The Obama administration quietly undid some of the damage done in Hobby Lobby ruling

Last year, the Supreme Court ruled that the government cannot require a business to provide health insurance plans that cover certain forms of contraception if the business’s owners have deeply-held religious beliefs that such contraception amounts to abortion. Even if those religious beliefs are scientifically baseless.

Last week, the Department of Health and Human Services issued new rules that work around the Supreme Court’s ruling, guaranteeing that all employees will have access to contraception through their health insurance, regardless as to where they work.

As reported on Yahoo News:

IUD, via Shutterstock

IUD, via Shutterstock

Under the new regulations, employers with moral objections to certain forms of contraception must tell their insurance company or the federal government. The insurance company will then need to take responsibility for providing coverage to all female employees — along with any female family members on the health insurance plans of their partners — who have requested it. This step ensures that women will have access to all forms of birth control at no cost, no matter where they work.

Because contraception is considered to be cost-neutral — i.e. the costs of providing contraceptive coverage are balanced by cost savings from lower pregnancy rates — there will be no additional costs imposed on an individual’s health insurance plan when it provides birth control without cost-sharing with the employer.

In other words, under these new rules, companies with religious objections to contraception still have to provide insurance to their employees, and the insurance companies still have to provide access to contraception. But since contraception pays for itself in the long run, the government can tell insurance companies to provide contraception on the side, independent from the plan the employer is providing directly. The result is the same as it was pre-Hobby Lobby, but the government maintains semantic integrity in saying that it isn’t forcing employers to pay for health care that it objects to on religious grounds.

While these new rules don’t do anything to push back against the dangerous precedent set by the Court — that corporations engaged in secular activity such as purchasing health insurance can claim the same religious protections normally reserved for private individuals — they mitigate the negative effects initially brought on by the court’s ruling.

What’s more, there’s overwhelming evidence showing that increased access to birth control — surprise! — gives women greater control over when they give birth, which both reduces abortion rates and increases economic opportunity. So these rules from HHS allow religious employers to keep their Hobby Lobby win while preventing their employees from taking on the economic losses that stem from unplanned pregnancy.


Jon Green graduated from Kenyon College with a B.A. in Political Science and high honors in Political Cognition. He worked as a field organizer for Congressman Tom Perriello in 2010 and a Regional Field Director for President Obama's re-election campaign in 2012. Jon writes on a number of topics, but pays especially close attention to elections, religion and political cognition. Follow him on Twitter at @_Jon_Green, and on Google+. .

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5 Responses to “The Obama administration quietly undid some of the damage done in Hobby Lobby ruling”

  1. fry1laurie says:

    The late, great comedian Richard Jeni had a great bit about the Catholic Church, which he grew up in, about its unrealistic view of people’s sexual behavior. “For you have commanded that we remain sexually faithful for a lifetime, and given us a body that makes us horny every 17 seconds, thank you Lord!”

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