We are extremely disappointed that today, the United States Supreme Court has given employers license to disregard an important requirement of the Affordable Care Act (ACA)—that private insurance plans cover contraceptives without a co-pay. Today’s decision in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. allows employers to assert religious objections to opt out of providing this coverage, thus allowing them to stand between women and the essential health care they deserve.
At issue in the consolidated cases, brought by the owners of the for-profit business Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft stores, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a cabinet manufacturer, was whether corporations may assert religious objections to the ACA’s requirement that insurance plans cover contraceptives as part of covered preventive care. The owners claimed that providing coverage for certain forms of contraception was contrary to their religious beliefs and, thus, sought an exemption from the law.
This unprecedented decision extends religious freedom protections for the first time to for-profit corporations, not just individuals. In other words, the Supreme Court recognized corporations as persons with religious beliefs that entitle them to seek exemptions from federal laws such as the ACA’s contraceptive coverage requirement.
While we are disheartened, we aren’t giving up. Most immediately, we will keep advocating, as we have since 2005, for pharmacy rules that recognize individual pharmacists’ rights to refuse to dispense certain medications but that also protect patients’ timely access to health care. The Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals postponed the oral argument in the challenge to those rules, Stormans v. Selecky, until the Supreme Court decision in Hobby Lobby, so we eagerly anticipate hearing from the court soon about the rescheduled oral argument.
We will also keep fighting to ensure that religious liberty means more than the right to practice religion however you wish—and that it also means your freedom not to have religion imposed on you by others, and to be free from discrimination. This means fighting restrictions on access to services when hospitals are taken over by religious health care systems; it means advocating for limits on exemptions for religious nonprofits from laws applicable to other businesses; it means ensuring businesses can’t discriminate against LGBT employees or customers based on religious objections to their “lifestyles.”
Make no mistake: The Supreme Court Hobby Lobby decision is a major encroachment on our right to be free from religion. But we hope that it will inspire you, as it has inspired us, to redouble your efforts to advocate for creative solutions that protect women’s health care, limit discrimination, and continue fighting for justice for all.