A Field Guide to the Hobby Lobby Case

Yesterday, the Supreme Court ruled in favor of Oklahoma-based craft chain Hobby Lobby. This case decided whether private employers should be compelled to comply with the contraception mandate in the Affordable Care Act if it violates their religious beliefs. The verdict has made a lot of people very angry, particularly women. Hillary Clinton went on the record calling the decision “deeply disturbing.” Here is a breakdown of the ruling on Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc. and why it matters.

  • Hobby Lobby brought the case to the Supreme Court because its evangelical Christian owners believe that certain hormonal birth control methods, including Plan B and IUDs, are forms of abortion. (Not a scientifically accurate claim, by the way.) They objected to the provision of the Affordable Care Act that required for-profit companies to include contraception in their health insurance plans.
  • Hobby Lobby’s objection in the case was based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act, a statute originally intended to protect the religious expression of minority groups. (Part of its background was a case considering whether Native Americans could use the drug Peyote in religious ceremonies.)
  • The ruling only applies to companies considered to be “closely held,” a distinction that is intended to narrow the scope of the decision. But roughly 90% of all American companies fall under the term “closely held,” according to a study by the Copenhagen Business School. The term “closely held” does not mean “small.” So, if you work at certain types of for profit companies, they no longer have to cover your IUD or Plan B.
  • The decision is intended to only cover contraception issues—the Court made a point of saying that employers cannot avoid paying for other kinds of insurance just because they have religious objections. The example they brought up were vaccines, which would still be mandated. But, as Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg notes, singling out contraception is a slippery slope. “Approving some religious claims while deeming some others unworthy of accommodation could be ‘perceived as favoring one religion over another.’”
  • The decision was 5-4, with all three female justices dissenting. Of these, Justice Ginsburg gave a measured, devastating 35-page dissent of the ruling. She points out that an IUD could cost a month’s wages for a minimum wage worker. “The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby would deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage,” Ginsburg wrote. “This court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”

(Featured image via The Guardian)