The Supreme Court’s ruling in Hobby Lobby and Conestoga yesterday was narrow in some ways, but not in every way.
Some commentators are mistakenly suggesting that the decision only applies if someone objects to the same “four” early-abortion causing items that the Court said the Hahn and Green families object to.
The HHS Mandate requires more than those four items: Employers must cover emergency contraception and intrauterine devices, but also other birth-control products and sterilization methods. Catholic owners and groups have generally objected to covering all these items, while Evangelical or Protestant folks have objected only to those they consider abortifacients.
But the Supreme Court’s protections for religious freedom apply to those who object to all of the HHS Mandate, not just to those who object to some of it.
This is clear for several reasons. First, as I noted previously, the Supreme Court issued several orders Tuesday morning after ruling on Hobby Lobby, in which it upheld rulings in favor of other families and vacated rulings adverse to other families challenging this mandate. But all of those families happened to be Catholic, and they objected to any abortifacient, sterilization, or birth-control coverage.
Second, the Hobby Lobby ruling itself is not limited to objection only to certain abortifacient drugs and devices. In fact, in the “substantial burden” discussion of the ruling, it tells the government that it cannot parse a religious objector’s beliefs.
Third, when the Court says the mandate fails the “least restrictive means” test, it points to the fact that the government is providing exemptions and different arrangements for other entities. But those exemptions and other arrangements include health plans that object to the entire HHS mandate, not just to parts of it.
Finally, the Supreme Court favorably cited its ruling for the Little Sisters of the Poor, for whom it said they could express their religious objection and be exempt from the mandate even if they don’t fill out the government’s forms. The Little Sisters of the Poor are Catholic, and they object to the entire list of abortifacients, sterilization, and birth-control items in the mandate.
To be clear: Obamacare also requires “preventive services” such as cancer screenings. The Hobby Lobby/Conestoga decision does not address objections to those items, or to anything else, because no such objections exist. These cases only involve the framework of abortifacients, sterilization, and birth control. But they involve that entire framework. For more than 40 years, conscientious objections to abortion, sterilization, and related items have been protected together, as in the one of the amendments named after Senator Frank Church (42 U.S.C. § 300a-7).
Thus there’s no reason to interpret the Supreme Court’s ruling as only protecting objections to a few items considered to be abortifacients. The entire HHS Mandate is a violation of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act for someone who religiously objects.
— Matt Bowman is senior legal counsel with Alliance Defending Freedom at its Center for Life in Washington, D.C.