WASHINGTON — In a decision likely to impact a case involving a Highland company, the Supreme Court says corporations can hold religious objections that allow them to opt out of the new health law requirement that they cover contraceptives for women.
The justices' 5-4 decision Monday is the first time that the high court has ruled that profit-seeking businesses can hold religious views under federal law. And it means the Obama administration must search for a different way of providing free contraception to women who are covered under objecting companies' health insurance plans.
Contraception is among a range of preventive services that must be provided at no extra charge under the health care law that President Barack Obama signed in 2010 and the Supreme Court upheld two years later.
The ruling in the Hobby Lobby case was expected to bear heavily on the outcome of a local case, involving Highland-based construction company Korte & Luitjohan.
The company's owners, Cyril and Jane Korte, had filed suit in federal court in East St. Louis. The Kortes are practicing Catholics, whose company employees 90 full-time employees. The company provides health insurance as a benefit to those employees.
On Monday, the Kortes' attorney, Edward L. White III, said he'll ask the local judge to issue a permanent ruling in favor of the Kortes, based on the Hobby Lobby ruling.
Justice Samuel Alito wrote the majority opinion for the Surpeme Court. 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.
White House press secretary Josh Earnest said the decision creates health risks for women, and he said Congress should take action to make sure they get coverage.
"President Obama believes that women should make personal health care decisions for themselves rather than their bosses deciding for them," Earnest said. "Today's decision jeopardizes the health of the women who are employed by these companies."
Contraception is among a range of preventive services that must be provided at no extra charge under the health care law that Obama signed in 2010.
The government's supporters pointed to research showing that nearly one-third of women would change their contraceptive if cost were not an issue; a very effective means of birth control, the intrauterine device, can cost up to $1,000.
The contraceptives at issue before the court were the emergency contraceptives Plan B and ella, and two IUDs.
Nearly 50 businesses have sued over covering contraceptives. Some, like those involved in the Supreme Court case, are willing to cover most methods of contraception, as long as they can exclude drugs or devices that the government says may work after an egg has been fertilized. Other companies object to paying for any form of birth control.
There are separate lawsuits challenging the contraception provision from religiously affiliated hospitals, colleges and charities.
A survey by the Kaiser Family Foundation found 85 percent of large American employers already had offered such coverage before the health care law required it.
It is unclear how many women potentially are affected by the high court ruling. The Hobby Lobby chain of arts-and-crafts stores is by far the largest employer of any company that has gone to court to fight the birth control provision.
Oklahoma City-based Hobby Lobby has more than 15,000 full-time employees in more than 600 crafts stores in 41 states. The Greens are evangelical Christians who also own Mardel, a Christian bookstore chain.
The Kortes are practicing Catholics, whose company employees 90 full-time employees. The company provides health insurance as a benefit to those employees.
While their current insurance covers the cost of contraception, the Kortes filed suit because they said coverage of contraceptives violated their religious beliefs.
U.S. District Judge Michael Reagan in December 2012 declined to issue an injunction in favor of the Kortes. But in January 2013 a federal appeals court granted the Kortes an injunction, allowing their company to escape enforcement of the Affordable Care Act.
Earlier this year, Reagan put the case on hold, saying the Hobby Lobby ruling "will undoubtedly impact this action."
White, the attorney for the Kortes, said his clients will next request that the trial judge make their injunction permanent, based on the Supreme Court's ruling Monday. White said he and his clients will contact the court sometime this week.
U.S. Rep. John Shimkus, R-Collinsville, praised the Hobby Lobby ruling.
"Today's decision is a victory for the religious freedom we cherish as Americans," Shimkus said. SBy ruling that family businesses with strong religious objections to certain forms of birth control may opt-out of paying for those drugs or devices, the court rebuked the Obama administration's attempt to force men and women of faith to act against their deeply held beliefs or risk losing their businesses."
Shimkus also called on the Obama administration to release a list of policies offered on the insurance exchanges that provide coverage for abortions.
"No American business owner or consumer should be required by law to pay for an insurance policy that would violate their constitutional right of conscience," Shimkus said. "At minimum, consumers should know what they're buying."