Opinion of the Court

Supreme Court of the United States, June 30, 2014

BURWELL, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, ET AL. v. HOBBY LOBBY STORES, INC., ET AL.

and

CONESTOGA WOOD SPECIALTIES CORPORATION ET AL., PETITIONERS 13–356 v. SYLVIA BURWELL, SECRETARY OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES, ET AL.

Justice Alito delivered the opinion of the Court.

We must decide in these cases whether the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), 107 Stat. 1488, 42 U. S. C. §2000bb et seq., permits the United States Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to demand that three closely held corporations provide health-insurance coverage for methods of contraception that violate the sincerely held religious beliefs of the companies’ owners.

In holding that the HHS mandate is unlawful, we reject HHS’s argument that the owners of the companies forfeited all RFRA protection when they decided to organize their businesses as corporations rather than sole proprietorships or general partnerships. The plain terms of RFRA make it perfectly clear that Congress did not discriminate in this way against men and women who wish to run their businesses as for-profit corporations in the manner required by their religious beliefs.

Since RFRA applies in these cases, we must decide whether the challenged HHS regulations substantially burden the exercise of religion, and we hold that they do.

****

Ginsburg, J., dissenting

Importantly, the decisions whether to claim benefits under the plans are made not by Hobby Lobby or Conestoga, but by the covered employees and dependents, in consultation with their health care providers. Should an employee of Hobby Lobby or Conestoga share the religious beliefs of the Greens and Hahns, she is of course under no compulsion to use the contraceptives in question. But “[n]o individual decision by an employee and her physician — be it to use contraception, treat an infection, or have a hip replaced — is in any meaningful sense [her employer’s] decision or action.” Grote v. Sebelius, 708 F. 3d 850, 865 (CA7 2013) (Rovner, J., dissenting). It is doubtful that Congress, when it specified that burdens must be “substantia[l],” had in mind a linkage thus interrupted by independent decisionmakers (the woman and her health counselor) standing between the challenged government action and the religious exercise claimed to be infringed. Any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby’s or Conestoga’s plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will be the woman’s autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults.

http://www.supremecourt.gov/opinions/13pdf/13-354_olp1.pdf

Allowing an employer to deny coverage of family planning services for employees, strictly on the basis of the employer’s own religion, is yet one more flaw in our highly dysfunctional system of health care financing – a system that is being perpetuated by the Affordable Care Act. If we had a single payer national health program, the employer would not be involved.

As Justice Ginsburg stated in her dissent, a woman’s use of family planning services should be “the woman’s autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults.” If religious beliefs enter into that decision, it should be the religious beliefs of the individual and not anyone else.