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Posts Tagged ‘womens’ health’


Reason in Hobby Lobby

Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP

 

This is a Part 4 followup of the Hobby Lobby legal precedent.

  • Where has the reason gone?

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2014/07/07/where-has-reason-gone-2/

  • Justice Ginsberg written dissent – Third Part

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2014/07/08/justice-ginsberg-written-dissent/

  • The physicians’ view of Supreme Court on an issue of public health

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2014/07/08/the-physicians-view-of-supreme-court-on-an-issue-of-public-health/

  •  Reason in Hobby Lobby

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2014/07/08/reason-in-hobby-lobby/

 

 Reason in Hobby Lobby

 

 

Reason #1 SCOTUS Will Regret Hobby Lobby byMan from Wasichustan

After oral arguments in the Hobby Lobby case, I wrote a very misnamed but widely read diary in which I echoed Attorney and Ring of Fire radio host Mike Papantonio’s argument that the SCOTUS would never rule in favor of Hobby Lobby for a really Big Business reason: It pierces the corporate veil.  If Hobby Lobby’s owners can give their Corporation religion, their religion gives Hobby Lobby’s owners–and any other owner, shareholder, officer, whatever–liability for the actions of the corporation.  Mr. Papantonio, who happens to be one of America’s preeminent trial lawyers, sees it as an opportunity to sue owners for the company’s negligence. Some other people, it turns out, agree with his assessment and expand on what it means….

That separation is what legal and business scholars call the “corporate veil,” and it’s fundamental to the entire operation. Now, thanks to the Hobby Lobby case, it’s in question. By letting Hobby Lobby’s owners assert their personal religious rights over an entire corporation, the Supreme Court has poked a major hole in the veil. In other words, if a company is not truly separate from its owners, the owners could be made responsible for its debts and other burdens.  So says Alex Park, writing in Salon today.

“If religious shareholders can do it, why can’t creditors and government regulators pierce the corporate veil in the other direction?” Burt Neuborne, a law professor at New York University, asked in an email. That’s a question raised by 44 other law professors, who filed a friends-of-the-court brief that implored the Court to reject Hobby Lobby’s argument and hold the veil in place. Here’s what they argued: Allowing a corporation, through either shareholder vote or board resolution, to take on and assert the religious beliefs of its shareholders in order to avoid having to comply with a generally-applicable law with a secular purpose is fundamentally at odds with the entire concept of incorporation.

Creating such an unprecedented and idiosyncratic tear in the corporate veil would also carry with it unintended consequences, many of which are not easily foreseen. This is definitely going to complicate things for the religious extremists on the SCOTUS and empire wide as these lawsuits inevitably proliferate.  Putting on the popcorn….now.

George Takei’s blistering response to #HobbyLobby: Could a Muslim Corp impose Sharia Law?

byVyan   THU JUL 03, 2014 AT 09:12 AM PDT “The ruling elevates the rights of a FOR-PROFIT CORPORATION over those of its women employees and opens the door to all manner of claims that a company can refuse services based on its owner’s religion,” Takei wrote.

(O)ne wonders,” he said, “whether the case would have come out differently if a Muslim-run chain business attempted to impose Sharia law on its employees.” “Hobby Lobby is not a church. It’s a business — and a big one at that,” he continued. “Businesses must and should be required to comply with neutrally crafted laws of general applicability.

Your boss should not have a say over your healthcare. Just as Justice Ginsberg and Mr Takei have suggested, the Hyper-Religious are already attempting to capitalize on the SCOTUS new granting of the rights of an individual to a corporate entity. In this decision the SCOTUS Majority opinion claimed that they were not granting the equal legitimacy of such follow on requests, but they’ve kicked open the door. Takei – bless his soul – also pointed out the basic hypocrisy of Hobby Lobby’s business practices in regards to religion.  Noting that… …Hobby Lobby has invested in multiple companies that manufacture abortion drugs and birth control. The company receives most of its merchandise from China, a country where overpopulation has led to mandatory abortions and sterilizations for women who try to have more than one child.

