US Supreme Court rules against Obama administration’s abortion pill mandate
Attorney sound bites: David Cortman | Matt Bowman | Randall Wenger
Video news release and raw video footage (2013)
WASHINGTON – The U.S. Supreme Court affirmed Monday that two family-run businesses, Conestoga Wood Specialties and Hobby Lobby Stores, do not have to surrender their religious freedom in order to remain in business. The court determined that federal law protects the two families from being forced to act contrary to their beliefs by the Obama administration’s abortion pill mandate.
The Department of Health and Human Services mandate forces employers, regardless of their religious or moral convictions, to provide insurance coverage for abortion-inducing drugs, sterilization, and contraception under threat of heavy financial penalties through the IRS. But in Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Burwell and Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores, the Supreme Court said the families running the two businesses have federally protected religious freedoms that the government must respect.
“Americans don’t surrender their freedom by opening a family business,” said Alliance Defending Freedom Senior Counsel David Cortman. “In its decision today, the Supreme Court affirmed that all Americans, including family business owners, must be free to live and work according to their beliefs without fear of government punishment. In a free and diverse society, we respect the freedom to live out our convictions. For the Hahns and the Greens, that means not being forced to participate in distributing potentially life-terminating drugs and devices.”
The Hahns, who run Pennsylvania-based Conestoga Wood Specialties, asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review their case after the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 3rd Circuit ruled 2–1 against them. The Supreme Court reversed that decision, which conflicted with most other circuits and with the vast majority of rulings on the mandate so far. One of those rulings was the 10th Circuit’s Hobby Lobby decision, which the Supreme Court has now upheld in favor of the Green family.
“In holding that the HHS mandate is unlawful, we reject HHS’s argument that the owners of the companies forfeited all RFRA protection when they decided to organize their businesses as corporations rather than sole proprietorships or general partnerships,” the majority opinion in the two cases states. “The plain terms of RFRA make it perfectly clear that Congress did not discriminate in this way against men and women who wish to run their businesses as for-profit corporations in the manner required by their religious beliefs.”
“This mandate punishes people of faith, but exempts 100 million others for non-religious reasons,” explained ADF Senior Legal Counsel Matt Bowman. “It’s unjust to single out family businesses for their beliefs while letting millions of others off the hook.”
“No American family should be forced to choose between following their faith and submitting to unlawful and unnecessary government mandates,” added co-counsel and allied attorney Randall Wenger. ADF attorneys are lead counsel in the case together with Wenger, with the Independence Law Center, and allied attorney Charles Proctor III, with the Pennsylvania firm Proctor, Lindsay & Dixon.
“We in the Hahn family want to thank everyone who supported us during this lawsuit,” said Conestoga Wood Specialties President and CEO Anthony Hahn. “We wholeheartedly affirm what the Supreme Court made clear today – that Americans don’t have to surrender their freedom when they open a family business. As I said at the beginning of this lawsuit, this effort wasn’t just for Conestoga. We took this stand for others as well. The administration has gone too far in disrespecting the freedom of Americans to live out their convictions.”
ADF continues to litigate numerous lawsuits against the mandate on behalf of both for-profit and non-profit entities.
- Video news release and raw video footage: Conestoga Wood Specialties v. Burwell
- Pronunciation guide: Bowman (BOH’-min), Wenger (WENG’-ur)
Alliance Defending Freedom is an alliance-building, non-profit legal organization that advocates for the right of people to freely live out their faith.
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Summary of the U.S. Supreme Court's decision
- The federal government cannot force the Hahn family (which operates Conestoga Wood Specialties) or the Green family (which operates Hobby Lobby and Mardel) to include abortion pills in their employee health insurance plans.
- Closely held for-profit corporations like Conestoga can exercise religion, and thus seek legal protections of religious liberty like the Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
- The mandate, by forcing Conestoga to provide abortion pills to its employees, substantially burdens its religious exercise. The massive fines for non-compliance pressure it to violate the Hahns’ religious convictions.
- The government could have pursued its stated goals in a manner less restrictive of Conestoga’s religious exercise.
- “In holding that the HHS mandate is unlawful, we reject HHS’s argument that the owners of the companies forfeited all RFRA protection when they decided to organize their businesses as corporations . . . .”
- “The plain terms of RFRA make it perfectly clear that Congress did not discriminate . . . against men and women who wish to run their businesses as for-profit corporations in the manner required by their religious beliefs.”
- “If [the massive fines for non-compliance] do not amount to a substantial burden, it is hard to see what would.”
- “[I]n order for the HHS mandate to be sustained, it must also constitute the least restrictive means of serving [the government’s] interest, and the mandate plainly fails that test.”
- “There are other ways in which Congress or HHS could equally ensure that every woman has cost-free access to the particular contraceptives at issue here and, indeed, to all FDA-approved contraceptives.”
- Closely held for profit corporations can invoke the protections of the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. The owners of such businesses do not relinquish its protections when they incorporate their businesses.
- The Administration could respond to the ruling by extending the so-called “accommodation” to objecting for-profit companies and their owners, yet an enormous number of religious non-profit organizations eligible for the “accommodation” have already concluded that it does not eliminate the violation of their consciences.
- Today’s decision clears away some obstacles to victory in the cases brought by non-profits but does not fully resolve all the issues in those cases, which will continue to be litigated.