A divided Supreme Court ruled Monday that some companies with religious objections can avoid the contraceptives requirement in President Obama's health care overhaul, the first time the high court has declared that businesses can hold religious views under federal law.
The justices' 5-4 decision, splitting conservatives and liberals, means the Obama administration must search for a different way of providing free contraception to women who are covered under the health insurance plans of objecting companies.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote in his majority opinion that forcing companies to pay for methods of women's contraception to which they object violates the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Contraception is among a range of preventive services that must be provided at no extra charge under the health care law that Obama signed in 2010.
Two years ago, Chief Justice John Roberts cast the pivotal Supreme Court vote that saved the Obamacare law in the midst of Obama's campaign for re-election. On Monday, Roberts sided with the four justices who would have struck down the law in its entirety, holding in favor of the religious rights of closely held corporations, like the Hobby Lobby chain of arts-and-craft stores that challenged the contraceptives provision.
Alito said the decision is limited to contraceptives and suggested two ways the administration could deal with the issue. The government could simply pay for pregnancy prevention, he said. Or it could provide the same kind of accommodation it has made available to religious-oriented, not-for-profit corporations.
Those groups can tell the government that providing the coverage violates their religious beliefs. At that point, creating a buffer, their insurer or a third-party administrator takes on the responsibility of paying for the birth control. The employer does not have to arrange the coverage or pay for it. Insurers get reimbursed by the government through credits against fees owed under other provisions of the health care law.