What the battle over birth control is really about     byteacherken

in a 2012 piece at Alternet by Sara Robinson. Conservative bishops and Congressmen are fighting a rear-guard action against one of the most revolutionary changes in human history. Robinson suggests 500 years from now looking back, the three great achievements of the 20th Century are likely to be the invention of the integrated circuit (without which the internet does not exist), the Moon landing (which she thinks will carry the same impact as Magellan’s circumnavigation of the globe), and the mass availability of nearly 100% effective contraception.

 Free Birth Control is Emerging Standard for Women   RICARDO ALONSO-ZALDIVAR, Associated Press       07/07/2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — More than half of privately insured women are getting free birth control under President Barack Obama’s health law, a major coverage shift that’s likely to advance. This week the Supreme Court allowed some employers with religious scruples to opt out, but most companies appear to be going in the opposite direction. Recent data from the IMS Institute document a sharp change during 2013. The share of privately insured women who got their birth control pills without a copayment jumped to 56 percent, from 14 percent in 2012. The law’s requirement that most health plans cover birth control as prevention, at no additional cost to women, took full effect in 2013. The average annual saving for women was $269. “It’s a big number,” said institute director Michael Kleinrock. The institute is the research arm of IMS Health, a Connecticut-based technology company that uses pharmacy records to track prescription drug sales. The core of Obama’s law — taxpayer-subsidized coverage for the uninsured — benefits a relatively small share of Americans. But free preventive care— from flu shots to colonoscopies —is a dividend of sorts for the majority with employer coverage.
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Justice Ginsberg Written Dissent

Curator and Reporter: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP

 

This is the third of a series of four articles on Hobby Lobby and the consequences.

 

  • Where has the reason gone?

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2014/07/07/where-has-reason-gone-2/

  • Justice Ginsberg written dissent – Third Part

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2014/07/08/justice-ginsberg-written-dissent/

  • The physicians’ view of Supreme Court on an issue of public health

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2014/07/08/the-physicians-view-of-supreme-court-on-an-issue-of-public-health/

  •  Reason in Hobby Lobby

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2014/07/08/reason-in-hobby-lobby/

 

 

Justice Ginsberg Written Dissent

The dissenters deride as unfounded the Court’s new recognition of religious rights for for-profit corporations: Until this litigation, no decision of this Court recognized a for-profit corporation’s qualification for a religious exemption from a generally applicable law, whether under the Free Exercise Clause or RFRA.

The absence of such precedent is just what one would expect, for the exercise of religion is characteristic of natural persons, not artificial legal entities. As Chief Justice Marshall observed nearly two centuries ago,   a corporation is “an artificial being, invisible, intangible, and existing only in contemplation of law.

 Trustees of Dartmouth College v. Woodward, 4 Wheat. 518, 636 (1819). Corporations, Justice Stevens more recently reminded, “have no consciences, no beliefs, no feelings, no thoughts, no desires.” Citizens United v. Federal Election Comm’n, 558 U. S. 310, 466 (2010) (opinion concurring in part and dissenting in part). The First Amendment’s free exercise protections, the Court has indeed recognized, shelter churches and other nonprofit religion-based organizations. “For many individuals, religious activity derives meaning in large measure from participation in a larger religious community,” and “furtherance of the autonomy of religious organizations often furthers individual religious freedom as well.”  The Court’s “special solicitude to the rights of religious organizations,” however, is just that. No such solicitude is traditional for commercial organizations.

Indeed, until today, religious exemptions had never been extended to any entity operating in “the commercial, profit-making world.”  The reason why is hardly obscure. Religious organizations exist to foster the interests of persons subscribing to the same religious faith. Not so of for-profit corporations. Workers who sustain the operations of those corporations commonly are not drawn from one religious community. Indeed, by law, no religion-based criterion can restrict the work force of for-profit corporations.

