Public Editor

July 1, 2014

SCOTUS decision covers all forms of contraception in ACA mandate

Many readers are insisting that yesterday’s landmark Supreme Court decision about employer exemptions to the Affordable Healthcare Act applies only to four methods of birth control. That is a misreading of the decision, as the court made clear today.

I have gotten lots of email and talked to several readers today making this point, as one of them wrote just a few minutes ago:

“The Star has incorrectly reported the court decision as banning all forms of birth control for women by their religious employers. The front page story is simply not true.”

This emailer says he got his information from cable news. And yes, I’ve seen people making similar claims today. They’re absolutely wrong, and the story in the print edition (which isn’t on in the same form) is accurate.

Bottom line: The Supreme Court decision does not in any way “ban” any forms of birth control, or let employers ban them. It says that employers may choose not to cover methods of contraception mandated in the Affordable Healthcare Act because of religious objections made by “the humans who own and control” the companies.

Because the case was brought over four specific forms of contraception that Hobby Lobby’s owners disapprove of, some people have taken that to mean that only those four methods are affected. Again, that’s wrong.

The decision is turgid reading, especially for those who don’t routinely read such things. But the Supreme Court made it clear today that its ruling covers all methods of birth control in the ACA mandate— not just those four cited by Hobby Lobby in this case.

This objection, however, is fair: “I was very disappointed that nowhere in the article did it state EXACTLY what Hobby Lobby was objecting to in the ACA provisions. Of the 20 birth control items listed in the ACA, Hobby Lobby objected to only 4 of those items. …They approved of birth control pills, etc.”

You can argue that the news story should have specified that Hobby Lobby took exception only to the four methods, yes. However, there’s also a strong counter-argument to that: Legal reporting always should seek to explain exactly what the effect of a decision will be in the real world. The most important detail is how the ruling will affect the law.

Every single court case is full of specifics that may not be precisely germane to the precedent set by the decision. I’m quite sure that the misunderstandings about this particular case are due largely to people misreading the specifics and not understanding the underlying principle. That’s one argument for not getting too detailed in reporting on it.

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