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June 30. 2014 9:16PM

Supreme Court rules employers can refuse to provide coverage for contraception

The U.S. Supreme Court ruled on Monday that the arts-and-craft chain Hobby Lobby Inc. can refuse to provide employee-health coverage for some forms of birth control, allowing a tightly held corporation to block a key tenet of Obamacare on religious grounds.

The 5-4 decision prompted an outpouring of responses along ideological lines, pitting women’s health supporters against advocates for religious freedom.

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., said blocking access to birth control will have economic and public health consequences that the country cannot afford.

“Women should be making decisions about their health care with their doctors, not their employers,” she said in a statement.

On the company website, Hobby Lobby co-founder Barbara Green said: “Today the nation’s highest court has re-affirmed the vital importance of religious liberty as one of our country’s founding principles.”

She thanked God and people who supported the family during the process.

On Monday, two of those people visited the Hobby Lobby in Manchester, the company’s only location in New Hampshire.

Jenn Eppley drove from Haverhill, Mass., after hearing the decision. Eppley complained to the store manager about the warm store temperature, then congratulated him about the victory.

“I’m sick of Obama and his whole government telling us what we can and cannot do in this country,” said Eppley, a retired retail cosmetics executive. “I’m glad they stuck up for themselves.”

Manchester resident Mark Roswick also spoke to the store manager. The salesman didn’t buy anything, but he said he encourages his wife and children to shop at Hobby Lobby.

“You give credit where credit’s due. They stood up for what they believe,” he said.

Charla Stevens, a Manchester lawyer in the fields of employment and health care, said Supreme Court Justice Samuel Alito seemed to be as careful as possible in keeping the decision narrow, anticipating that dissenting judges would speculate about the implications.

The decision applies to companies with a small number of owners, and those who have strictly held religious beliefs, she said. It wouldn’t work for Apple computer, she said.

However, she noted that small companies owned by people with sincerely held religious beliefs could qualify. A Catholic business owner could refuse to pay for all birth control, since Catholicism objects to any birth control, she said.

“This (ruling) opens the door to that,” Stevens said. She said courts have traditionally not delved deeply into what constitutes a sincerely held religious belief.

Hobby Lobby objected to four forms of birth control, two kinds of inter-uterine devices and two varieties of morning-after pills.

In her dissent, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said the decision has a startling breadth and said corporations, partnerships and other businesses will be able to opt out of any law that does not conform to their religious beliefs.

A Reuters/Ipsos opinion poll before the ruling found a majority of Americans — 53 percent — oppose letting employers exclude certain contraceptives from health insurance based on religious reasons.

Democratic Gov. Maggie Hassan said contraception is one of the biggest health care expenses for women and families. She said she’s optimistic that employers will continue to provide the coverage.

U.S. Rep. Carol Shea-Porter, D-N.H., called the decision extremely disappointing, and said most companies have offered birth control for years.

Republicans — including U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte, 2nd District congressional candidate Gary Lambert and gubernatorial candidate Andrew Hemingway — applauded the ruling along the lines of religious liberty.

“This is not an issue of birth control, or health care, this is a matter of religious freedom,” Hemingway said.

Scott Brown, the Republican hoping to unseat Shaheen, supports women’s health care and access to contraception, said his spokesman, Elizabeth Guyton. “But by injecting government into every aspect of our lives, Obamacare threatens all our freedoms. The best solution is to repeal it.”

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Union Leader Staff Writer Mark Hayward contributed to this report.


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