The distinction between a community made up of believers in the same religion and one embracing persons of diverse beliefs, clear as it is, constantly escapes the Court’s attention. One can only wonder why the Court shuts this key difference from sight. But even if these for-profit corporations can maintain religious beliefs, this doesn’t really burden them: Undertaking the inquiry that the Court forgoes, (dissent) would conclude that

the connection between the families’ religious objections and the contraceptive coverage requirement is too attenuated to rank as substantial. The requirement carries no command that Hobby Lobby or Conestoga purchase or provide the contraceptives they find objectionable.

Instead, it calls on the companies covered by the requirement to direct money into undifferentiated funds that finance a wide variety of benefits under comprehensive health plans. Those plans, in order to comply with the ACA, must offer contraceptive coverage without cost sharing, just as they must cover an array of other preventive services.

Importantly, the decisions whether to claim benefits under the plans are made not by Hobby Lobby or Conestoga, but by the covered employees and dependents, in consultation with their health care providers.

Should an employee of Hobby Lobby or Conestoga share the religious beliefs of the Greens and Hahns, she is of course under no compulsion to use the contraceptives in question. But “[n]o individual decision by an employee and her physician—be it to use contraception, treat an infection, or have a hip replaced—is in any meaningful sense [her employer’s] decision or action.”

It is doubtful that Congress, when it specified that burdens must be “substantia[l],” had in mind a linkage thus interrupted by independent decisionmakers (the woman and her health counselor) standing between the challenged government action and the religious exercise claimed to be infringed. Any decision to use contraceptives made by a woman covered under Hobby Lobby’s or Conestoga’s plan will not be propelled by the Government, it will be the woman’s autonomous choice, informed by the physician she consults.

And let’s be clear: these are truly compelling governmental interests: To recapitulate, the mandated contraception coverage enables women to avoid the health problems unintended pregnancies may visit on them and their children.The coverage helps safeguard the health of women for whom pregnancy may be hazardous, even life threatening. See Brief for American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists et al. as Amici Curiae 14–15. And the mandate secures benefits wholly unrelated to pregnancy, preventing certain cancers, menstrual disorders, and pelvic pain. …

It bears note in this regard that the cost of an IUD is nearly equivalent to a month’s full-time pay for workers earning the minimum wage; that almost one-third of women would change their contraceptive method if costs were not a factor; and that only one-fourth of women who request an IUD actually have one inserted after finding out how expensive it would be. See also Eisenberg, supra, at S60 (recent study found that women who face out-of-pocket IUD costs in excess of $50 were “11-times less likely to obtain an IUD than women who had to pay less than $50”); Postlethwaite, Trussell, Zoolakis, Shabear, & Petitti, A Comparison of Contraceptive Procurement Pre- and Post-Benefit Change, 76 Contraception 360, 361–362 (2007) (when one health system eliminated patient cost sharing for IUDs, use of this form of contraception more than doubled).

As for the “let the government pay” alternative, the dissenters find it lacking: Impeding women’s receipt of benefits “by requiring them to take steps to learn about, and to sign up for, a new [government funded and administered] health benefit” was scarcely what Congress contemplated. Ibid. More-over, Title X of the Public Health Service Act  “is the nation’s only dedicated source of federal funding for safety net family planning services … Safety net programs like Title X are not designed to absorb the unmet needs of . . . insured individuals.”

And where is the stopping point to the “let the government pay” alternative? Suppose an employer’s sincerely held religious belief is offended by health coverage of vaccines, or paying the minimum wage, or according women equal pay for substantially similar work? Does it rank as a less restrictive alternative to require the government to provide the money or benefit to which the employer has a religion-based objection?… Conestoga suggests that, if its employees had to acquire and pay for the contraceptives (to which the corporation objects) on their own, a tax credit would qualify as a less restrictive alternative.

A tax credit, of course, is one variety of “let the government pay.” In addition to departing from the existing employer-based system of health insurance, Conestoga’s alternative would require a woman to reach into her own pocket in the first instance, and it would do nothing for the woman too poor to be aided by a tax credit.

