The Supreme Court has ruled in what was one of its most contentious and widely anticipated cases this year: Burwell v. Hobby Lobby. With the 5-4 decision, “closely held corporations” will now be allowed to cite religious objections to opt out of the Affordable Care Act’s contraception mandate. The ruling dominated the news cycle, receiving eight minutes of coverage across the three network broadcasts, prominent, above-the-fold coverage in dozens of major papers, and marquee placement on news sites across the web. Beyond that, online and print outlets as well as cable news programs provided in-depth analysis on various aspects of the ruling, weighing in on its implications and relaying how stakeholders across the country are reacting to it. Predictably, accounts of this type fall along ideological lines.
First, though, offering an overview, the CBS Evening News reported on Monday’s “major ruling,” in which the Supreme Court “said that some employers cannot be forced to cover birth control in their health plans if that violates their religious beliefs,” despite the ACA provision calling for contraceptive coverage. Correspondent Jan Crawford offered a breakdown of the 5-4 decision, noting that the majority opinion, penned by Justice Samuel Alito, “emphasized religious rights and marked the first time the court has allowed a for-profit corporation this type of religious exemption.” However, the Court’s liberals, in the dissent authored by Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “frame the issue as one of women’s rights saying the court discounts the disadvantages to those who do not share the corporation owners’ religious faith.”
On NBC Nightly News , justice correspondent Pete Williams reported that “supporters of the Hobby Lobby cheered today’s victory,” and showed Hobby Lobby founder Barbara Green saying, “We are truly thankful for this decision that allows us to continue operating our family business according to principles.” However, Brian Williams continued, “Some called the ruling startling. And that the court’s major decision can make it possible for any business to opt out of laws based on religious beliefs.” NBC News went on to report that “the Obama Administration today said congress may have to fix what the court has done,” showing Press Secretary Josh Earnest saying, “Today’s decision jeopardized the health of women employed by these companies.”
In its broadcast, ABC World News reported on the Supreme Court ruling “affecting millions of American women.” The piece examined what it meant when the majority ruled that “closely held corporations” could opt out of the ACA’s contraception mandate, noting that “thousands of American businesses are closely held corporations like Hobby Lobby including In-N-out Burger, Chik-fil-a, and Forever 21.” ABC added that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, “writing for the court’s liberals, including its three women, wrote an impassioned dissent warning that many religious corporate owners might now seek to opt out of all kinds of laws.” She wrote, “The court, I fear, has ventured into a minefield.”
On its front page, the New York Times explains that SCOTUS ruled that “requiring family-owned corporations to pay for insurance coverage for contraception under the Affordable Care Act violated a federal law protecting religious freedom.” The Times notes in its opening paragraph that the 5-4 ruling could turn out to be, as the dissent said, “a decision of startling breadth.”
On its front page, the Washington Post reports on the case, which “pitted religious freedom against equal benefits for female workers,” noting that the ruling “marks the first time the Supreme Court that the [RFRA] covers corporations, not just the ‘persons’ referred to in its text.” The piece then looks into both the decision and the dissenting opinion, quoting liberally from both. Justice Samuel A. Alito Jr., speaking for the majority, said the ACA’s contraception mandate “clearly imposes a substantial burden” on certain corporation owners’ beliefs. However, Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, arguing for the minority, wrote, “Our cosmopolitan nation is made up of people of almost every conceivable religious preference. In passing RFRA, Congress did not alter a tradition in which one person’s right to exercise of her religion must be kept in harmony with the rights of her fellow citizens, and with the common good.”
On its front page, USA Today says the ruling “represented the second consecutive victory at the court for the religious right. Last month, the court upheld the centuries-old tradition of opening government meetings with a prayer, even when nearly all the prayers are Christian.” However, the justices “stopped short of a sweeping assertion that corporations can practice religion in the same way individuals can under the First Amendment,” even if, as the Christian Science Monitor reported, the majority opinion said “the contraception mandate violated the 1993 Religious Freedom Restoration Act (RFRA).”
Looking into how the ruling will affect the Affordable Care Act, a second Washington Post article says the ruling, “unlike the court’s decision two years ago that gutted the law’s mandatory Medicaid expansion,” will have a “more peripheral” effect on the ACA, as the contraceptive provision “was not part of the main law but rather was laid out in regulatory language issued by the Obama administration.” The Huffington Post casts the decision in starker terms, saying it “dealt a significant blow to the progressive movement.” Less sweeping is the assessment by Bloomberg News , which reports the decision “dealt a blow to…Obama’s health-care law” and carved “a hole in Obama’s biggest legislative initiative” and safeguarded “the religious rights of corporations.”
Speculating on the implications of the case, the AP says the decision “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.” Indeed, White House press secretary Josh Earnest said Monday the ruling “creates health risks for women, and…Congress should take action to make sure they get coverage.”
Providing background, the Chicago Tribune notes, “the court ruled in the cases of Hobby Lobby, an Oklahoma-based arts and crafts retailer with evangelical Christian owners, and Conestoga Wood Specialties Inc., a Pennsylvania cabinet company with Mennonite owners.” Before this, as the Washington Times explains, “dozens of corporations with devout owners sued the Obama administration in federal courts across the country,” because “if they kept health plans, yet flouted the mandate, they faced millions of dollars in fines.”
Beyond reporting on the specifics of the case, many outlets offered additional articles providing insight and analysis on the ruling, its majority and minority opinions, and who is likely to be affected. For example, both the Huffington Post and the National Journal look into Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg’s “scathing” dissent. The New York Times also devotes an article to the majority decision, penned by Justice Samuel Alito.
Demonstrating the technical nature of much of the coverage, the Wall Street Journal dedicates an entire article to defining the phrase “closely held,” which is central to determining the ruling’s impact, as it defines the corporations that can opt out of the contraception mandate.
CBS News, on its website, notes that “millions of women” could feel the impact of this decision. Meanwhile, Politico notes on its website that a Reuter/Ipsos poll released Sunday showed 53% disagree “with giving private employers the ability to pick and choose forms of contraceptives to cover under health plans, while 35 percent agreed with Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood.” The poll “was conducted from April 28 to June 20 among 10,693 people and has a margin of error of plus or minus 1.1 percentage point.”