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U.S. Supreme Court rules on the ACA's contraceptive mandate

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In this morning's case, Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc., the United States Supreme Court, by a 5-4 vote, upheld an opinion by the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals. Justices Alito, Roberts, Scalia, Kennedy, and Thomas upheld the Circuit Court's opinion, while Justices Ginsburg, Sotomayor, Breyer, and Kagan dissented.

In its opinion, the Court reasserted that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act's contraceptive mandate, which requires employers to provide cost-free insurance coverage for 20 forms of contraception, is a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993. Among the 20 forms of contraception, four of them, including two kinds of morning-after pills, violate the religious convictions of the companies' owners. In previous cases involving the RFRA, the Department of Health and Human Services admitted that non-profit organizations have equal right to operate according to their owners' religious convictions; thus, their is no logical reason for why a for-profit entity cannot do the same. The intent to make money is not a reason, because the Courts have already ruled in cases concerning an individual attempting to make money as a retail merchant; neither is the corporate nature of the business, because the RFRA already protects non-profit corporations.

The Court also upheld that even though the government's aim to guarantee cost-free access to contraception is a compelling interest that satisfies the RFRA, HHS failed to satisfy the stipulation in RFRA that the government use the "least restrictive means" of doing so; HHS failed to show that it lacked any less restrictive way of implementing cost-free access. Human Services attempted to say that since the cost of not providing coverage at all (a $2,000-per-employee penalty) is less than the cost of providing coverage, that corporations are not under a "substantial burden" to provide coverage. The Court disagreed, saying that this notion ignores that the entities have religious reason for providing health insurance coverage and that whether said coverage is more expensive than the alternative penalties is not clearly shown.

The Supreme Court limited the scope of this opinion to this particular mandate, stating that the opinion does not affect other mandates for insurance coverage, such as for vaccinations, and that it does not give permission for employers to use religious beliefs as justification to engage in illegal forms of discrimination.

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