In sum, in view of what Congress sought to accomplish, i.e., comprehensive preventive care for women furnished through employer-based health plans, none of the proffered alternatives would satisfactorily serve the compelling interests to which Congress responded. And, in conclusion, the dissenters warn about what’s next: Hobby Lobby and Conestoga surely do not stand alone as commercial enterprises seeking exemptions from generally applicable laws on the basis of their religious beliefs.

See, e.g.,Newman v. Piggie Park Enterprises, Inc., 256 F. Supp. 941, 945 (SC 1966) (owner of restaurant chain refused to serve black patrons based on his religious beliefs opposing racial integration); In re Minnesota ex rel. McClure, 370 N. W. 2d 844, 847 (Minn. 1985) (born-again Christians who owned closely held, for-profit health clubs believed that the Bible proscribed hiring or retaining an “individua[l] living with but not married to a person of the opposite sex,”

“a young, single woman working without her father’s consent or a married woman working without her husband’s consent,” and any person “antagonistic to the Bible,” including “fornicators and homosexuals” (internal quotation marks omitted)), appeal dismissed, 478 U. S. 1015 (1986) ; Elane Photography, LLC v. Willock, 2013–NMSC–040, _ N. M. _, 309 P. 3d 53 (for-profit photography business owned by a husband and wife refused to photograph a lesbian couple’s commitment ceremony based on the religious beliefs of the company’s owners), cert. denied, 572 U. S. _ (2014).

Would RFRA require exemptions in cases of this ilk? And if not, how does the Court divine which religious beliefs are worthy of accommodation, and which are not? Isn’t the Court disarmed from making such a judgment given its recognition that “courts must not presume to determine . . . the plausibility of a religious claim”? Would the exemption the Court holds RFRA demands for employers with religiously grounded objections to the use of certain contraceptives extend to employers with religiously grounded objections to blood transfusions (Jehovah’s Witnesses); antidepressants (Scientologists); medications derived from pigs, including anesthesia, intravenous fluids, and pills coated with gelatin (certain Muslims, Jews, and Hindus); and vaccinations (Christian Scientists, among others)?

According to counsel for Hobby Lobby, “each one of these cases . . . would have to be evaluated on its own . . . apply[ing] the compelling interest-least restrictive alternative test.” Not much help there for the lower courts bound by today’s decision. … There is an overriding interest, I believe, in keeping the courts “out of the business of evaluating the relative merits of differing religious claims,” or the sincerity with which an asserted religious belief is held. Indeed, approving some religious claims while deeming others unworthy of accommodation could be “perceived as favoring one religion over another,” the very “risk the Establishment Clause was designed to preclude.”

The Court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield by its immoderate reading of RFRA. I would confine religious exemptions under that Act to organizations formed “for a religious purpose,” “engage[d] primarily in carrying out that religious purpose,” and not “engaged . . . substantially in the exchange of goods or services for money beyond nominal amounts.” ORIGINALLY POSTED TO ADAM B ON MON JUN 30, 2014 AT 09:05 AM PDT. TAGS  1st Amendment Affordable Care Act contraceptive mandate Health Care Hobby Lobby   Religious Freedom SCOTUS Supreme Court

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Physicians’ View of Supreme Court on an Issue of Public Health

Curator: Larry H. Bernstein, MD, FCAP

  • Where has the reason gone?

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2014/07/07/where-has-reason-gone-2/

  • Justice Ginsberg written dissent – Third Part

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2014/07/08/justice-ginsberg-written-dissent/

  • The physicians’ view of Supreme Court on an issue of public health

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2014/07/08/the-physicians-view-of-supreme-court-on-an-issue-of-public-health/

  •  Reason in Hobby Lobby

https://pharmaceuticalintelligence.com/2014/07/08/reason-in-hobby-lobby/

 

Physicians’ View of Supreme Court on an Issue of Public Health

The physicians are under considerable stress.  They have a minimum of 8 years of post graduate university education to practice as a generalist or  in a medical, pediatric, gynecological or surgical related specialty.  A significant loss is incurred in the cost of loans for education to many. A significant sacrifice is made in time for family.  A primary obligation is incurred toward the wellbeing of the patient, and the community that has to be respected and protected by civil law.

