The US Supreme Court decided today that “closely held” corporations that object to contraceptives on religious grounds can deny this preventive coverage to female employees. There will be a great deal of constitutional banter on this opinion but, not being a constitutional scholar, I will make a few practical points.
First, when HHS wrote this popular regulation ensuring that women have access to preventive health care, the department looked to what most states require as a guide. North Carolina, along with a majority of states, mandate that health plans cover contraceptives. Our state has a reasonable exemption for religious employers, and HHS included a similar exemption in its regulations. I hasten to add that, despite this state law, few employers have argued that our state is impeding their religious freedoms.
Second, if you read the Supreme Court decision the majority opinion spends strikingly little time examining the possible impact on women. Instead, Justice Samuel Alito spends most of his space arguing that corporations are people and should enjoy the same religious rights and freedoms as individuals. In contrast, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg spends a great deal of time balancing the claims of the Hobby Lobby owners with the health care needs of female employees.
Third, this opinion opens the gate to whittle away many types of preventive health coverage mandates. Justice Alito says that each of these requirements will have to undergo its own analysis and that the current decision is narrowly tailored, but Hobby Lobby certainly invites a great deal of mischief. We will find out in the coming months and years just how deeply this court is willing to cut into protections for women and families.