Ruling Expected This Week in Hobby Lobby/Conestoga Wood


By Hadley Heath Manning

As we near the end of the Supreme Court's 2014 term, we anxiously await a ruling in Sebelius v. Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood v. Sebelius

The Court heard these cases on March 25. For highlights from the oral arguments, click here.

These cases specifically challenge a mandate in the Affordable Care Act aimed at employers, requiring that all employers of 50 or more workers provide insurance coverage for all FDA-approved contraceptive methods. Some of these methods violate the religious beliefs of the families that own Hobby Lobby, Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialities Corp.  While these two cases have achieved high-profile news coverage as they've reached the Supreme Court level, they are really only 2 among more than 100 cases filed by more than 300 plaintiffs who similarly object to the law's mandate.

Supporters of ObamaCare (and the contraception mandate) have focused on women's health and access to birth-control drugs when framing these cases. But really, these cases are about much more. The constitiutional questions at stake hinge on the First Amendment freedom of religion and a statute from 1993, the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA), which put into place several "tests" or questions about how government may or may not infringe upon religious rights. RFRA requires that a compelling public interest be established in order for the government to act in a manner that might infringe upon religious freedom, and also requires that the government show that it is acting to achieve this public interest by the least restrictive means possible. Both of these issues - the matter of whether this contraception mandate aims at a "compelling public interest" and whether it is the "least restrictive means" to that end - were discussed in the oral arguments.

Importantly, a ruling in favor of the contraceptive mandate's challengers (the family-owned businesses) would not result in restricted access to birth control methods. All FDA-approved contraceptives would still be available to women. Women would be free to buy different health insurance that covers these methods and treatments on their own, or simply pay for the uncovered drugs or services out of pocket.  While this may present a hardship for some women, Title X government programs already exist to help low-income families access affordable birth control. A better approach to lowering the cost of birth control would be to focus on more cost sharing and more price competition, not less.

Stay tuned to for a full de-briefing of this week's ruling as soon as it is out.


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