 

Supreme Court Issues Hobby Lobby Decision

By Joyce Frieden, News Editor, MedPage Today  Published: Jun 30, 2014

The Supreme Court has struck down the Affordable Care Act requirement that employers must include no-cost contraceptive coverage in employee health insurance plans. The 5-4 decision decision issued today in the Hobby Lobby case (Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, Inc.) follows conflicting appellate court rulings in cases involving businesses that objected to the ACA’s birth control requirement on religious grounds. The businesses said the ACA stepped on their religious freedoms.

The 2010 health law mandates that all health plans provide preventive services — including birth control — free of cost-sharing. But some corporations — most notably arts-and-crafts giant Hobby Lobby and its sister company Mardel, a Christian bookstore chain — sued the Department of Health and Human Services to be exempted from having to comply with the mandate. In its 5-4 decision, written by Justice Samuel Alito, the Court ruled that the mandate violates the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993, “which prohibits the ‘Government [from] substantially burden[ing] a person’s exercise of religion’” unless it shows that doing so is “in furtherance of a compelling governmental interest” and “is the least restrictive means” of doing do. The decision summary also notes that the Department of Health and Human Serivces (HHS) “argues that the companies cannot sue because they are for-profit corporations, and that the owners cannot sue because the regulations apply only to the companies, but that would leave merchants with a difficult choice:

  • give up the right to seek judicial protection of their religious liberty or forgo the benefits of operating as corporations.

RFRA’s text shows that Congress designed the statute to provide very broad protection for religious liberty and did not intend to put merchants to such a choice.” Donna Harrison, MD, executive director of the American Association of Pro-Life Obstetricians & Gynecologists (AAPLOG), noted that Hobby Lobby was in particular objecting to very specific contraceptives — the emergency contraceptive Ella and intrauterine devices, which she noted are capable of killing embryos, either by preventing their implantation or killing them after they have been implanted.

Art Caplan, PhD, director of the medical ethics division at the NYU Langone Medical Center in New York City, oberved “decision could have a very negative impact” on women’s ability to obtain contraception,  and “it could affect many women even if only a small percentage of companies followed suit.” “The other problem,” he told MedPage Today in a video interview, “is that if your employer says ‘I’m not covering contraception,’ you may decide to go with methods that don’t involve pharmaceutical control, or you may rely on something like emergency contraception” — decisions that could lead to more abortions, which would be

  • an ironic outcome since many employers’ objections to contraception revolve around their objections to abortion.

Harrison, of AAPLOG, noted that the decision should be reassuring to physicians who object to prescribing particular forms of contraception that they see as abortifacients, since insurers may have been considering excluding such doctors from their provider networks if the mandate had been upheld. “This will help incentivize insurers to not exclude ‘conscientious doctors’ from their networks,” she said.

More Physician Groups Weigh In

Many of the other physician groups issuing statements today expressed disappointment in the ruling.

“Allowing for-profit employers to exclude coverage for contraception is itself deeply concerning because of the demonstrated adverse impact it will have on women’s health,” David Fleming, MD, president of the American College of Physicians, said in a statement. “And, “the ruling clearly does not preclude for-profit employers from challenging such mandates (vaccinations), or the courts from granting further coverage exemptions.”

Rebecca Sokol, MD, president of the American Society for Reproductive Medicine in Washington, said in a statement that her organization “profoundly disagrees” with the decision. “Allowing an employer to impose their beliefs about reproduction on their staff is simply wrong, particularly when those beliefs are

  • so clearly misinformed on the scientific and medical facts,” Sokol said.

“In no other field of medicine do we allow employers to substitute their judgment for that of patients and physicians; it should not be allowed just because the subject matter is reproduction.”

