Hobby Lobby Ruling Raises Cheers, Concerns From Associations

Monday’s landmark decision by the U.S. Supreme Court limiting the contraceptive coverage mandate of the Affordable Care Act drew a wide range of reactions from the association community this week.

On the final day of its current term, the U.S. Supreme Court on Monday put significant limitations on a key provision of the Affordable Care Act that requires businesses to offer their employees contraceptive coverage.

In a 5-4 decision [PDF] in Burwell v. Hobby Lobby, Inc., the majority held that under the federal Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, closely held businesses may not be required to provide coverage that conflicts with the owners’ sincere religious beliefs.

Numerous religious, medical, and civil rights organizations, some of which submitted amicus briefs in the case, reacted strongly to the decision. Predictably, they were just as split as the justices on the issue, and their reasons for their viewpoints varied.

Religious Liberty

Many groups with missions focused on religious freedom cheered the ruling, including these:

The Catholic Medical Association said the decision put a halt to the Obama administration’s “abuse of executive power” and “attacks on religious liberty.” “At the heart of the Hobby Lobby and related cases is the right of Americans to live and work according to their beliefs without fear of government punishment,” CMA said in a statement. “Americans should never be forced to surrender their religious beliefs when opening a business.”

The Union of Orthodox Jewish Congregations of America said in a statement, “In essence, the Court’s ruling stands for the proposition that—even when the government seeks to implement valuable policy goals—it must do so without trampling upon the conscientious beliefs of American citizens, especially, as is the case here, when there are many other ways to meet the policy goals without infringing on religious liberty.”


Most secular healthcare associations expressed concern about the outcome.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists said it was “profoundly disappointed” in the ruling. “This decision inappropriately allows employers to interfere in women’s healthcare decisions,” ACOG President John C. Jennings said in a statement. “All healthcare decisions—including decisions about contraception—should be made by a woman and her doctor, based on the patient’s needs and her current health. Her employer’s religious beliefs should not overrule her doctor’s advice.”

The American College of Physicians and the American Public Health Association issued similar statements.

Civil Rights

The American Civil Liberties Union said the ruling was a costly blow to equal rights. “This law was designed to ensure women’s equality by eliminating the disparities in healthcare costs between men and women, and to ensure women have the ability to make decisions about whether and when to become parents, which, in turn, allows them to participate equally in society,” the ACLU said on its website.

The National Council of Jewish Women, like a number of groups opposed to the Court’s decision, said it would continue to press for both reproductive and religious rights. “NCJW fought long and hard to ensure such benefits were made available when the new law was implemented,” the group said in a statement. “We firmly believe that women should have access to the care they need without any interference from their employer. … Despite today’s ruling, our efforts to secure women’s reproductive and religious freedoms are not over.”

Middle Ground?

Catholics in Alliance for the Common Good staked out something like a middle ground on the merits of the decision and used the opportunity to press for a different policy objective.

“We are glad to see that the Supreme Court thinks that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act narrowly applies to some privately and closely held corporations,” CACG said on its website. “That being said, we remain committed to seeing the implementation of healthcare reform throughout the nation. … [We] too believe that access to quality healthcare is a God-given right for all Americans. This case once again proves the necessity of a single-payer healthcare system where access is not dependent on one’s job.”

(photo by Nicholas Eckhart/Flickr)

Rob Stott

By Rob Stott

Rob Stott is a contributing editor for Associations Now. MORE

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