Supreme Court rules on contraception and union dues

On the final day of its term, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in with landmark rulings on contraception and union dues.

The court ruled that the federal government cannot force owners of closely held for-profit companies to provide birth control coverage to female employees if they object to the administration’s requirement on religious grounds.

The 5-4 ruling, in one of its most contentious cases of the year, recognizes for the first time the religious rights of corporations. Owners of Hobby Lobby, a chain of craft stores, and Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Mennonite-owned furniture manufacturer, argued that the administration’s contraception coverage mandate will force them to pay for certain methods, such as emergency contraception and intrauterine devices, that they oppose on religious grounds.

The companies’ owners successfully argued that their objections to the contraception policy are protected by a 1993 law protecting an individual’s religious exercise.

The Obama administration in 2011 required that most employer health plans cover FDA-approved contraceptives as part of preventive benefits that must be provided to employees at no cost under the Affordable Care Act.

The administration warned that a broader recognition of corporations’ individual rights could enable more business owners to claim religious exclusions for other health care services, such as blood transfusions or vaccinations, and civil-rights protections. The court today said its ruling narrowly applies only to the contraception requirement.

The Supreme Court also dealt a blow to public sector unions today, ruling that thousands of home health care workers in Illinois cannot be required to pay fees that help cover the union’s costs of collective bargaining.

In a 5-4 split along ideological lines, the justices said the practice violates the First Amendment rights of nonmembers who disagree with the positions that unions take.

The ruling is a setback for labor unions that have bolstered their ranks in Illinois and other states by signing up hundreds of thousands of in-home care workers. The ruling could lead to an exodus of members who will have little incentive to pay dues if nonmembers don’t have to share the burden of union costs.

The ruling does not apply to private sector unions.

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