Between Women and Their Physicians

Lin-Fan Wang, MD, reproductive health advocacy fellow at Physicians for Reproductive Health in New York City, said in a video interview that

  • “decisions about contraception should really be made between a woman and her doctor, and not by her employer.”

Wang recounted the story of one of her own patients, a woman who had recently had a baby and then went back to work, and was having trouble remembering to take her birth control pills. “She chose one of the intrauterine devices … because it was one of the most effective forms of contraception and she didn’t have to think about it every day,” she said. “Luckily her insurance plan covered the cost of this very expensive form of contraception, but

  • under the ruling today, patients like [her] might not be able to choose that method

and she may end up having to choose a method that is hard for her to take or she’s not happy with.” Reproductive rights groups also expressed their concerns. Bebe Anderson, JD, director of the U.S. Legal Program at the Center for Reproductive Rights in New York City, called the decision “an affront to women of this country.”

“As Justice [Ruth Bader] Ginsburg recognized in her dissent, this decision makes it very difficult for women to get some of the best long-acting reversible forms of contraception,” Anderson told MedPage Today in a video interview. “For example, IUDs are as expensive as 1 month’s pay for someone working at minimum wage.”

Cecile Richards, president of the Planned Parenthood Action Fund, called the ruling “stunning.” On a call with reporters she said it was no coincidence that the majority opinion was decided by five male justices. “It is endlessly frustrating for women that decisions about their healthcare are being made by people who never need to use birth control, and it is no coincidence that all three women on the court signed today’s dissent,” Richards said. On the same call, Marcia Greenberger, co-president of the National Women’s Law Center, said the decision was “a bitter pill for women to swallow …These [plaintiffs] and other closely held companies

  • will now have license to harm their female employees in the name of the company’s religion, and
  • ignore the moral and practical considerations of women themselves.”

Other Implications

Several commenters noted that, although the majority opinion specifically states that this ruling does not apply to religious objections to other healthcare benefits such as vaccinations and blood transfusions, this opens up the way for plaintiffs to sue about those as well. “Regardless of what they said, they’ve opened Pandora’s box and set a precedent,” said Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America. The Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals in Denver ruled in June 2013 that

  • Hobby Lobby should be given the opportunity to show its religious beliefs would be violated by either complying with the law or being forced to pay large fines.

Hobby Lobby faced penalties amounting to $1.3 million a day starting in the summer of 2013 if it didn’t provide FDA-approved contraceptive methods in its self-insured health plans, which cover 13,000 employees. But a court issued an injunction in July that prevented the penalty from taking effect.

A rule from HHS finalized last summer exempted churches and other nonprofit religious organizations that object to contraceptive coverage. But private businesses such as Hobby Lobby weren’t exempt. UPDATE: This article, originally published on June 30 at 10:18 EDT, was updated with new material at 19:12 EDT.  

When Religious Freedom Clashes with Access to Care

Glenn Cohen, J.D., Holly Fernandez Lynch, J.D., M.Bioethics, and Gregory D. Curfman, M.D.

July 2, 2014 DOI: 10.1056/NEJMp1407965

At the tail end of this year’s Supreme Court term, religious freedom came into sharp conflict with the government’s interest in providing affordable access to health care. In a consolidated opinion inBurwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell (collectively known as Hobby Lobby) delivered on June 30, the Court sided with religious freedom, highlighting the limitations of our employment-based health insurance system.

Hobby Lobby centered on the contraceptives-coverage mandate, which derived from the Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandate that many employers offer insurance coverage of certain “essential” health benefits, including coverage of “preventive” services without patient copayments or deductibles. The ACA authorized the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to define the scope of those preventive services, a task it delegated to the Institute of Medicine, whose list included all 20 contraceptive agents approved by the Food and Drug Administration. HHS articulated various justifications for the resulting mandate, including the fact that many Americans have difficulty affording contraceptives despite their widespread use and

  • the goal of avoiding a disproportionate financial burden on women.

Under the regulation, churches are exempt from covering contraception for their employees, and nonprofit religious organizations may apply for an “accommodation,” which shifts to their insurance companies (or other third parties) the responsibility for providing free access. However,

  • HHS made no exception for for-profit, secular businesses with religious owners.

