SCOTUS Signals Broader Impact of Hobby Lobby RulingPosted: July 7, 2014
Many anti-choice extremists continue to defend the Supreme Court’s decision in favor of Hobby Lobby by claiming the ruling was about religious objection to abortion and would only apply to four contraceptives. A series of orders by the Supreme Court after the Hobby Lobby ruling and a separate ruling allowing Wheaton College not to register its religious objections to the contraceptive mandate, however, signal the impact of the decision will be much broader.
Following the Hobby Lobby ruling, the Supreme Court strategically denied or ordered reviews of six cases in a manner that suggests they intend to allow lower courts to set a precedent for applying this religious exemption to all forms of contraception. For this reason, it is important to note that there is scientific consensus that Plan B, Ella, IUDs and the other 16 forms of birth control in the contraception mandate are not abortificients. This has opened a large loophole for lower courts to interpret the validity of religious objections to all forms of birth control in the same way the Supreme Court did for four forms in the Hobby Lobby ruling.
The Supreme Court ordered the review of three cases in which a federal appeals court rejected challenges from companies trying to exempt themselves from providing all forms of contraceptives and preventive services. In the same series of orders, the Supreme Court specifically denied review of three other cases that upheld objections to all forms of contraceptives. What this means is because the Supreme Court denied the review of cases that ruled in favor of companies circumventing the whole contraceptive mandate, those companies can legally deny women coverage for all forms of contraception. Now when the cases to be reviewed are considered, precedent will support the appeals court ruling in favor of employers who object to coverage for all 20 forms of birth control.
Days after Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court also ruled that Wheaton College, a small evangelical school in Illinois already exempted from providing contraception coverage, does not have to register its religious objections with the federal government until full arguments are heard. Wheaton College is attempting to reject the religious accommodation to the contraceptive mandate that the majority of Supreme Court justices lauded as a better, less restrictive alternative to the mandate and suggested be applied to all closely held companies with religious objections. This accommodation gives religious nonprofits an avenue to not cover birth control, but still requires insurance companies to provide it at no cost to those who request it. A ruling in favor of Wheaton College seems unlikely but, in combination with the six orders, would mean that an employer’s religious objections would deny women coverage, from both their employer and an insurance company, for all 20 forms of birth control.
The Wheaton College ruling, along with the series of six orders following Hobby Lobby, suggests that the Supreme Court has already implicitly made a broader ruling against birth control coverage and the basic healthcare needs of women than many claim. With Hobby Lobby, the Supreme Court created an opportunity for lower courts to create a hierarchy for religious freedom that could deny women coverage for every form of contraception.