CHARLESTON - Many people are praising the U. S. Supreme Court's decision allowing Hobby Lobby and other closely held businesses to opt out of certain mandates under the Affordable Care Act on religious grounds while others are condemning the move which they say is discriminatory.
A sharply divided Supreme Court ruled Monday that some companies with religious objections can avoid the contraceptives requirement in the health care law, the first time the high court has declared that businesses can hold religious views under federal law.
The court's decision came from the cases of Burwell v. Hobby Lobby Stores Inc. and Conestoga Wood Specialties Corp. v. Burwell, both of which concerned whether the government can issue a mandate to private, family-owned businesses under the Affordable Care Act even if it would violate the owner's religious beliefs.
The justices' 5-4 decision, splitting conservatives and liberals, means the Obama administration must search for a different way of providing free contraception to women who are covered under the health insurance plans of objecting companies.
''This is a great day for freedom as family-owned businesses can no longer be forced to take actions that violate their religious beliefs,'' said U.S. Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va. ''All Americans should be free to exercise their religious liberty and not be forced to leave their convictions at the door if they own a family business.
''This is a victory for the First Amendment and another setback for big government. No American should be forced to violate his or her deeply held faith or face punishments or fines," McKinley said.
West Virginia joined 19 other states in an amicus brief authored by the states of Ohio and Michigan supporting the family-owned businesses, according to the office of West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey.
"We are pleased the U.S. Supreme Court today found that the Obama Administration yet again overreached in attempting to require private, family-owned businesses to engage in actions contrary to their religion,'' Morrisey said Monday. ''The Supreme Court sided with the arguments raised in the amicus brief filed by West Virginia and 19 other states in holding that the Religious Freedom Restoration Act prohibits the administration's effort to treat closely held companies different than nonprofits.
''Today's decision reaffirms that the government cannot force its views on those who may disagree because of their faith and is a welcome victory for all citizens' religious freedom and the values protected by the First Amendment," Morrisey said.
Critics of the decision said the ruling creates health risks for women, who they say should make personal health care decisions for themselves rather than their employers.
Planned Parenthood Health Systems Action Fund condemned the Supreme Court's ruling.
"Today, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that when corporations are 'closely held' by a family or a small number of people, the owners' personal religious beliefs can exempt the corporations from the federal law requiring that insurance coverage include birth control with no copay just like other preventive care,'' said Caitlin Palmer, West Virginia field director for Planned Parenthood Health Systems Action Fund. ''This is a deeply disappointing and troubling ruling that allows some bosses to interfere with their employees' access to birth control.
"The Supreme Court's ruling means that some corporations will not have to provide insurance coverage for birth control,'' Palmer said.
This ruling does not strike down the birth control benefit.
Over 30 million women nationwide and 153,000 women in West Virginia are eligible for birth control with no copay because of this benefit, and the vast majority of them will not be affected by this ruling, Palmer said.
''But this ruling with have real consequences for the women who are affected," she said. "It is unbelievable that in 2014, there's still a fight going on about whether women should have access to birth control.
''We know firsthand that access to birth control is both a health care and economic concern for women, and we will work to make sure that this benefit remains in place for the millions of women who rely on it - and to make sure that women have access to basic, preventive care no matter where they live, who they work for, or how much money they make. The decision to use birth control should be between a woman and her doctor, not her boss," Palmer said.