Hobby Lobby, a craft-store chain with more than 13,000 employees, is a closely held, for-profit corporation owned by a Protestant family that operates the business in accordance with its Christian principles — for example, donating a portion of proceeds to Christian missions and remaining closed on Sundays. The family does not object to providing coverage for some contraceptives, but

  • it challenged the mandate because it includes contraceptive methods that the family believes cause abortion by preventing implantation of a fertilized egg.

The challenge in Hobby Lobby was not about the Constitution or its First Amendment. Rather, it hinged on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993 (RFRA), which was Congress’s response to a Supreme Court decision holding that

  1. even if a law in fact burdened religion, it could stand as long as it was not intended to burden religion (was “neutral”),
  2. applied without regard to religious beliefs or practices (was “generally applicable”), and
  3. was rationally related to a legitimate government interest — a low bar.

RFRA applies when a federal law is deemed to “substantially” burden a person’s exercise of religion, even if it is neutral and generally applicable. Such laws may be enforced against religious objectors only when they further a compelling government interest using the least restrictive means available. This is the most demanding standard of judicial review, and few laws meet its requirements. In a 5-to-4 decision the Court found that the contraceptives-coverage mandate did not.

In its RFRA analysis, the Court had to address several key questions:

  1. Are closely held, for-profit corporations “persons” for the purposes of RFRA protection?
  2. Can corporations exercise religion?
  3. Does the contraceptives-coverage mandate substantially burden religion?
  4. Does the mandate advance a compelling government interest? And
  5. are there less restrictive alternatives that would achieve the same result?

In a ruling in which Justice Samuel Alito wrote for the majority (joined by Chief Justice John Roberts and Justices Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy, and Clarence Thomas), the mandate came up short. The majority concluded that RFRA was intended to protect even for-profit corporations and that

  • corporations may exercise religion,
  • rejecting as unreasonable any definition of “person” that would include some but not all corporations.

The majority also concluded that the mandate did place a substantial burden on the companies’ religious beliefs, given the dramatic financial consequences of noncompliance (for example, Hobby Lobby would have faced a fine of $475 million per year) and

  • the fact that the government had extended other exemptions and accommodations in recognition of that burden.

The majority assumed that the government has a compelling interest in promoting free access to contraceptive agents, but it held that

  • the government had failed to advance that interest in the least restrictive way, given
  • the possibility of extending its existing exemptions and accommodations to for-profit corporations

Thus, the Court held that as applied to closely held, for-profit corporations with religious objections, the mandate violates RFRA. It was careful, however, to restrict the decision to the case before it, refraining from opining on the implications for other types of employers or objections to other health care services, which it cautioned must be addressed on a case-by-case basis. Nonetheless, the case may have broad practical impact, since

  • approximately 90% of all U.S. companies are closely held, and
  • “closely held” is not synonymous with “small.”

Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg issued a sharp dissent, in which she was joined by Justice Sonia Sotomayor and in large part by Justices Elena Kagan and Stephen Breyer. Delivering her opinion from the bench, Justice Ginsburg underscored the burden that the majority decision would allow to be placed on women in favor of religious objectors:

“Today’s potentially sweeping decision . . . discounts the disadvantages religion-based opt outs impose on others, in particular, employees who do not share their employer’s religious beliefs.”

Hobby Lobby‘s outcome is of concern to U.S. health care professionals because

  • our health insurance system is still largely dependent on employers.
  • Employers and employees may have fundamentally different perspectives on which medical interventions are acceptable,
  • particularly when the employer’s fundamental mission is not to advance specific religious beliefs and
    • its employees are therefore unlikely to be drawn exclusively from its own religious group.

The Court’s decision allows the beliefs of employers of various sizes and corporate forms to trump the beliefs and needs of their employees, potentially influencing the types of care that will be affordable and accessible to individuals and permitting employers to intrude on clinician–patient relationships.

