H&W: Supreme Court’s Contraception Decision

175209863 (1)On June 30, 2014, the United States Supreme Court decided the case of Burwell vs. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.  The Court held that a closely held corporation does not have to provide contraceptives services under the Affordable Care Act (ACA) if the corporation’s owners have a sincere conviction that doing so would violate their religious beliefs.

Employers wishing to take advantage of this decision should be aware of what it does and does not permit.

  • It only applies to closely held corporations.
  • It only applies to contraceptive methods that the employer would otherwise be required to provide under the ACA.  For example, it does not permit employers to restrict coverage for vaccinations that may be required under the ACA based on religious beliefs.
  • It does not provide protection for employers that may wish to characterize illegal discrimination as a religious practice.

It is worth noting that this case was not decided on First Amendment grounds.  Rather, it was based on the Court’s interpretation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).  That Act prohibits the government from substantially burdening a person’s practice of religion unless the government can demonstrate that application of the burden to the person is in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest; and is the least restrictive means of furthering that compelling governmental interest.

The Court held that the government had failed to meet the “least restrictive means” threshold.  It noted, for example, that the government had previously established an exemption for nonprofit organizations with religious objections through a process of self-certification.   This leaves open the possibility that the government may establish some type of certification requirement for employers that wish to opt out of providing contraceptive coverage.

Naturally, Compliancedashboard will cover any further regulatory developments.

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