Supreme Court rules on contraception

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On the final day of its term, the U.S. Supreme Court weighed in with a landmark ruling on contraception this week.

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.

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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.

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