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Landmark Ruling

Hobby Lobby wins right to deny birth control to employees under Religious Freedom Act

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Hobby Lobby store
Hobby Lobby has nearly 100 craft stores in Texas. Wikimedia Commons

In a narrow decision, the Supreme Court ruled that some businesses do not have to provide contraception coverage if they are religiously opposed to the practice. The 5-4 decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby weakens a provision of the Affordable Care Act that required all company health plans to cover birth control.

Oklahoma-based Hobby Lobby has nearly 100 Texas locations. Founder David Green objects to the use of emergency contraceptive methods, including the morning after pill. Employees of the craft store chain would still be able to obtain such a pill, though the process would be more complicated than filling a regular prescription.

After obtaining what has been dubbed as a "permission slip" from their employer, women requiring emergency contraceptive would go directly to their insurance company to obtain the prescription.

Considering the personal and time-sensitive nature of the morning after pill, the accommodation has been decried by women's rights activists.

The ruling was backed by five male justices and delivered by Justice Samuel Alito. The court's three female members (Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sonia Sotomayor, Elana Kagan) dissented, along with Justice Stephen Breyer.

The landmark judgment asserts that closely held, for-profit corporations can claim exemption from the mandate under the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The 1993 provision previously applied only to nonprofit companies.

Ginsburg characterized the decision as one of "startling breadth."

"[The ruling] demands accommodation of a for-profit corporation's religious beliefs no matter the impact that accommodation may have on third parties who do not share the corporation owners' religious faith," she wrote.

Politico reports the ruling is the first time the Supreme Court "has allowed companies the ability to declare a religious belief — a decision that could reverberate far past the Affordable Care Act."

As the Washington Post points out, recent polls on the birth control mandate reveal widespread confusion on the subject. Three CBS News polls show widely different opinions, with support for contraception coverage ranging from just 40 percent to a clear majority of 66 percent.

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