, but an employer can't deny them access at will. Particularly, if the medical needs benefit the greater community.

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