The 5-4 decision, in favor of arts and crafts chain Hobby Lobby and one other company, marks the first time the court has ruled that for-profit businesses can cite religious views under federal law. It also is a blow to a provision of the Affordable Care Act which President Obama’s supporters touted heavily during the 2012 presidential campaign.
The ruling was one of two final rulings to come down on Monday, as the justices wrapped up their work for the session. The other reined in the ability of unions to collect dues from home health care workers.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion in the ObamaCare case. The court’s four liberal justices dissented.
The court stressed that its ruling applies only to corporations that are under the control of just a few people in which there is no essential difference between the business and its owners.
Alito also said the decision is limited to contraceptives under the health care law. “Our decision should not be understood to hold that an insurance-coverage mandate must necessarily fall if it conflicts with an employer’s religious beliefs,” Alito said.
At issue in the ObamaCare case was a challenge brought by Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby and a furniture maker in Pennsylvania. The for-profit businesses challenged the requirement in the Affordable Care Act that employers cover contraception for women at no extra charge among a range of preventive benefits in employee health plans.
It was the first major challenge to ObamaCare to come before the court since the justices upheld the law’s individual requirement to buy health insurance two years ago.
Dozens of companies, including Hobby Lobby, claim religious objections to covering some or all contraceptives. The methods and devices at issue before the Supreme Court are those the plaintiffs say can work after conception. They are the emergency contraceptives Plan B and ella, as well as intrauterine devices, which can cost up to $1,000.
The court had never before recognized a for-profit corporation’s religious rights under federal law or the Constitution. The companies in this case, and their backers, argue that a 1993 federal law on religious freedom extends to businesses.
The Obama administration argued it’s not just about birth control, and that a Supreme Court ruling in favor of the businesses could undermine laws governing immunizations, Social Security taxes and minimum wages.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.