The case also has important implications for efforts to achieve compromise between religious freedom and health care access. The Obama administration’s attempts to compromise on the contraceptives-coverage mandate ultimately backfired, since its efforts were used to demonstrate that

  • applying the mandate even to secular employers was not necessarily the only way to achieve the government’s interests.

In the future, regulators may be less willing to seek compromise lest their efforts be similarly used against them — and it is bad news for all of us if health policy can be made only through polarization and rancor rather than compromise. On the other hand, in other contraceptives-mandate cases working their way through the courts, nonprofit religious employers argue that the government’s accommodations do not go far enough in protecting their religious freedom, essentially requiring them to deputize a third party to commit what they think is a sin on their behalf.

Finally, in the wake of Hobby Lobby, we may anticipate challenges to other medical services that some religions find objectionable, such as vaccinations, infertility treatments, blood transfusions, certain psychiatric treatments, and even hospice care. Hobby Lobby‘s implications may also extend into civil rights law, with employers asking to “opt out” of laws intended to protect people from employment and housing discrimination based on religion, race, sex, national origin, or pregnancy status. Although the majority deemed these slippery-slope concerns unrealistic, the dissent expressed serious concerns.

Though the decision applies only to closely held, for-profit corporations, it sets a precedent for religious exemptions that could have sweeping implications — and reflects the Supreme Court’s great potential impact on U.S. health care. Yet the Court was applying Congress’s statute, and

  • Congress could, if it chose, scale back the protection offered to religious objectors — a good reason to share public reactions to the decision with our elected representatives.

BUFFER ZONES, BUBBLE ZONES, AND ABORTION CLINICS — ANOTHER WOMEN’S HEALTH CASE

In 2000, concerned about clashes between antiabortion protesters and women seeking abortions, the Massachusetts legislature established an 18-ft radius around the entrances and driveways of facilities providing abortions and specified that within that area, no person could, without consent, approach within 6 ft of another person (a so-called “bubble zone”) for the purpose of protesting, leafleting, counseling, or education. In 2007, the legislature concluded that law was not effective enough and increased its stringency, imposing a 35-ft fixed buffer zone with few exceptions. The law was challenged on free-speech grounds in a case called McCullen v. Coakley, and on June 26, 2014, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously struck it down as unconstitutional.

The lead opinion by Chief Justice John Roberts, joined by four other justices, noted that sidewalks and public ways hold a “special position in terms of First Amendment protection because of their historic role as sites for discussion and debate.” Although it was abortion that had motivated the statute, the Court held that the law was content- and viewpoint-neutral: it did not focus on what was said but on where it was said, and it burdened all speech, not merely disfavored speech.

On this point, the four remaining justices disagreed. Nevertheless, the Court held that the statute failed the second part of the relevant constitutional test because it was not “narrowly tailored to serve a significant governmental interest.” In particular, though the Court recognized that the buffer zones furthered the state’s interests in “ensuring public safety” on streets and sidewalks and in “preserving access to adjacent healthcare facilities,” it determined that

  • the law problematically criminalized not only protests,
  • but also sidewalk counseling, which could not be done at a distance of 35 ft.
  • It also found that the buffer zones burdened “substantially more speech than necessary to achieve” the state’s interest

and suggested a plethora of less intrusive means the state could have used instead, some of which are used in other states.

Although the decision deals another blow to abortion rights, that blow is not as substantial as some had feared: the finding that the law was content- and viewpoint-neutral allows for the possibility that Massachusetts and other states could pass similar but narrower laws. Moreover, the Court left open the future of the floating “bubble zone” around women approaching clinics for abortions — the strategy that Massachusetts had used from 2000 to 2007 and one that the Court upheld in a Colorado case in 2000. Several justices, however, indicated a willingness to revisit that decision in future litigation.

See §§2000bb–1(a), (b) (requiring the Government to “demonstrat[e] that application of [a substantial] burden to the person . . . is the least restrictive means of furthering [a] compelling governmental interest” (emphasis added)).

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