In a 5-to-4 decision, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled in favor of Conestoga Wood Specialties, a Pennsylvania cabinetmaking business, whose Mennonite owners oppose covering certain contraceptives under its employee health plan.
“They broke out in applause and then started thanking God and praying,” says Rendell Wenger, a lawyer for Conestoga Wood, who sat with the family at their office in East Pearl, Pa., when the decision came down Monday. “Because, you know after all, these were people who are trying to follow their religious conscience.”
The health law requires that most companies include no-cost contraceptive coverage as part of their employee health plans or face some hefty fines. The Hahns, who run Conestoga with a workforce of about 1,000 employees, filed suit two years ago on the grounds that covering contraceptives goes against their moral beliefs. The Supreme Court jointly heard their case with another high-profile company, Hobby Lobby, and ruled in their favor Monday.
Wenger, who’s also with the Harrisburg-based Independence Law Center, said the ruling is a win for personal liberty.
Area women’s health advocates, however, are deeply disappointed.
“It’s a shocking ruling. It’s a startling ruling,” said Carol Tracy, director of the Women’s Law Project based in Philadelphia. “It’s a ruling that is giving employers control over the access to essential reproductive health care that women need and deserve.”
The decision could have major and “troubling” implications beyond companies successfully refusing to cover contraceptives, said Theodore Ruger, a constitutional law scholar at the University of Pennsylvania. Ruger says Monday’s Supreme Court decision may mean that “companies, not just individuals, can seek exemptions from federal laws.”
Ruger expects to see “a flood of litigation in lower courts,” as businesses may look to challenge employment protections, environmental regulations and anti-discrimination rules due to their beliefs.