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Lancaster County-based Conestoga Wood wins on contraceptive mandate

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The U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that closely held for-profit companies like Conestoga Wood and Hobby Lobby cannot be required to provide contraceptive coverage.

Associate Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice John Roberts Jr., Antonin Scalia, Anthony Kennedy and Clarence Thomas. Kennedy also filed a concurring opinion. Ruth Bader Ginsburg wrote a dissenting opinion, joined by Sonia Sotomayor and in part by Stephen Breyer and Elena Kagan. Breyer and Kagan also filed a separate dissenting opinion.

At issue was whether for-profit businesses, such as national craft retailer Hobby Lobby and Lancaster County-based Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp., have a right to religious freedom, as individuals do.

The preventive care that Obamacare requires large companies to provide as part of their insurance coverage includes contraceptives that some consider abortifacients; the Hahn family that owns Conestoga is of the Mennonite faith and has a religious objection to providing them.

The majority opinion was based on the Religious Freedom Restoration Act of 1993.

"We hold that the regulations that impose this obligation violate RFRA, which prohibits the Federal Government from taking any action that substantially burdens the exercise of religion unless that action constitutes the least restrictive means of serving a compelling government interest," Alito wrote.

"If the owners comply with the HHS mandate," he continued, "they believe they will be facilitating abortions, and if they do not comply, they will pay a very heavy price — as much as $1.3 million per day, or about $475 million per year, in the case of one of the companies. If these consequences do not amount to a substantial burden, it is hard to see what would."

Ginsburg wrote, "Persuaded that Congress enacted RFRA to serve a far less radical purpose, and mindful of the havoc the Court’s judgment can introduce, I dissent."

"Until this litigation," she continued, "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."

"'The ability of women to participate equally in the economic and social life of the Nation has been facilitated by their ability to control their reproductive lives.' Planned Parenthood of Southeastern Pa. v. Casey, 505 U. S. 833, 856 (1992). Congress acted on that understanding when, as part of a nationwide insurance program intended to be comprehensive, it called for coverage of preventive care responsive to women’s needs," Ginsburg wrote.

"The exemption sought by Hobby Lobby and Conestoga would override significant interests of the corporations’ employees and covered dependents. It would deny legions of women who do not hold their employers’ beliefs access to contraceptive coverage that the ACA would otherwise secure," she wrote.

Check back as this story develops.

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